Creepy Stairs, Not Stares

In the beginning.

On a sunny afternoon the opening to a long winding staircase peeks out onto SW Barbur Blvd. The stairs begin dark and gloomy. Surrounding trees and brush block out the sun. The steps appear in an uninviting section of this busy four lane road offering an escape from a dirt and gravel shoulder. I had no idea where they led but anywhere, even a route that required taking sinister steps had to be better than the starting location. It has the feel of a live action Candy Land game. If you land on the space you go up the stairs.

Paint job needed.

I have read a few blogs posts in the Pittsburgh Orbit about that city’s stairs. The weekend before I checked out these mystery stairs, a friend had mentioned The Portland Stairs book. I know Portland has a network of stairs too but I’m not familiar with them. Pittsburgh stairs were constructed for workers to be able to get down the hills to the factories below. With Portland it’s a given that if you live on a hill you would also need steps.

It’s not the tree that’s crooked.

The more I drove past these stairs the more curious I was about where they led. They seemed strange to me. I wondered where someone would go if they took the stairs down the hill to Barbur Blvd. The closest location of significance is the Fulton Park and Community Center or the Portland French school up the road. The stairs have a middle of nowhere feel. It makes more sense to use the stairs to get away from that section of road. I spent the first five months of the school year commuting by bus and train but since I’ve become a regular driver I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a public transportation user or a pedestrian. The stairs provide an easier way to get up the hill. The other option would huffing it up and around a steep street. There has to be a few people who benefit from the stair’s location.

The 201st step.

I ascended the stairs after parking the car on a steep incline on SW Parkhill Dr and walking over. There was never a more aptly named street. It’s hard to tell how much the stairs get used. Graffiti on one of the stair walls had been painted over but the railings suffered from peeling paint and lichen growth. Closer to the top, a pair of pants had been draped over a railing. The stairs proved to be winding but not unyielding. The steps did a nice of job of cutting through the forest and brush. It wasn’t a bad walk as I strode up the stairs with plenty of landings along the way. I spotted daylight and the landings stopped. I was stepping through tall bushes towards sunlight. I popped up in a sedate neighborhood between two nice homes on another section of SW Parkhill Dr. I was able to look back and see a terrific view across the Willamette River. After I headed down the stairs and got back to the car I lamented not counting the stairs. A stair count would offer a sense of how far up the hill the stairs go. A specific number would be impressive. I chose not to return to the stairs to count but my estimate would be at least 300 steps.

Outdoor pants drying rack?

I know there are plenty of stairs in the West Hills and other parts of Portland. Something tells me that they must be impressive if a 147 page book has been written about the subject. I haven’t had the opportunity to explore them. At this point I’m just trying to keep up with the Pittsburgh Orbit. If they’re writing about stairs, I write about Portland’s version. I found my transplant self emerging reflected by my ignorance of stair history, but it felt good to take a few minutes to check them out instead of continuing to drive past them everyday giving them little thought. On the stairs I didn’t run into trolls, sketchy or pantsless people and I didn’t end up reenacting a Portland version of that scene out of the Exorcist. There are more steps out there with there own stories or at the very least some better views.

Post Script: As I was posting this I discovered on the community walk website that the Barbur Blvd stairs are known as the Nebraska Stairway and have a total of 147 steps. My estimate of 300 steps was way off but a good guess considering I had walked up and then back down the steps. That math has me off by only 6 steps. I checked a copy of the Portland Stairs Book from the library which is the first step in my becoming a stairs expert.

Tire Art Roundup Part 1

It’s a safe bet that nobody from Goodyear, Firestone, Les Schawb or other tire sellers and manufacturers could imagine that one day tires would form the basis of incredible art. There is a glut of tires in the world. They wear out but exist in a useless, worn out form. We pay disposal fees and forget about them. Old tires become the stuff of billowing, smoky tire fires. They are made into sandals and welcome mats. Used tires have multiple uses but that’s what I thought up off the top of my head. So why not art? Their material usefulness and ability to be repurposed is proof of this possibility.

I became conscious of Tire Art last year. As I was riding my bike to work through the St. Johns area each day I would vary my route either to find a quicker way or as a means to break up the monotony. One route delivered me to a dead end. In front of a house sat two tires one of which was painted. The combination of paint and tire is sometimes, but not always, a sign of Tire Art. It made me consider the tires way up on Columbia Blvd., planted in the dirt and painted. I think there were flowers inside. I’m still searching for the best moment to capture the essence of this display with flowers in full bloom and the tires painted and shining in all their sunlit glory. There will be a second post. There’s only so much tire art any one can digest at one time so I’m keeping the portions small.

