This morning, I went on the first of a new series of walking tours that Portland arts non-profit the Dill Pickle Club is putting on this fall. Today's tour was all about seeing and learning about so-called "hidden gems" in downtown Portland. The series itself, which runs through December, will delve into neighborhoods all throughout the city, unveiling stories and artifacts often overlooked and unknown
The two-and-a-half-hour tour gave a sense of being in a new place without actually being in one. And the guides allowed for dialogue and stories among the tour participants—adding even more to what the tour otherwise had to offer. Even though it only covered a few blocks downtown, we saw dozens of overlooked gems. Here are some highlights!
1. This Benson Bubbler, outside the Oregon Historical Society, is one of 20 original bubblers donated to the city in 1912 by Simon Benson, an early-20th-century lumber baron. Today the city has 54. Fun fact: The bubblers were built to hydrate drunken lumberjacks so they'd keep out of saloons during lunchtime.
2. A driftwood horse statue sits in the sculpture garden at the Portland Art Museum. Except it’s not driftwood. It’s bronze. (It's by the same sculptor whose horses grace the airport.)
3. The bike guys in the bike lane playing trumpets and wearing silly helmets are not the works of incognito graffiti artists, but city workers. The city workers had leftover asphalt during construction jobs and decided to see what they could get away with. While their additions were mostly well received, one city worker had a bike guy drinking a martini glass in front of the Benson Hotel. It caused a controversy, and critics claimed it supported drinking and biking. It was removed in 2005.
4. Most people already know that Portlandia isn’t just a TV show. She’s the Lady of Commerce, and the second largest bronze sculpture in the country behind the Statue of Liberty. But you might not know why you never see Portlandia on T-shirts and mugs like the Statue of Liberty: That's because she's under copyright by her creator, Raymond Kaskey. You can see an exhibit on how she was made inside the Portland Building.
5. The Portland Police Museum (which, by the way, is not run by the Portland Police Bureau but by the Portland Police Historical Society, a separate nonprofit)! Be warned: It's a boosterish experience, glossing over the dark side of the bureau. One cool thing about this museum: Portland’s first traffic light lives here. The stoplight isn’t actually a light, but a pole manually turned by a police officer.
If any of this sounds interesting to you, you can go on this tour, too! Among many others. An Old Town/Chinatown tour is on tap for tomorrow (Saturday Sept 15) at 10am. And you can also show up for A Seedy, Seamy, and Sinful Portland Tour, the North Portland Gentrification Tour, There’s No Place Like Home Tour, and more! Learn more here.