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But by 1951 the hotel had become outdated and it was torn down, leaving a vacant lot used for that urban black hole, a Parking Lot.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

Random Beauty

Dear Liza,

I had a feeling-lousy day yesterday, maybe from walking around cold the previous evening at the zoo. I slept a lot, drank tons of tea and was generally useless. And today I am better!

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Christmas tree and Journal Building in the daylight

Since I was on the couch most of the day, I was looking at the many pictures I have taken here in town and come to a major conclusion: Random beauty in a city this big usually doesn’t happen by accident. There are budgets, materials, design teams, artists, and the folks who install the art. This is a government decision to make art.

And I love it!

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Journal Building at night

For instance, the home of one of Portland’s oldest newspapers, The Journal Building, has been standing by the Pioneer Square since 1912. The paper closed down in 1982, but the building is still used for offices and stores and is a beautiful part of the downtown skyline. At Christmas, it gets even prettier!

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Lit up Christmas Tree

There are so many statues downtown it would take pages to just show and name them. One I just noticed the other day is called “Pile”, a statue showing a crow standing on a pigeon, sitting on some old books, standing on a pillow, sitting on a crate. I am sure it means something, but to me it was just random and wonderful.

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“Pile”

Up in the Kenton neighborhood, we saw a series of benches that feature sculpture.    Here is “Dog Bench”.

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Dog Bench

The last piece of art I will tell you about is one I noticed and photographed weeks ago during the wet weather. It is on one of the blocks of polished granite in Pioneer Square, and shows an architect’s blueprints, calculator and even coffee cup, all sculpted in bronze. It is so casual looking, as through the architect has just stepped away for a moment, it cracks me up.

 

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Blueprints sculpture

I am looking forward to showing you all the lovely things I have found in Portland.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

245 Tubas

Dear Liza,

Yesterday we had a long, cold, sunny day downtown. Our first stop was Pioneer Square, sometimes called “Portland’s Living Room”. This is a beautifully paved and decorated open square that is used for big concerts, markets, and just hanging out in.

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Statue of a Cat lady and her … dog?

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Two of the 245 tuba players

Yesterday was the Tuba Christmas Concert, which features 245 people playing Christmas songs (and other lovely tunes) on tubas, baritone horns, and sousaphones. We got there early but all the seats were taken, so we stood way back and could hear, but not see, the performance. The deep peaceful music floated in the freezing cold air, and contrasted nicely with the giggling of children and chatting of families. Everyone was enjoying the day, but not silently.

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Tuba Christmas Hat!

I enjoyed watching the people in the crowd. Since it was cold, most folks were wearing hats. As the day went along, I tried to take pictures of some of the more interesting hats without scaring anyone.

 

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Minion hat

After the music, we walked around town, enjoying the window decorations. We stopped at Dick Blick’s Art Supplies and Powell’s City of Books, to see what would make nice presents for folks. Auntie Bridgett wanted to do some secret shopping, so we split up and agreed to meet at Kenny and Zuke’s Deli in an hour.

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Bright hat

 

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Auntie Bridgett hat

We enjoyed a veggie Reuben Sandwich, french fries and chicken soup and then headed home to do the grocery shopping. The bus home was full of people all bundled up and carrying packages, just like us! When that was done, we finally got into jammies and crashed. I fell asleep during The Charlie Brown Christmas, and will need to watch it again.

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Grandpa Nelson matching a stranger

Hanging out inside this morning, watching a 34 degree wind blow past our window. It’s weird, because with no leaves left to blow along the street, you just see bare branches swaying in the wind. Sometimes your hear the wind more than you see it…..spooky, but nice.

Love, Grandma Judy