In the Swing of Things

To offer greater perspective on Tire Art, allow me to present the classic tire swing.

The classic!

It seems timeless and true, harkening back to a bygone era, mind you as you are all probably well aware, it has nothing to do with actual Tire Art.

But when a tire is chopped up and restyled, this reimagination is a transformative art form.


At this point the tire serves double duty but mostly remains Tire Art until it finds itself in use as a tire swing .


Make a Wish

Wishing you well.

Off North Williams I found a painted tire being used to form the basis of a combination wishing well and mail box. This piece is hitting on many cylinders with that winning and functional combination. It helps that the tire incorporates a faux brick finish and a flower arrangement.

tire art close up

Tire Art, up close!


Desperate Times

Tire Art 5

I’ll have the five stack.

A desperate attempt to glean some semblance of Tire Art can be found in this photo of a stack of tires. There’s paint but the haphazard application is more slap dash than abstract. The only way you’ll get Tire Art from this piece is through a hefty dose of imagination. I tend to take pictures and analyze later as I’m excited to see tire arrangements whenever I can. This is a nice stack with color flourishes, but no amount of photographic trickery could up the art quotient.


Tire Art King

Stack attack.

The business on Lombard Street is known as The Tire King for a reason. If nothing else, they’re the king of Tire Art. They’ve displayed tires in many different ways but this set up caught my eye with it’s use of lighting and multicolored garland. It’s festive, cake shaped and an artistic way of creating a sculptural tire advertisement.

Treading lightly.


Color Me Impressed

All in a row.

This display created excitement by simply being at the top of my street in the Kenton neighborhood. It’s Tire Art close to home offering rainbow bright colors, though not quite in ROYGBIV order. These tires brighten up landscaping and are now doing double duty as planters. This display truly hits on many of the tenants of high Tire Art involving paint and imaginative arrangement.

Remove hubcaps, add plants.

Part two of our Tire Art series will run next week as we wait for the photos to get back from the developer.

Next week: Creepy Stairs, Not Stares

Portland Has A Liberty Bell (Replica)

No sooner had I stepped out of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, in downtown Portland (after photographing the Louie Louie sculpture) than I ran into a large bell behind City Hall. It looked familiar. Something told me if I got closer, I would see a crack, and . . . sure enough. It hit me: replica crack equals Liberty Bell Replica!

Single word questions like “What?” and “Why?” jumped into my head. Since I was writing posts related to “Louie Louie,” I decided to run the imitation bell up the proverbial flag pole by posting a picture of it on the “Hidden Portland For the Curious” Facebook page as a kind of subliminal, secretive blog post preview. Responses included information from a Wikipedia entry, ah, the speculative journalist’s favorite source, and a link for a site explaining an effort to get a replica placed in each of the 50 states. Most liberty bell replicas were placed in state capitals including Salem. This left me wondering why Portland has a bell.

My best guess is Portland’s bell has nothing to do with the Liberty Bell Replica program that started in 1950. Salem got a bell, and Portland likely developed bell envy. Personally, I like Liberty Bells and had an opportunity to visit the mother of all Liberty Bells in Philadelphia years ago with Pittsburgh Orbit founder Will Simmons. It was great to discover this replica after living in Portland for almost ten years. I never had a reason to hang out behind City Hall until now. My online research proved treacherous, fraught with temptation to purchase my own personal Liberty Bell Replica. I’m surprised the market for them isn’t growing. Portland’s first bell only cost $8,000 in 1962 according to Wikipedia. That was a bargain. Every town and city in America should have its own  Liberty Bell Replica and let freedom ring!

Liberty Bell 2

Will Simmons and some posers.

Liberty Bell 1

You can look and touch.

The Wikipedia entry made fascinating reference to the explosion of the first replica.  After a time in the City Hall Rotunda, it was blown up with dynamite in 1970. An article in the Portland Mercury included details of the bell explosion in a cover story featuring famous explosions in Oregon history. Other articles drew my attention as well. I appreciated a quote from a City Hall custodian, in The Chicago Tribune. “It scared the _______ out of me!” he said. The Tribune published the blank in place of what must have been a vulgar word.

