Portlanders on the street were shocked to see the "Portland" sign, a city icon, being removed from the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall last week.
The steel sign is 33 years old, weathered and needs to be refurbished — but when complete, it will go back up and its look will not change.
The project's budget is $500,000, and the removal didn't affect events at the Schnitz although Main Street was closed for a few days.
The project is funded by Metro, which operates the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Metro also operates the Keller Auditorium and the Newmark, Winningstad and Brunish theatres at Antoinette Hatfield Hall, which together with the Schnitz make up Portland'5 Centers for the Arts (pronounced Portland five Centers).
"The sign's going to look exactly the same," said Tom Sessa, director of booking, sales and marketing with Portland'5. "It's going to be a piece that we're investing in so that it lasts longer this time."
Several sign components need maintenance and repair according to Robyn Williams, executive director of Portland'5 Centers for the Arts, including some of the sheet metal on the sign that is corroding, and the sign's neon letters need to be replaced.
"The Portland sign at the Schnitzer is a landmark in our region," said Williams. "We need to ensure that it is cared for and ready for future generations to enjoy."
The current sign was built and installed by Ballard Sign Company in Salem in 1984.
The 65-foot-high "Portland" sign lit by 1,096 lights first went up in 1928, when it was opened as the Portland Publix Theatre. In 1930, the sign was changed to say "Paramount," as the theater was contracted with that studio to show Paramount films. When the theater opened as the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in 1984, the sign was changed back to say "Portland."
Since 2014, all bulbs on the sign have been LEDs, saving 93,000 kWh of electricity a year.
Work to take it down started on Wednesday and went through Saturday to remove the sign in pieces.
"The outside sections of the sign — the features of the sign that you see every day — are coming down in three sections on each side, six sections total," Sessa said. "Those outside pieces that say 'Portland' on them, they're going to a shop in Washington where they'll be worked on for the next six to eight weeks — that's the part that's going to take the longest."
Signage maker Tube Art will renovate the 33-year-old sign's neon letters and give it a fresh coat of paint before hauling it back up to the Schnitz at the end of June.
"We are using a large 60-ton crane for the heavy lifting, a 135-foot snorkel lift and one of our own crane trucks to help disconnect the sign," said a Tube Art representative. "We have six crew members on site."
The winner of the renovation bid, was founded in Seattle in 1946 and is one of the largest family-owned full service sign companies in the Pacific Northwest. Its Portland office is located along Southeast International Road in Milwaukie.
"When the sign comes back it'll be the exact same shape, it will still say 'Portland,' it will be the same colors," Sessa said. "The big updates are now the outside pieces that will be made of aluminum instead of steel, be much lighter and more weather-resistant. There will be a new paint job and protective coating outside that paint."
All the old steel skin and wiring will be recycled.
"All the neon will be recharged and all the light bulbs should be brighter and ready for the next 50-100 years," Sessa said. "At the time when they made the sign out of steel, they were thinking (30 years) is probably about the right lifespan with our Portland weather. We're hoping to really up that with the aluminum."
Reinstallation is scheduled for late June.