On the Town

For some reason I've never able to figure out, the city of Portland has always gone out of its way to make itself seem more boring that it really is.

To read the usual tourist-oriented twaddle, it's as if we were nothing but a well-ordered city with a big bookstore, green spaces and excellent restaurants.

And, oh yes, did we forget to tell you that Portland is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the entire nation?


And it's not just for the consumption of all those would-be tourists, either.

The belief that we are terminally boring here is so deeply embedded in the civic psyche that most residents don't bother to question it themselves.

No wonder the propaganda intended for the outside world, from the Portland Oregon Visitors Association among others, is so insipid.

What we need, first of all, is to be told of some of the more exciting and colorful people who've lived and worked here over the years.

In fact, in case you were starting to wonder what I was working up to here, it would make a whole lot of sense to put up plaques around the city, reminding people of just that.

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Like Sammy Davis Jr.,for example, who spent a great deal of time in the late '40s and early '50s here in Portland. A plaque at the corner of Southwest 10th and Taylor, site of the old Clover Club, would be perfect.

Or Woody Guthrie, the great folk singer, who wrote 'Roll on Columbia' while living in an apartment on Southeast 92nd.

Or Christopher Isherwood, the author whose 'Goodbye to Berlin' was the basis for the movie 'I Am a Camera' and the musical 'Cabaret.' During the late '40s, while studying to be a Hindu monk, he lived on Southeast 60th.

Or Tempest Storm, the famous stripper, who in the early '50s owned the Capitol Theater on Southwest Morrison.

Or Clark Gable, who as an aspiring young actor sold ties at Meier and Frank.

Or Rod McKuen, who turned what must have been a troubled youth in Portland into the song 'Love's Been Good to Me.'

Or the Kingsmen, who in 1962 recorded 'Louie, Louie' in a building that still stands on Southwest 12th.

Or the great country singer Willie Nelson, who began his musical career here in the late '50s.

Or Lincoln High grad Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny.

Or certainly Matt Groening, whose creation 'The Simpsons' has to rank up there with anything in American popular culture - and it's all about Portland, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Perhaps you can think of a few to add yourself.

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But the point, to me at least, is that this would be a way to start building a little bit of civic self-esteem at a relatively low price.

And with the City Council currently trying to figure out what to do with a budget surplus of $35 million, this might even be a good time to get started.

The only trick might be keeping some of the usual ministers of boredom - like the Oregon Historical Society or POVA or, heaven help us, the council itself - from getting their paws on the project.

Otherwise it's definitely doable.

Say, did you know that Gus Van Sant shot scenes for 'Drugstore Cowboy' at the Nob Hill Pharmacy at the corner of Northwest 21st and Glisan?

Contact Phil Stanford by phone, 503-546-5166, or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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