As an avid book lover, I always try to stop by libraries whenever I'm visiting a new city, and Portland was no exception. The city's Georgian-style Central Library was built between 1911 and 1913. It features a beautiful central staircase along with some very nice wood and marble architectural details. It's not as big as some of the other American libraries I've had a chance to visit, but the library's collection still covers about 27 km of shelf space, spread over three floors. Of course, room has also been made for 130 computers, which I thought were a bit of an eyesore, but I guess there's just no way to get around it in this day and age.
The library also features a writer's room (Sterling Room), an impressive rare book collection (John Wilson Room), and a gallery on the top floor (Collins Gallery). Since they obviously knew the Janeites were coming to town, they had set up a very interesting exhibition on "Lit Chicks: Verbal and Visual Satire in the Age of Jane Austen", focusing on 18th century women writers. Several manuscripts and first editions were on display, along with some letters and mementoes (including a shawl that may have belonged to Jane Austen).
Pioneer Courthouse Square, also known as "Portland's living room", is at the heart of the big movement that took place in the 1980s to revitalize downtown Portland. City officials wanted to create a space that would be similar to the popular plazas found in Europe, a place where Portlanders would automatically converge to celebrate special events or simply hang out on a sunny day, and it worked! With over 300 big and small events held every year, it seems like there's always something going at the square. I really enjoyed walking around the city's "living room" to look at the different pieces of public art that were included in its design. I especially liked the chess boards sculptures, where people sometimes come to play with their own pieces, the whispering theatre, the guidepost (always useful to know that you're "a long way" from Tipperary!), and Seward Johnson's "Allow Me" statue. Our "Best of Portland" guide actually poked fun at the statue, saying that it was clearly a tourist: no Portlander would ever hail a cab (it's illegal in Portland) while carrying an umbrella and wearing a three-piece suit!! Pioneer Courthouse Square is also home to Portland's Visitors Center, which makes it a good starting point if it's your first time in the city.
At the heart of downtown Portland is Pioneer Courthouse Square, an open square with seating, water fountain, etc., in the middle of a major shopping area. It takes its name from, and is right next to, the historic old Pioneer Courthouse (see my tip on that), an interesting historic building giving views of the immediate area from the cupola on top.
Downtown Portland, once spiraling down into decay and neglect, has been thoroughly rejuvenated into one of the most well-functioning and well-balanced downtowns of major American cities. More low-key than places like Seattle and San Francisco, if nevertheless is alive with activity of all sorts and people of all walks of life at practically all hours of the day. It is overall beautiful and clean, with many trees in addition to its beautiful buildings, plus many places to eat, shop, or otherwise enjoy onesself. It also has great streetfood with food carts on certain blocks, particularly Alder St. This comes in a huge variety of types with some truly excellent food - see my tips on street food,Ali Baba's and Savor. The main street is Broadway, which runs north south.
This is a great place to walk around and enjoy. One can also take Max and the Streetcar throughout the area, and these are free in the Fareless Square downtown area.
Old masonry buildings, modern high-rises, wooden Victorian houses and more are all intermingled in this area, providing a wide range of feels, styles, etc. For more, also see my travelogue of downtown. This, I should note is only about the downtown core, not Old Town or Chinatown, essentially extensions of downtown but in their own distinct areas. There are tips on those, too.
This is the new city hall building next to the old city hall (see my tip on that) which still houses the city council, etc. This building, built in the early 1980s, houses other city offices. It is most noted perhaps for the giant statute Portlandia on the 5th Ave side.
Portland's old City Hall is an interesting building downtown with self-guided tours (free, of course) available.
Just to the north is the early 1980s Portland Building, a high-rise housing city offices and essentially a newer extension of city hall, but across the street. The old building houses the city council, etc.
The central public library in downtown Portland is a great place. A nice library, it has been fully refurbished to its former glory and is a beautiful building. It's great to visit for a rest and also just to see the place. For kids, it has a great children's area.
Pioneer Courthouse, in Pioneer Courthouse Square, is the old federal building, being US customs house, post office, and now a federal courthouse. It is in the heart of downtown.
The building was constructed between 1869 and 1875 and is the oldest federal building in the Pacific NW. The entire building except for certain offices is open to the public. Its cupola, originally for customs officials to keep an eye on shipping traffic, is open as well and affords some nice views of the square and the city.
Portland's Old Town, with the area around Skidmore Fountain, has been largely saved from decline and decay, and contains a rich collection of Victorian buildings and in particular ironfront buildings from the 1870s-1880s. I have read that Portland in fact has the largest collection of ironfronts on the west coast (with Petaluma, California being 2nd) and this is the place to see them.
This district kinds of blurs the boundaries of Downtown and Chinatown as it kind of runs through both of them. The key is that Old Town-Skidmore proper is the portion right along the river and west to about 3rd Ave., more or less between Oak St in the south and Everett in the north. The area was originally the old downtown core and the whole part, especially the southern portion, is still more or less essentially part of downtown while the northern part run blurs into Chinatown. It also straddles the NW/SW divide by crossing Burnside, the great divider between "north" and "south" in Portland. Downtown proper is all south of Burnside and Chinatown is north.
This area is home to a steadily increasing number of eateries, cafes, etc., as well as to old local establishments. it also has brand-new offices in historic buildings, the great Tom McCall Waterfront Park on the river, flop houses, soup kitchens and sleaze joints - a real urban mix.
First occupied in 1875 by Judge Matthew Meady, the Pioneer Courthouse is a federal courthouse that is still used by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The building includes an octagonal cupola that was previously used by tax collectors to eye the various ships coming into port.
It is a nice walk through some of Portland's history as this building is home to many important decisions which affected the northwest territory.
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