History

A Walk Through Time Mural in Tigard OR

12553 SW Main St 3.jpg

Work is set to begin in July 2019 on a public mural by professional artist Jeremy Nichols in Downtown Tigard. The mural, entitled A Walk Through Time, will be an interwoven tapestry of Tigard’s history and culture along the Fanno Creek corridor.

Working with local historian, Sean Garvey, and ecology specialists in the city, Nichols’ design incorporates images from Tigard’s past. The mural depicts a member of the Kalapuya tribe (the indigenous inhabitants of the area) alongside native flora and fauna, including Red-tailed Hawk, Western Painted Turtle, Great Blue Heron and Oregon Iris and Camas flowers. Nichols hopes that the mural will raise awareness about the original inhabitants of the Tigard area, as well as the local ecosystem. “It is important to me to create a mural that will stay relevant and be enjoyed by generations to come. I wanted to create a design that steps away from the norms of ‘traditional cultural’ murals and create a design with a more contemporary approach that is equally informative and significant,” says Jeremy Nichols, the artist designing and painting the mural. 

A Walk Through Time Design Concept_smaller.jpg

Located at 12553 SW Main Street, the mural will be directly adjacent to the popular Fanno Creek multi-use trail on the recently renovated building home to several new Downtown Tigard businesses including Frameabl, Versus Board Games and Senet Game Bar. Building upon previous arts initiatives led by the City of Tigard and non-profit Tigard Downtown Alliance the mural will aid in the ongoing revitalization of downtown Tigard. Dylan Dekay-Bemis, the City of Tigard’s Economic Development Coordinator, believes the project will “increase access to art in Tigard, help improve walkability in downtown and draw attention to the great local businesses housed within the building where the mural will be located.”

In recent years, art initiatives have driven commercial success and interest in Downtown Tigard, including the annual Downtown Art Walk event, gateway art sculptures by artist Brian Borrello, an Art on Loan program that places art leased from local artists in locations around downtown, and the award-winning SubUrban street art exhibition. 

Portland based non-profit Portland Street Art Alliance (PSAA) facilitated the commissioning of Jeremy Nichols for the City of Tigard and will continue to assist the City in managing this mural project. PSAA Executive Director Tiffany Conklin explains that “the quality of our shared public spaces speaks volumes about what we, as a society, believe to be important. Public art projects like A Walk Through Time not only bring more cultural vibrancy and interest to a place, but ensure that everyone has the opportunity to experience art in their everyday lives.” 

A Walk Through Time is funded through the City of Tigard’s Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper (LQC) program.  LQC projects are inexpensive but impactful actions that improve walkability, connectivity and health in Tigard.

 

What: A Walk Through Time (public mural)

Who: City of Tigard, Portland Street Art Alliance and artist Jeremy Nichols

When: July 8-15, 2019

Where: 12553 SW Main Street, Tigard, OR 97223


IN THE NEWS!




THE HISTORY OF TAYLOR ELECTRIC

Since 2006, the remains of the Taylor Electric building have been a unique Portland landmark. A sanctuary for artists, rebels, and outcasts. Over these nine years, this burnt out industrial skeleton at SE 2nd and Clay had been continuously and illegally reinvented by the public into a gallery for urban art and exploring. Taylor Electric was full of possibilities, a homemade refuge, and a cultural space of our own making.

The aesthetics of Taylor Electric were addictive for many, not only artists and tourists, but academics, journalistsphotographers, and videographers. As geographer Bradley Garrett wrote “these spaces are appreciated for their aesthetic qualities, for their possibilities for temporarily escaping the rush of the surrounding urban environment and their ability to hint at what the future might look like, when all people have disappeared, a visceral reminder of our own mortality.”

In the months leading up to its demise, the art in Taylor Electric flourished as the fences went down and security was reduced. More so than ever people of all types, young and old, high heels and rubber boots, descended on this public place to experience an post-apocalyptic scene bursting with color.

Rumors of demolition and development plans had been circulating for years. With Portland’s economy and population is booming this change was inevitable. As power and urban space collide, developers moved their attention to this centrally located urban property. It was a profitable time to rebuild. This time instead of an electrical supply company, this site would be occupied by an office building and café. Part of the existing south-facing retaining wall of the 1936 building will be preserved and incorporated into the new structure.

