Future of 'West Linn Gateway' uncertain as artwork chips away
If you've ever put a welcome mat in front of your home, you know all about the "point of no return" — when years and years of dirt, leaves, gravel and god-only-knows what else have rendered the mat unrecognizable.
Cities have their own welcome mats — often signage and landscaping on major roads at the edges of the community — and some of West Linn's are teetering on the edge of that point of extinction. Take, for instance, the two signs on the southeast edge of the city near the Arch Bridge.
"We're changing out the newer one, the one that's on Highway 43 that you can see if you're heading south closer to the (old) City Hall," Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester said. "The other one — the mosaic — that's a whole other ballgame."
Tucked away amid foliage along Highway 43 next to a Shell station, this mosaic was built as the "West Linn Gateway" in 1999 with sponsorship from the City as well as the West Linn Vision Alliance and West Linn Chamber of Commerce. Businesses, local donors and volunteers also contributed to the sign, which is a tile mosaic depicting West Linn's views of Mt. Hood and the Willamette River.
Nearly 20 years later, the sign is largely ignored and in disrepair — tiles are falling off and moss grows in their place. Yet taking it down would be tricky.
"I don't know what to do with that one, but I don't want to be the one that tears it down," said Worcester, who led the effort to build the mosaic. "It has a history. I'm hoping someone will be curious about that and maybe recreate it under our new logos, which would be cool. The tiles are falling off and it's kind of in a state of disrepair, but I'm not sure we have the ability to fix it."
Resident Sandy Carter was one of the volunteers who worked on the mosaic and remembers the project as "a really great collaboration once it got rolling." Now, she can see where it needs work and wonders what will happen next.
"I've been happy to see people maintaining the flora (around the sign) but boy, it was a tile project and the tiles have started coming out," Carter said. "I've been wondering what the future will be."
The sign sits on property that was acquired by the City in 1997, according to Worcester, and at that time it was little more than a large blackberry patch. Thus, Carter said much of the mural installation work centered on clearing out the land.
"It was 'Take your life in your hands and a pint of blood and clear it out,'" she said. "We had long-handled garden tools down there helping chop blackberries and pull them out of the way — I'm sure there were at least 30 people there."
Carter is fond of those memories but she would understand if the sign had to be removed.
"I would be sad on (my) nostalgic and wistful side, but it's a vulnerable artwork being made up of broken tile," Carter said.
For now, the City is content with "kind of letting it blend in," according to Worcester, who added that the West Linn Rotary Club took on the task of caring for and cleaning the area. Meanwhile, the parks department is exploring the addition of more wayfinding signs across the city as well as signage identifying the various service groups within the city.
"There's interest in a lot of the service groups to come up with an area that says, 'Rotary Club,' 'Lions Club,'" Worcester said. "When you go to smaller towns, you'll see a gateway with all of the service groups (listed). If you got to Prineville, you'll see 'Home to' and a list of service groups."
To put that on a busy road like Highway 43, however, the City would likely have to coordinate with the Oregon Department of Transportation — which owns the road — unless it found an easement of its own that could be used.