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Happy birthday, dear statue: Portlandia turns 30 years old

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PORTLAND TRIBUNE PHOTO KEVIN TREVALLYAN - Crowd members admire 'Portlandia' at her 30th birthday celebration.Madonna and Talking Heads synth lines drifted through the air Thursday as partygoers milled about eating tiny cupcakes — little treats dwarfed by the nearly 35-foot tall copper statue everyone was celebrating.

It was Portlandia’s 30th birthday. City leaders hailed the iconic statue as a local celebrity.

“Thirty years ago, Mayor Bud Clark paddled down the Willamette to welcome Portlandia to the city of Roses,” said Arts Commissioner Nick Fish, standing at the Standard Insurance Plaza across from Portlandia.

“I’m proud to join Bud, the great Storm Large, my council colleagues, the Regional Arts & Culture Council family, and our community to wish our copper goddess, ‘Happy Birthday.’ ”

The sounds of traffic that usually permeate Southwest 5th Avenue were temporarily muffled by laughter and musical throwbacks of the 1980s.

The thousands of residents who originally watched Portlandia arrive in the city 30 years ago wore big hair and big collars, around the same time Clark proclaimed his famous statement: “Expose yourself to art.”

Last Thursday, however, people were exposing themselves to their iPhones and taking selfies with the statue from atop a ladder set up at the plaza for that purpose.

They also got in line to snap photos of a replica Portlandia cake made by sponsor Cupcake Jones before grabbing coffee and a more conventionally-shaped snack to munch on.

Some guests played pin-the-face on Portlandia, being spun in circles blindfolded before wobbling over to a paper printout of the statue.

Former Mayor Bud Clark, who doesn’t make public appearances often, shared his own feelings after greeting the crowd with his signature “whoop-whoop.”

“She was born here on the Willamette the way I look at it, our modern Venus,” said Clark, who had just been elected when Portlandia arrived. “She came to the great city of Portland to watch over her, and hopefully protect her from all sorts of sins that might happen here.”

The Portland Building, 1120 S.W. 5th Ave., is facing potential renovations to improve the interior conditions. Some have suggested demolishing the building altogether.

Discussions are underway.

“I wish the building was as good as she is,” Clark said of Portlandia.

As the party closed, Storm Large took her place in the plaza to sing “Happy Birthday” to the 6.5 ton statue, surrounded and accompanied by about 90 students from Chapman Elementary School.

Then, in an effort to soothe some of the pain of the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College, Large and the student choir sang a rendition of Amazing Grace, joined by Fish, Hales and the crowd of spectators at the plaza.

About Portlandia

Designer: Raymond Kaskey

Construction: Built over the course of three years, finished in 1985

Height: 34 feet, 10 inches

Weight: 6.5 tons

Composition: Steel frame covered in hammered copper sheeting

Comparison: Second largest sculpture of its kind in the United States after the Statue of Liberty, which is three times larger.

Financing: A $198,000 arts commission by the city of Portland, along with a reported $100,000 in private donations

Based on: Lady Commerce from Portland’s city seal