After exploring every source I could find in a fit of harried research, I felt I was reading the same story over and over. The bell was blown up. It was replaced. Not one mention of the reason it showed up in the first place. On I saw a posting by HappyFrog that tells an interesting tale.

“500,000 schoolchildren signed a petition in 1915 asking Philadelphians to send the Liberty Bell to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of San Francisco. The Liberty Bell was now to travel cross-country by train, stopping frequently as it made its way to San Francisco. One of the stops was in Portland, Oregon.”

It’s possible this bell commemorates the real Liberty Bell’s 1915 visit, but I didn’t find evidence of that. HappyFrog was told, on a visit to City Hall in the ’60’s, that major cities were given replicas of the Liberty Bell. So they were just handing out bells back then?

I only wish I could reveal the identity of those involved in blowing up the original replica. That would be a scoop. Portland Mercury contributing writer Joe Streckert asked if such a thing as an “original replica” could actually exist. It is pretty oxymoronic as the description of Portland’s first bell. It seems further proof of how much the city wanted a bell when they replaced the first one. It was in too many bits and pieces to put back together. In my research I also learned that the Oregonian uses Wikipedia as a source which puts me in good company.

The Tacoma Weekly reported in 2010 that,

“Fifty-five exact replicas of the Liberty Bell were forged in France in 1950 and were distributed to each state and Untied States territory as part of a savings bond drive undertaken by the U.S. Treasury.”

And yes, the Washington state bell can be found in Tacoma which makes the workings of this giveaway questionable. I’m left, sadly, with more questions than answers. I can’t tell you why Washington State’s bell is located in Tacoma and not Olympia. It is located next to a state building. And no, I never did find the reason Portland has a bell. I hope to have an answer in a future blog post. I can only appreciate the serendipitous joy of happening on the bell. It’s a bonus that its history includes a strange tale. Even the Portland Liberty Bell Replica is trying to keep it weird.

This one stumped me enough that I wanted to share everything I’ve found out about this bell. I received another great link from a Facebook commenter that ties up a few of my loose ends. This may save me from writing more about this unless I can solve the crime of who blew up the first one.

There’s a Liberty Bell museum, not in Philadelphia, but Allentown, Pa!

Some guy has gone nuts and is trying to visit all 50 of the Liberty Bell Replicas:

Next week the first part of an exploration of Tire Art.

The Louie Files: ’62 Seaside Riot

When I started running blog posts about “Louie Louie,” I discovered some history along the way. In the case of finding the location of the Pypo Club, I’ll admit I was befuddled. The origins of the Kingsmen’s recording could be found at the Seaside, Oregon club. While the Pypo Club was not central to the ’62 riots, when discussing this history with my friend Jeff Dodge he told me his father Stew Dodge had been a witness to the event.  I knew there was more to this era to cover. Stew Dodge has been a longtime Portland musician and behind the music scene too through the sound company he owns. I’ve never been to a riot so I had to hear a first hand account.

July 1962

In the summer of ‘62, I was headed for my senior year of high school at North Catholic which is right down the street. Now it’s an Arby’s on Lombard Street. Our family hung out at the beach. We had friends that had a cabin at Tolovana Park. It was a beater, neat, great, beat up five bedroom beach cabin and we’d rent it before school started for a few years. We hung out at Cannon Beach a lot, went up to Seaside hung out there a lot. In the summer of ‘62 I was down there with, I can’t remember probably staying at the cabin in Tolovana Park. I think it was probably a Saturday night and we went in to Seaside. We had a great beach party going. It was Pete Dressler and Al Kemmer. There was maybe four guys and three of the foxiest chicks that ever went to North Catholic High School and I actually struck up a conversation with Fran Yohn who was absolutely fantastic and I had high hopes until the Seaside lifeguards came walking down the beach. Pete Dressler got beat up. They threw the guitar in the fire, drank all our beer and then split. Nobody got really hurt. It was a power move. It was the lifeguards. There was a guy, his nickname was, Hodun, a big guy and there was another guy I’m not going to mention his name because he was kind of the head lifeguard and the next day I went down to the Turnaround I think with Al Kemmer and these guys were hanging around the lifeguard tower, strutting around and they made some crack “hey you have a good party last night.” And I said, “No, we didn’t have a good party at all.” I said, “But you’re gonna wish you never did that because Labor Day weekend I’m going to bring all my friends down here and we’re going to get even with you.” So file that away.