In early May 2015, a large fence was erected, surrounding the entire building and closing an adjacent street. On Monday May 10th the demolition of Taylor Electric began. Spreading quickly through social media, artists shared images of the first walls to fall. Some onlookers talked with workers, gathering details of the plans. Local media outlets, like the Willamette Week covered the story, focusing on the cultural importance and impact of this space.

While a sense of loss pervaded, there was also a sense of unity and reflection that arose, as many people began to introspectively think about what was being lost, but also what had been built over the years in this space.

A local group of artists created this video:

Taylor Electric was showcase of local, regional, national and international graffiti art. When people visited Portland and wanted to see graffiti, Taylor Electric was the obvious and easiest destination.

While it has been difficult to see Portland’s only truly public and easily accessible graffiti space crumble before our eyes, graffiti is about temporarily occupying and re-imagining the spaces of the city. This spark that creates culturally rich places like Taylor Electric, lives within us. We use these urban voids as conduits and staging grounds for our creative energies. Taylor Electric was a particularly conductive environment for such electricity, but there are always new frontiers. That’s part of the beauty of graffiti; it’s always searching out the unexplored and raw. Strangely, it’s ephemeral and nomadic nature contributes to its resiliency and allure. Because it won’t be there forever.

All images © 2015 Anton Legoo

LAST DANCE WITH TAYLOR ELECTRIC

If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution – Emma Goldman 1931

Last night, from a ruined crack of the urban landscape, culture erupted with fiery explosions of color, light, and movement. Crowds gathered inside and outside the space to watch this mysterious event. Playing amongst these ruins, using rubble as the raw material for innovation, the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre Northwest’stook over Taylor Electric, using it as a stage for Ragnarok, a Norse mythological tale of destruction and rebirth. The dance performance featured artists from Portland State University, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

This event is the first and perhaps the last opportunity for the public to officially experience this space, before it is lost forever. Demolition plans have been set.

Since the ruins of Taylor Electric were left to stand outside the political economy of urban development for years, it has functioned as richly occupied public space.While it was not legally public, it also was not subjected to the exclusionary controls of commercialization that increasingly afflict our cities. Taylor Electric offered a ‘shelter from the storm’ for a diverse community of outcasts, illustrating why debates over urban economic and cultural gentrification often evolve into debates over social well-being, social order, and social justice.

Many officials and developers envision streets purged of marginalized populations, cleared of human trash. These uncomfortable reminders of decay and neglect counter a narrative of a city made safe for endless effortless consumption and full of programmed urban activities. Officials often present redevelopment as economic salvation, or as social and cultural stimulation – restoring their version of a ‘quality of life.’

However, for many people in the city, spaces like this are essential for quality of life. We choose to live in the city for the unexpected and the grit. In this way, we view the demolition of Taylor Electric as the destruction of our public and cultural sphere. In many modern sanitized cities, space for unanticipated interaction and chaotic urban pleasures are rapidly diminishing. 

Over the past few weeks, as the fences have been slowly removed, the amount and variety of urban explorers descending upon the space has dramatically increased. People of all types come to take photos, reminisce, and talk with each other about what the place is and its future. Experiencing the dance performance shed light on how easy it would have been to use a space like this for community events. Imagine if grass were planted in the factory floor, turning the space into a unique pocket park surrounded by the burnt-out skeleton walls. Live bands could play music, people could have picnics, street artists could paint murals, and mobile food carts could provide food and beverages. As many from the street art community have argued for years, if permitted, this would have provided a perfect free wall space, something the city does not have and desperately needs. Portland has a ‘zero-tolerance’ graffiti policy requiring that all un-permitted public expression be promptly removed or the property owner will be fined. Countless northwest cities (Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, San Francisco, etc.) have free walls that are open to public expression. Free walls are a community asset because they provide a designated safe place for people to practice and refine their artistic skills and a place where urban flâneurs and tourists can go to see this style of art.

