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Drugstore Cowboy was a great survey of the city of Portland in that it touched on some of the special places. Besides St Francis, I also like the walk through the Park Blocks by Matt Dillon to shows off some of our city planning as well.

Gus Van Sant has used the architecture of Portland well in My Own Private Idaho, too. The old warehouses added grit to the film.

I always here about New York City architecture playing a strong role in particular film makers vision. I enjoy seeing our city, Portland, play a part in movies and take pride when it is done well by artists like Van Sant. Are there other films that do Portland architecture justice?


Check out the movie with Burt Reynold; "Breaking In" or something like that.

I think the Jupiter Hotel experimented with daylighting in the room they let out for seminars. Maybe their example might more accurately be defined as accent lighting. It was very helpful in my opinion.

The replacement for the St Francis isn't bad. If only something as good could be arrived upon for the Rosefriend should it finally have to go.


Gus Van Sant has an innate skill of capturing the grit of the city. Drugstore cowboy is a classic. As i recall the movie also has some scenes through the old brewery blocks, 13th street docks with glimpses to the city beyond. The old St francis may have been a part of that grit he captures so well, but lets be honest, it was a pit and I saw it firsthand. It was an unsafe cockroach infested building. Furthermore it was not an uplifting place for people in our society that need care that architecture can help foster. The new St. Francis is still low income yet does so with blending many demographics, and not marginalizing. As for the bblocks. I am from Portland and saw boxcars next to the brewery pumping in grain. Later in my life I spent many late nights walking home from the office through the old brewery district. A very cool and gritty area, but also not a very safe place. It is easy to become nostalgic about the past, but things change, and it seems more productive (especially when discussing architecture) to strive for improvement. We certainly learn from our past, but not everything new is bad and not everything old is or was better. Nostalgia has a way of always making the past look better than it would if in the present.


Nice eyewitness account of the St Francis and the bewery district Crow!

There's some truth in what you say here: "We certainly learn from our past, but not everything new is bad and not everything old is or was better. Nostalgia has a way of always making the past look better than it would if in the present."

One of the challenges for they that take responsibility for making improvements on the old, is to not over-react to the worst that has come to be assciated with the old, consequently throwing out the good with the bad.

Eric Berg

I'm suprised you didn't mention Golden China, the restaurant connected to the first floor of the St. Francis. A scene in Drustore Cowboy was filmed there, too, I believe.

I moved to Portland in 1985 and lived in a crappy studio for a few years just up SW 11th Ave. from the St. Francis. I loved going to Golden China and didn't stop until I moved from Portland in 1998. When I returned in 2001, Golden China was no more. If anyone knows if the family who ran it has another joint in the area, please post that information on this blog. Hell, I'll even treat you to meal there.

Here's something from Willy Week's "Best of Portland 2000." (a Brian Libby is listed as a contributor):


So you're hitting some of the "Mandarin-style" food at Golden China Restaurant (1102 SW 11th Ave., 790-9036) and nature calls. You ask the woman at the counter for a bathroom pass, and she gestures wordlessly at a nondescript door. You step through it, you see the craggy faces of gritty old men, you feel the dark weight of years of hard living downtown. And it hits you: "Holy shit! This is totally that hotel where William S. Burroughs imparts the wisdom of an aging junkie priest to dewy reprobate Matt Dillon in Drugstore Cowboy!" And you're right. You have stepped through the looking glass and into the lobby of the St. Francis Hotel, one of a small fleet of residential dives keeping it real in the face of the metastasis of Pearl District values. Local celluloid hero Gus Van Sant tapped the St. Francis for its echt noir vibe and made it the fictive home of Burroughs, who basically played himself in the grungy drug classic. Even now, the lobby of the St. Francis is populated by salty types who have seen a thing or two, and it's not hard to imagine the hawk-faced prophet of the world's underbelly in their midst. If you want this vicarious thrill, though, you'd better land a table at the Golden China soon, since the hotel's demolition has been mooted in discussions of the forthcoming social re-engineering of downtown's west end. Must get those anachronistic poor folk out of here, you know."


Eric, I'm glad you menioned the Golden China. How could I forget it? I used to live on that block and enjoyed many a fine meal there. And yes, having seen Drugstore Cowboy recently for the first time in awhile, I was reminded that it's in the movie.

Ray Whitfor

Isn't there a URD in Gateway also?

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