Stew Dodge, far left from US Cadenza band lineup, 1966

Saturday, Labor Day weekend ‘62

So we found ourselves down at the coast, oh there was half a dozen guys I was down there with. Things started getting really crowded and really crazy. It was just huge, packed, you had to walk in the streets because the sidewalk’s too full. This is one thing the good residents of Seaside probably don’t want to admit but I was 17 and I looked like I was 12 and I could walk into any one of three or four taverns buy a case of beer as long as I took it down on the beach on the sand, as long as I went down to the Turnaround and then went on down to the beach. Well let me think. Is that a good idea? Maybe not. So Saturday was pretty crazy, there wasn’t any aberrant behavior I don’t think, it was just packed and a huge party.

The day of the riot, Sunday, Sept. 2nd

The Times Theater is on Main Street and it’s like a long block away from the Turnaround, I think it’s a four way stop now with the light and we were just walking up and down the sidewalk and hanging out and a fight started. As I recall it was a guy who went to University of Oregon and somebody else said the other guy was a javelin thrower from USC or something and it was like a John Wayne movie. These guys were slugging it out. It was a fair fight but it was a real fight. Everybody backed up so there was like a 20 foot diameter ring right in the middle of the intersection where these guys were fighting. Everybody’s cheering them on and finally they said, “Do you want to quit?” “Yeah I’ll quit.” And they shook hands and walked down the street to get a beer and then the cops showed up. I can’t remember why, one guy got arrested and they cuffed him, threw him in the backseat of the squad car and they were already headed up Broadway towards the Turnaround so they drove up to Turnaround and the crowd followed them. They tried to take a right hand turn at the Turnaround and they couldn’t move it was too many kids. It was really packed and people were yelling, screaming and cheering and stuff and drunk, everybody’s drunk. You know the average age seemed to me to be 21 or 22 older and younger, but college. I was kind of in the minority. I was a junior in high school. Somebody, and I was right there I was watching it, somebody ran up and opened the passenger side, back door on the cop car and they grabbed the guy that was in the cop car and spirited him away. All the sudden they didn’t have their prisoner anymore. So one of the cops slammed the door and they both hopped in and they went up to the corner took a right headed back into town and then when they got down in front of the Catholic Church a block down the street they couldn’t move again.

A bottle like this?

It was too crowded. I was standing there with hundreds of people, the cops were, “Okay, break this up, let us through here,” and from kind of up the street towards the beach came a Blitz Weinhard stubby bottle through the air and punched out the rear window of the cop car. And that was it. Everybody kind of went, “uh oh,” that’s all changed and the cops were able to get into their car and take off and we didn’t see another cop, I’m thinking this was five o’clock in the afternoon, six, somewhere in there, we didn’t see another cop for two or three hours, nobody, no authority at all. They all just gave up which is probably a good idea. By this time they started calling in county, state cops, cops from Astoria, cops from all the agencies up and down the North Coast. So it was just anarchy, you know. It was thousands of kids, nobody in charge, everybody is drunk, everybodies’ having a great time. So we’re all back up at the Turnaround and Al Kemmer says let’s get some guys let’s get three or four guys and let’s start chanting, “Let’s get the tower.” Statue of limitations, okay, I’m not afraid now you know I’ve lived my life. And they did. The thousand people streamed down into the sand and pushed over the lifeguard tower. It was like two and a half stories tall and it was right next to the Turnaround so a long way from the water and we thought well that was interesting.

Then about fifty people picked it up, carried it up the steps and stood it up in the middle of the Turnaround and I’m thinking this is interesting you know this is getting out of control and then they started rolling it end over end down Broadway. It took like fifty guys to do that. It was spectacular and I’m think it pretty much disintegrated from falling over a bunch of times in the cement and then the cops started coming up the street and a fire engine. A fire engine came up about a block away from the actual Turnaround, maybe, and they hooked it up to the fireplug, fired that thing up and got their high pressured hose, I think they only had one, they might’ve had two hoses. They had at least one hose and started hosing down the crowd, which was great fun, you know, and again it didn’t start getting crazy until firemen and cops and other people with some sort of authority in Seaside started using ax handles and they started beating on the kids and then arresting a lot of kids. My good friend, he grew up two houses away from Pat Daily, he went to jail that night. They got him for inciting a riot, hauled him off and put him in jail. We bailed him out the next day.