Our vision of the City of Portland is a place where gutter punks, graffiti writers, and the houseless community will no longer be driven from public space. They’ll be embraced as members of the community. In such a city, residents would no longer be taught to fear marginal spaces like Taylor Electric, they would be embraced for creativity and cultural innovation, where the inherent uncertainty of the unpredictable provides raw material and conditions that incubate new ways of being and thinking. The allure of this vision is undoubtedly fleeting. We must not forget this spark lives within us, not necessarily in the spaces we create and occupy. We use these urban voids as conduits and staging grounds for creative energy. From the ruins of the past, time and time again, we rebuild.

Special thanks to Hart Noecker and Anton Legoo for contributing to this article.

Some material adapted from Jeff Ferrell’s 2001 book, “Tearing down the Streets: Adventures in Urban Anarchy” 

All images © 2014 Anton Legoo

TAYLOR ELECTRIC FREE SPACE

Seven years ago, a massive fire engulfed the wooden frame Taylor Electric Supply Warehouse on SE 2nd & Clay in the Central Eastside Industrial District of Portland. The building housed electrical equipment, flammable materials and chemicals. It was one of Portland‘s largest industrial fires ever. It burnt into the night, causing power outages and oil spills in the Willamette River. The next day, the smoldering building collapsed. All that remained was a charred skeleton and an ash-covered floor.

Today, the building‘s shell stands mostly unchanged, but with one important difference. It serves as a public art gallery, a mecca for Portland’s street art and photography community. Here, emerging and veteran artists showcase their art to the public; free, direct, and uncensored. On most days, visitors discover a range of graffiti here including, tags, stencils, installations, and huge masterpieces. As with many official and unofficial ‘free walls,’ the graffiti in Taylor Electric is generally found to be more aesthetic pleasing. The artists have time to create more detailed work.

During the day, the building comes alive in other ways. On the edge of Produce Row, a flurry of manufacturing and shipping activity surrounds it. Professional photographers, film crews, wedding parties, and urban explorers descend upon the building to photograph its walls. It is even used to market locally-made mustard.

Even though graffiti is often stereotyped negatively as promoting blight and urban decay, a thriving street art scene is also a sign of a vibrant, innovative, and creative city. Under-use and decay of built environments is not caused by the presence of graffiti; it is instead a by-product of an area that’s already in disrepair. Artists are drawn to these spaces because of their gritty aesthetics and the anonymity they provide.

Cities like Berlin, London, Melbourne, Basel, and Miami have realized that fostering creative activities in public (both planned and unplanned) can be beneficial to the city, financially and culturally. In many cities around the world, graffiti removal is mostly targeted to the central downtown core. The extent of graffiti abatement outside the city is left to individual neighborhoods to decide and manage. Some neighborhoods are mostly free of graffiti, and other areas the walls burst with color. This is not the case in the City Portland, where a blanket zero-tolerance policy covers the entire city. It is illegal to paint graffiti (or a mural) on an outside wall, even if you have permission from a property owner. If graffiti is not covered up in 10 days, property owners run the risk of being issued substantial fines from the city. Additionally, Portland does not host any official free walls, like other northwest cities, like Tacoma and Olympia do. What often results in Portland is an abundance of quick tags (which most people dislike) all over the city, instead of more elaborate pieces painted on designated walls or districts.

Portland’s zero-tolerance policy has been playing out on the walls of Taylor Electric for years now. The entire building has been ‘buffed’ (painted-out) every few months to remove the graffiti even though it was an un-salvageable building with no residential neighbors. The premise behind this continued effort was that it would “reduce social deterioration within the City and promote public safety and health.” The assumption is that consistently covered up graffiti will deter more from occurring. Research done by Portland State University graduate students in 2004 and 2012 (Gorsek & Conklin, respectively), suggests that, in fact, buffing does not to deter graffiti from reoccurring. If anything, the solid paint provides a fresh canvas to work on and incentive to get bigger and better.

The potential for re-development of the Taylor Electric site, and the surrounding area, cannot be denied. It sits just minutes from downtown Portland, offers panoramic city views of the city, and easy access to the Willamette River, East Bank Esplanade, and Hawthorne Bridge. Down the road, you find Distillery Row, the heart of Portland’s craft distilling movement, several of Portland’s famous food cart pods, the Museum of Science and Industry, and most recently, the new Eastside Streetcar line.

