Catch a ride to long ago
- Andy Giegerich
- Portland Tribune - News
• Pittock Mansion's holiday exhibit of toys appeals to the kid in everyone
Heard this before? 'Pick up your toys! Someone's going to trip and kill themselves!'
The oft-used command won't be barked this holiday season in Portland's most renowned abode.
Indeed, toys are out-and-out littering the floors of the Pittock Mansion.
This year's mansion holiday exhibit, 'Timeless Toys and Trains,' features scores of other transportation-oriented curiosities. Most of the decorations come from members of the Toy Train Collectors Association's Portland chapter and Toy Train Operating Society.
The exhibit works on several levels: It is nostalgic, aesthetically pleasing and thought-provoking. The exhibit features an array of playthings ranging from trinket-size Matchbox cars to the uber-cool 'pedal' cars for which most Space Age kids pined.
'I love the pedal cars. I remember them from my own childhood,' says Daniel Crandall, the mansion's director. 'I didn't have a pedal car growing up. The doctor's kids did, and I envied them.'
Henry Pittock, the family's patriarch, seemed to love things on a grand scale that belied his 4-foot-11 frame. It's natural that Pittock would have showered his children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews with state-of-the-vehicular-art gifts.
The mammoth Pittock Mansion, home to Henry and Georgiana Burton Pittock, was completed in 1914. Henry, whose fortune came largely from his ownership of The Oregonian newspaper, built the home with an eye toward spectacular architecture and a deep affection for the accompanying Cascades mountain vistas.
And, judging by 'Timeless Toys and Trains,' Pittock also built a supreme home for the holidays.
The exhibit, which features a different theme in each room, begins in the Pittocks' library, just off the entryway. The library's 'Study of Toys' contains a 1922 Ives standard-gauge train, which sold then for $50. The library also showcases several Lionel models, as well as a sporty collection of cast-iron airplanes from the 1920s.
From there, visitors can traipse into the music room, an expansive space in which the Pittocks spent Christmas morning opening their gifts. The Pittocks presumably played the room's large harp and grand piano when performing carols; the room's exhibit is called 'Sentimental Journey.'
In the middle of the room sits a toy locomotive that looks large enough to deliver lumps of coal to the more mischievous Pittock kids.
Mary Weber, the mansion's program manager, says the room contains her favorite part of the exhibit, which will be open through Dec. 31.
'I love the train and the big tracks,' she says. 'If I were a small child, I could almost imagine sitting on it. It really catches my attention.'
Next comes the display in the Turkish smoking room, titled 'Down at the Depot.' A touch of Portland past makes a subtle appearance: In the middle of several miniature delivery trucks sits a shiny dark green 1953 Meier & Frank rig. The retailer used to sell the metal toy at its downtown location.
Meticulous and bright
Lucy McLean, the mansion's curator of collections, said such touches easily attract the attention of kids.
'The toys they have aren't usually so detailed, or don't have such neat colors,' she points out. 'I think they're enchanted with the idea of things that aren't plastic.'
The exhibit's downstairs rooms flaunt a set of pedal firetrucks in an entryway, several trains that circle the dining room and a 'Casey Jones' pedal car in the kitchen.
The upstairs displays also contain several stunning models. 'A Carnival of Toys,' in the children's room, showcases several Ferris wheels and early Disney showpieces. 'All Aboard for Christmas,' in Mrs. Pittock's Room, features a Lionel blue crane and orange tanker car.
Even the bathtubs hold vessels of imaginary transportation: In the master bath sits a small-scale 'Lot Whitcomb' paddlewheel replica.
The exhibit component certain to draw the most 'oohs,' though, is the 'Sunset Limited' layout on the west sleeping porch. The setup features the exhibit's only moving trains: Its machinations call for a Toy Train Operating Society member to staff it at all times.
Mansion director Crandall believes that the exhibit works because it caters to the whimsy of both kids and adults.
'This was a family home; the Pittocks had an extended family with their children, grandchildren and nieces,' he said. 'So it's good to have something here that spotlights the children.
'Then again, a lot of adults tell me they still have things like these pedal cars in their attics.'