There’s a picture of a guy, with a newspaper holder, I was right there, I watched that. He tried hitting somebody with that. And then the water stopped the hose quit and a guy, a kid, came running up the street with the keys to the fire engine in his hand, a huge cheer, right. It got tough after that. It got really rough. There was lots of cops. I don’t think the National Guard made it there that day. I think they were there the first thing in the morning. They called up the Guard and that was pretty much it for the anarchy, the thousands of kids from up and down the coast. Three or four of us walked out of town to Gearhart, which is the next town north and we all slept in a barn. I don’t know whose barn it was. It was Labor Day, it got pretty chilly that night but I can remember all of us slept in the hay in the corner of this barn because all of the highways were closed so we couldn’t get anywhere. That’s the chronology from my memory.

With Dr. Corn’s Bluegrass Remedy, 1976

PO: But the cops left and you guys kind of were set off what kind of rioting was going on right as the cops left? Was it fighting?

No, it was a party. It wasn’t even edgy, you know, it was a party. I think the seamier element, I think that’s when stuff started getting broken, and I wasn’t up on Broadway when they were breaking windows and stuff and I think that was, I can’t really remember if that was before the reinforced Police got back up the street. It may have been. With the fire engine, that was great fun getting hosed down with water but they were gone a long time. My feeling was that it was still a giant drunken party

Fritz Richmond’s Barbecue Orchestra, 2003

PO: Combined with maybe some underage drinking.


PO: But you mentioned the older crowd too, 21 to 22 mixed in with high school kids.

There was wholesale drinking. They were lined up in the bars buying cases of beer and then going down to the beach.

PO: As far as those lifeguards, did you ever catch up with them?

Yeah, the next day. We walked down there, me and half a dozen of my buddies walked down the steps and there were four stakes in the ground and they had it roped off where it used to be. I thought that was a wonderful memorial. It was suggested that it would be a really good idea if we got the hell out of Seaside right then and we did. That was Labor Day, that was Monday. I didn’t press it. I didn’t want to get something going all over again but I was able to look at the stakes in the ground and smile at them.

US Cadenza reunion, 2013

PO: You pretty much got the last laugh because their stand had been destroyed.

And then twenty-five years later or thirty years later, I was hanging out with this girl who lived in Cannon Beach and her landlord was the guy. I think his name is Dick Donica or something, he was the head, he wasn’t the big tough guy but—these guys, they’re all king of the Pypo Club and stuff. They’re real celebrities in Seaside and insufferable jerks. And he was Maggie’s landlord at the house she was living in, in Cannon Beach and this was in ’90, ‘91 maybe, and I knew who he was and I ran into him a couple times and he kept going, “Do I know you?” This was 30 years later and I was like, “No I don’t think so.” He looked at me funny and said that two or three times over that summer.

PO: What are your thoughts as far as Seaside not wanting to talk about it?

It’s funny because in the mid-70’s I worked at a place and one of the guys I worked with, the guy worked out in the warehouse, Sonny was the guy’s name, he was from Seaside and he was there during the riot. It came up once and they’re all pissed off that it gave Seaside a bad name, yeah, sleepy little beach town.

A sound idea, indeed.

PO: I mean part of my thought is it was right before I was born but I think about back then you think, early 60s everybody’s respectful, for this or that you can think about the Marlon Brando types the Wild Ones or something it’s not a biker gang thing but,

No, and that wasn’t, if you look at the pictures, I’ve been looking at the pictures and actually I’ve been seeing guys and I’m going okay I remember that guy. I don’t know who was at fault to do things over again that kid shouldn’t have thrown that beer bottle. Maybe they shouldn’t have arrested that kid. They’re trying to do a big power play in front of a thousand drunk college students, maybe that wasn’t smart. Nobody down there, none of the cops, sleepy little Seaside town, the worst they’d ever done was roust a drunk or a bounced check. This was totally new ground for them so it was a comedy of errors I think and there wasn’t, except for the tower, there wasn’t any sort of pre-planned thing so it was not a conspiracy it was something that got out of hand.

Performance photos courtesy of Trench Digger Productions. Many thanks to Jeff S. Dodge and Mr. Stew Dodge, too!

More reading:

My favorite part of the link below is how the photo is debunked by the commentators:

Next week: Portland has a bell?