A different type of gentrification is occurring in the Central Eastside Industrial District (CEID). It is zoned industrial, not residential. Some of the businesses in this district have operated here for decades. There is even a non-profit, volunteerorganization, responsible for representing businesses and property owners in the Central Eastside Industrial District. This group fights to protect the rights of property owners and businesses in the district and keep CEID as an ‘industrial sanctuary,’ and major employment zone for the city.

Just recently it was announced that the Taylor Electric Building had been sold. It is now slated to be re-developed into office space. New building plans can be found here. This re-development was inevitable. Portland’s and urban growth boundary makes it a very dense city. Most vacant land in and around the urban core is developed. This land-use planning protects our cherished natural surroundings, fosters walkable, bikeable, cohesive, and vibrant neighborhoods.

However, this density also makes finding hidden under-used spaces that allow for alternative uses very hard to find. Undeveloped landscapes serve as a reminder that there is value in not having all urban space in continuous official use. These spaces in-between are voids that allow for unscripted activities. In Portland, out of under-used parking lots, culinary meeting grounds arise. In a trash covered ditch under a bridge, one of the most famous skateboarding spots in the world, Burnside Skatepark, was built by hand and without permission.

Although many people might at first think these spaces as uninviting, boring and even dangerous, other people see great potential in these derelict wastelands. These spaces offer respite from the city‘s watchful eyes. They are places in a state of uncertainty, caught between uses, and open to endless possibilities.

ALL PHOTOS © PSAA

ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK: THE HISTORY OF PIRATE TOWN

Everything is ephemeral. Sometimes it takes loosing cherished pieces of our city to realize what is important and how change is the only constant, especially in a city. As Portland’s wild-west development bonanza booms, many of us are hard at work documenting and fighting to save these important pieces of the urban landscape.

Our urban growth boundary helps preserve our hinterlands and create a dense city, but it also ensures that vacant space is temporary and abandonment is short-lived. As in other cities, Portland is growing at an unprecedented rate due to the millennial desire for a more sustainable urban life. With this influx, comes change and with this change there are important considerations and sacrifices. What impact does the loss of free, hidden, and accessible spaces have on the city and its arts culture?

Indeterminate “spaces in-between” are voids in the city, undesirable to most people and sought after by some. These abandoned, contaminated, and sometimes dangerous spaces are where DIY activities flourish. Whether it be for graffiti art, skate/BMX parks, urbex, or guerilla gardens, these “cracks” in the urban fabric provide respite from norms and regulations of modern urban space. These spaces are open to possibilities for intervention and ripe for activation; places where the seeds of innovation and authenticity can be sown.

As we contest and cope with our changing city, it is important to document and remember an important piece of Portland’s DIY and graffiti history that is quickly fading into distant memory.

It was known by many names: Popsicle Land, Creosote Factory, SuperFun Site, officially named Triangle Park, and most infamously Pirate Town. This 35-acre superfund site is situated on the Portland Harbor at the base of Waud Bluff and in the University Park area of North Portland. With an industrial history dating back to at least 1900, this site has been home to nearly 50 different industrial operations.

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Most recently, this was the site of the former Riedel North Portland Yard, which dredged rivers, constructed boats, and cleaned-up hazardous railroad spills. Riedel closed in 1986, but the effects of its operations (and the site’s prior operations) will be present for centuries to come; as soil and groundwater tests show high levels of toxic contaminates, mainly arsenic.

This abandoned complex consisted of a dock and three cement buildings. The site provided both a canvas for the most prolific graffiti in Portland at the time and space for creation of DIY skateboarding and BMX structures. Skaters and BMX riders revamped Pirate Town, turning the spaces into parks reminiscent of the early Burnside Bridge days. For years, Pirate Town was a cherished space for all sorts of adventure; a place to end midnight bicycle rides, hold massive parties, host an epic chariot wars, army training ground, and a horror movie theater.

