Lighting the Tree in Portland’s Living Room

Dear Liza,

Crescent moon hovering over the traffic downtown

Last Friday was an event we have missed the past two Christmases here in Portland, the lighting of the City’s Christmas tree. But this year, we went!

The 1876 Pioneer Courthouse, lit up for company

Pioneer Square, between 6th and Broadway and Morrison and Yamhill downtown, was the location of the elegant Portland Hotel from 1890 to 1951. President Theodore Roosevelt stayed there in 1903. It was the fanciest, tallest Hotel in town!

All the trees are dressed up!

But by 1951 the hotel had become outdated and it was torn down, leaving a vacant lot used for that urban black hole, a Parking Lot. The city of Portland decided to create a public space and in 1984 the stair-stepped, brick covered City block opened and was quickly dubbed Portland’s Living Room.

Summer view of Pioneer Square from the Cupola of the Pioneer Courthouse

It is home to food trucks, a Starbucks, and a tourist information office. But mostly it is where folks go to meet friends, people watch, have a cup of coffee or eat their lunch, or enjoy some free music.

For the ceremony Friday, we took the number 15 bus downtown. We had a quick, tasty dinner at Killer Burger before joining the flood of folks heading to Pioneer Square.

Looming dark tree

The still-dark tree, a 75 foot sustainably grown Douglas Fir, stood like a tall shadow in the middle of 25,000 of winter outfitted people. Spirits were high and we were packed in shoulder to shoulder.

Pink Martini, one of our favorite music groups, was on stage (which we could hear, but not see), leading the crowd in Christmas Carols.

Happy, illuminated Tree!


At about 6:15, the countdown began and we all ooohed and ahhhed as the white lights twinkled and then colorful and Christmas-y lights came on, signaling the beginning of the season and the end of the ceremony.

The river of people reversed course and began flooding toward bus and train stops, still in good spirits but also chilly and foot sore.

This is one of the things I love about being in a big city, the chance to be part of Big groups of people doing things I love. Now, it is full speed to Christmas!

Lights and crowds heading back to the bus stops

Love,

Grandma Judy

Downtown Delights

Dear Liza,

On Sunday, Auntie Bridgett, Grandpa Nelson and I took the #20 bus downtown. We admired the architecture while hunting for a place to eat. The problem is, Portland is a very Sunday Brunch-oriented city. If there is a restaurant open, they are packed. We tried Cheryl’s on 12th: a mob. We looked at Tasty n Alder: packed. Finally, we went to our old stand by, Kenny and Zuke’s Deli, at 11th and Stark. They had only a 10 minute wait, and we enjoyed reading the newspapers and magazines they had out.

Kenney and zukes window .jpg
Kenny and Zuke’s looking out

Church yellow leaves .jpg
Church and leaves

After a filling and delicious meal of roasted veggies, eggs and rye toast with lots of butter, we headed off. Since we weren’t in a hurry, we got to notice all sorts of things. The leaves keep changing and are beautiful at every turn.

Odd things, like a dog fountain guarded by a brass bulldog named Zelda wearing a top hat, standing in front of the Hilton Hotel, just cracked us up.

Zelda brass dog .jpg
Zelda the water fountain guardian

At Pioneer Square, we saw the 45 foot Christmas tree being put up. The lower branches had been removed to make it easier (something I had never seen) and some workmen were busy re-attaching the branches onto the tree while other men were running electric cables down the tree for when they light it up next week. Down below, a fellow was stringing lights on smaller trees to make everything cheerful.

Tree going up .jpg
Christmas tree going up!

We kept walking and got to The Oregon Historical Society. A group of talented musicians and historians were putting on a show about The Art of the Protest Song, a history that runs from before I was born to today; people using music to tell other people how they feel about what’s going on in the world, and to let people know they aren’t alone in their concerns. We heard some Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, and several original songs by the musicians. It was wonderful, and very well attended. There were 100 chairs up when we got there, and almost 100 more were added before the show started.

Art of the Protest song .jpg
Quilted logo of the show

After the show, Grandpa Nelson suggested we try walking home. We were surprised, but willing. It wasn’t very cold, and there was even some blue skies coming between the clouds. And there was always a bus close by if we got tired.

Sunset on the river .jpg
Light on the River

 

 

 

We walked down to the river, then north along the Tom McCall Riverfront, to the Morrison Bridge. A curvy on ramp took us up to the bridge, and we walked across the Willamette River. It was beautiful. The trees, seen from above, spread out and drop their leaves onto the roadway. The sidewalk is separated from the big traffic by a bike lane and fence, so we felt safe. The sky had gotten grey so the river was, too.

yellow leaves from bridge .jpg
Trees seen from above

On the east side, we walked past warehouses and car repair places, up Morrison Street, through the Lone Fir Cemetery, and home for dinner. Auntie Bridgett’s Fitbit said we had walked almost 5 miles! Hooray for walking!

Love,

Grandma Judy