Photo: The Skateboard Archives, skateandannoy.com

Photo: The Skateboard Archives, skateandannoy.com

A 2009 Portland Mercury article by Sarah Mirk documented the public sentiment when demolition plans were announced: “It’s one of those places where there’s no rules. I’m perpetually frustrated by how society stomps out the places where people can create new things,” Zander Speaks told reporters. Similarly, Zachary van Buuren said that it was “one of the few places that graffiti artists could go to do their art and it’s completely alright. It’s a giant industrial canvas, sad to see it go.” Gabe Tiller who rode around town on a coffin bike, explained that “these urban decay areas are gorgeous and every city needs them, it was inevitable I guess. Fun while it lasted, and there are other great spots out there waiting to be found!”

Photo:   Jeremy Running

American Institute of Architects even hosting a photography show displaying the work of Bruce Forster, commemorating the graffiti that covered almost every inch of the structure.

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

Reminiscing about the Pirate Town 10 years later, native Portlander and professional BMX rider Caleb Ruecker explained to PSAA that for many years it was a favorite spot for him and his friends, for not only biking but fishing off the decaying old docks. For a long time it was a chill spot, mainly just used by the bikers, skaters, and graffiti artists, and sometimes visited by photographers and explorers. Then around 2003 nearby University of Portland students started going down there more, even driving their cars down the access road (unlike most who took the back way in along the tracks). This brought a lot of attention to the site and then there were fences and guards.

Photo: Sam Policar

Photo: Bruce Foster

Photo: Bruce Foster

In December of 2008, the University bought the site for $6 million and swiftly demolished it; releasing a statement saying that it was a liability. Back then, UofP representatives explained that the site would allow them to “expand without going into the neighborhood.” They saw this as an “opportunity to take blighted and contaminated industrial land and restore it under the stewardship of the University of Portland as a public asset.” Rumors circulated that it was going to be developed it into a baseball, sports field, or storage area. Today, over 7 years after its demolition, some environmental restoration has happened, but the site still sits completely vacant, being almost completely reclaimed by nature.

Interestingly, the University’s comment about how they intended to restore the site into a “public asset” raises the question about who this development is for, and how the divergent values placed on spaces. These abandoned spaces are actually often being well-used, just not in traditional, scripted, or city-sanctioned ways. While technically being private property, many times these types of sites are left to rot, especially turning into semi-public spaces.

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

These spaces are then reclaimed by certain subcultures and turned into unique “community asset.” However, the general ethos does recognize the value in these unique DIY spaces in cities, they just assume that they are blighted, debauchery-ridden cesspools that need to be removed. True in some cases yes, but in others they are just removed for the sake of removing them, paved or grassed over, or left to sit for another few decades until market demand rises to the point of profit.

Photo:   Brandon Seifert
Photo:   Aaron Rabideau

As urban planners strive to design authenticity in our cities with placemaking and tactical urbanism-inspired plans, we ignore and disregard the fact that original and authentic place-making is done by the communities like these, in places like Pirate Town and more recently in Taylor Electric. Toxic wastelands flourish into meccas for activity, adventure, and raw beauty. Enter at your own risk.

Special thanks for Caleb Ruecker for providing invaluable insights and inspiration for finally writing this article. Be sure to follow his demolition and abandoned documentation adventures @calebrueckersphotos.
Photo:   Aaron Rabideau
Photo: Bruce Foster

Photo: Bruce Foster

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo:   Brandon Seifert

THE LOVEJOY COLUMNS

Perhaps the earliest recorded example of ‘graffiti’ in the City of Portland, is the Lovejoy Columns, painted by Athanasios (Tom) Efthimiou Stefopoulos from 1948 to 1952. Stefopoulos, was a Greek immigrant and a lifetime bachelor who came to the United States in 1910 hoping to pursue a career in the arts and send money back to his family in Greece. Unfortunately, even though he was an extremely talented artist, he was not able to fully pursue that dream (only working sporadically teaching penmanship and as a sign painter) and ended up working most of his life as a watchman in the northwest Portland rail yards for the SP&S Railroad Company.

During idle times in the yards, he climbed atop the boxcars and painted the Broadway Bridge Lovejoy overpass columns with whimsical images of doves, owls, lions, anthropomorphic trees, Greek mythical gods, biblical figures, and Americana. Although this was technically illegal graffiti (the word graffiti had yet to enter the popular lexicon, but it was surely in the urban environment) his art was appreciated and allowed to remain for decades.

Locals old enough to remember these columns in place say it was a like a gritty temple of industry, a real trill for the adventurous urban flâneur. To Tom, these must have been an attempt to bring a little bit of his homeland and culture into this foreign land.

Stefopoulos was fondly remembered by his community as a quiet and kind man, who frequented the local Greek grocery store on Couch and the Tacoma Tavern that he lived in a small room above. Tom lived a long life, passing away in 1971 at the age of 89.

The pillars were postcard favorites and seemed as much a part of the city’s landscape as the Hawthorne Bridge. They were immortalized in Gus Van Sant‘s opening scene of Drugstore Cowboy and Elliott Smith‘s film Lucky Three. Some of the art was lost throughout the decades (painted over by other artists and later by city graffiti abatement), but many of them were preserved for over 50 years, being naturally protected from the elements by the massive overpass.

In 1999, when urban redevelopment began to sweep through the area the 40 acre railyard and Lovejoy overpass were set to be demolished. Thanks to extensive lobbying by Rigga, a group of insurgent Portland architects and artists (led by public installation artist and James Harrison), ten of the painted columns were cut down and saved. This was a huge and expensive undertaking.

Many Portland politicians, including the now Mayor Charlie Hales, agreed that these columns were an important cultural and historical asset, but the proper resources were never dedicated to ensure their preservation. The Regional Arts and Culture Council could have added them to the city’s official public art inventory, but did not.

Luckily, thanks to one Pearl district developer, two of the best columns were re-incorporated into the new upscale urban landscape (in the Elizabeth Lo courtyard on 10th near Everett), but to this day those few remaining paintings remain encased, waiting for the will, drive, and funding to be restored and publicly display.

The other remaining columns lay in ruins in an abandoned lot near Natio Parkway. The Friends of LoveJoy Columns tried for years to protect the delicate paintings, but in the end, lack of security and the northwest weather washed away the images, which are now replaced with modern day scrawlings.

Vanessa Renwick documented much of this perilous story in her work-in-progress documentary film “LoveJoy.” The Friends of LoveJoy Column are now working to raise funds to purchase a gravestone for Tom, who is buried in an unmarked grave in Rose City Cemetery. His story is emblematic of many immigrants who struggled to find their way in Portland. His legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of many Portlanders who appreciate these small, yet powerful pieces of original insurgent public art.

MURALS & THE PORTLAND CITY SIGN CODE

At one time, artists could paint outdoor murals in Portland with a simple agreement between themselves and the building owner, as is the case in manyother cities in the United States.

In 1998, the City of Portland was thrust into a lengthy and complicated legal battle with AK Media (a company that was later absorbed by Clear Channel).

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of a handful of art advocates who pushed for the art of mural-making to be recognized, in 2005, the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) began its Public Art Mural Program. In 2009, following the closing of the Clear Channel trial, and the judge’s decision (in 2007), the City of Portland’s new mural program was created.

Until those two pathways were forged, community murals were either not painted, or were done without City permission, thereby risking citations and fines for building owners being out of compliance with the City’s sign code.

Both the existing mural programs have certain requirements. The City of Portland’s mural permitting process requires a fee and a neighborhood meeting. RACC is a more comprehensive mural proposal submission and funding opportunity that, if approved, the mural is added to the City’s public art collection, ensuring that the artwork is exempt from the City’s sign code and will be enjoyed by future generations to come.

The existing systems work, and many murals have been painted since the drought of mural art in the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, there are many ways that certain types of artistic expression are still burdened.

It is time that the City of Portland re-evaluates its Original Art Mural Permit process to ensure that it is still effective and could not be further improved.

Buckman Community Mural by Joe Cotter

Buckman Community Mural by Joe Cotter

Contributors: Joanne Oleksiak, Robin Dunitz & Mark Meltzer