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Steve L.

What is happening to the current firefighters memorial on West Burnside?


This is exactly the kind of project that competitions are perfect for. It allows the designers to deal with poetic solutions with metaphor and symbolism. The gravity or construction of it becomes less important than the message. I like them all - can't wait to see how this advances. The existing memorial on W. Burnside is a little too introspective rather than engaging. It becomes something you walk around..almost like hanging out on the steps of a mausoleum


I am so happy to hear about this project. I agree this is the type of project that should have a competition and it is great to have it be between the faculty at PSU.

The current memorial at W Burnside is a sorry excuse for a memorial. It is at the intersection of busy roads and looks like it was given the left over space of the intersection...heck, I would even bet that most Portlanders dont even know the memorial is even there.

I hope we get to see more projects like this between the city and the PSU architecture department.

Randy Leonard

You have written an excellent piece on the proposed Portland Firefighter Memorial.

However, the competition was not sponsored or initiated by the Portland Firefighters Association, the union that represents Portland Firefighters.

The competition was sponsored by the Portland Fire Bureau and the David Campbell Memorial Committee.

Here is the Portland Firefighter Memorial web site set up and maintained by the Portland Fire Bureau;


Thank you.

Randy Leonard
Commissioner In Charge,
Portland Fire and Rescue

Steve L.

The largest design challenge with this site seems to be the looming auto overpass. It would visually impact the Whelton design the most as the light columns exist in that plane and the columns are the most dramatic element of the Whelton proposal. The trees and orientation of the Tripp proposal seem to best mitigate the overpasses visual and noise impact.

The noise from auto traffic would be the other major impact of the overpass and would be worse than the noise from Burnside at the current memorial site. The water feature in the Sum proposal may help mask the noise.

The big positive of the Whelton proposal is that it can be seen from the other side of the river and from the bridges, and so it communicates on two levels, up close and at a distance.


Steve I have to say that I do know that area really well seeing that it is one of my favorite places to sit in the city when I am out for a walk or a bike ride. The noise is not as intrusive as one might think because of how high up it is and how consistent it is.

Looking at the proposals closer the Tripp Project would be really interesting because of how it cuts down towards the water and would turn the space into a destination location. SUM's design takes the current sitting area and renovates it by creating a pool that would have a much more direct response from passersby in an area that is known as a good stopping area. The Whelton would be very interesting because of its interaction from close and far away, but I fear would read the same as those red columns in the water, plus the freeway would take away from the overall effect because it would always loom over this project.

So I am hoping for either SUM or Tripp to win this competition.


Now I know this is a big no no (possibly so was that sentence) but I think these are all strong ideas and should be mixed and matched. The light poles with a reflecting pool and the stairs!! Then you would have the "calm and reflective" factor, the "looks awesome from a distance" factor, and the "is fun to interact with and sit on factor". Am I right or am I right... Anyway, I'm glad I'm not picking, would be tough to do. Also kudos for having a design competition, (even if it was pretty exclusive) would love to see more of this and as we can see, it generates good ideas. Next time open it up to everybody!!

Brian Libby

Josiah, I was actually thinking the same thing. It'd be cool to have the light poles and the stairs, maybe the reflecting pool too. The stairs could just be stairs without the memorial in the steps, while the light poles could be the symbol of individuals loss and the reflecting pool a symbol of the collective.


Josiah , are you crazy , mix and match , destroy Artistic Integrity !!!!
OK , I kinda like your idea...

P.S. since you seem to be listening Commissioner L. , we would love to have more Competitions for Public Works!
[as most of us designer-types are out-of-work-now.]


Yeah, but really... What is happening to the original?


Several have asked about what will happen to the current memorial after design selection, fundraising and construction are completed for the new memorial.

The current firefighters memorial on West Burnside was constructed in 1928. Unfortunately, the memorial is deteriorating and experts say is beyond repair. The new memorial's design will incorporate historic elements of the current memorial including brass lanterns, a plaque, and the bell. Once elements of the existing memorial are moved, a rose garden commemorating the events of September 11, 2001 is proposed for the site at West Burnside.

Feel free to check out the following website for more information:

Brian Libby

I can understand it if the West Burnside memorial is beyond repair as it relates to outside display. But why not let it be saved for display in an interior location? I hope the firefighters will not let the Burnside memorial be destroyed, even if it's no longer displayed.


I'm all for the new and improved memorial, and I think all are excellent designs. But
I think the existing one is important too. In general, I don't think memorials are disposable, moveable or replaceable. They are meant to permanent reminders and places of memory, especially ones that have been around since 1928. I think it would be a sad disservice to abandon the current memorial. It’s such a charming, if rather underappreciated, piece of civic architecture. And how many times have we heard that buildings are beyond repair...


So I say two memorials are better then one.


I like the old memorial. It always appeared to me to be a bit of an anomaly in that location. I think that's what made it so interesting.


Didn't they rip out the Japanese memorial plaza to put in the new Saturday Market pavilion?

Can't pick 'n' choose your memorial. Although we were within a hair's width in tearing out the Veteran's Memorial at the Coliseum, too.


Actually the Japanese Memorial is to the north of the Burnside Bridge, the Saturday Market is to the south of the bridge. Also with the Coliseum, the city would of had to make sure there was a new memorial installed to replace the one lost...which I think it would be a good idea to consider a new veteran's memorial apart of any plans that is done with the Rose Quarter.

Steve L.

The current memorial is essentially a set of opposing benches centered on a fountain. If it is not used enough, it is probably because of the location. If it was in a place where people wanted to sit, like Willamette Park, and if the fountain worked, it would be used. Disintegrating elements like the lamps and a plaque and mashing them into a new Memorial compromises both Memorials.

Since the current Memorial is so simple it would be easy to move and I can't believe the experts who say it is "beyond repair." I would like to see their findings.

This city has so few historic features; particularly surfaces that show the years of wear that can be seen on this Memorial. I like weathered stone and I would like the Memorial in my neighborhood if the firefighters would like the monument in a less traveled, more contemplative location.

Shouldn't this competition be run by the city and involve the Firefighter's Association? Why is PSU running this competition? What is their connection to the Memorial? When did the city abdicate this planning role to PSU?

After being on the short-end of PSU's student population "data" during the schools closures, I don't have confidence in their "experts" or their urban planning work, and I have concerns about conflicts of interest when I hear about this being a "pretty exclusive" process.


Steve, to point out something for you, the PSU architecture department has a new Master's degree, which now makes them a professional architecture program. What is happening here is a sign that the program wishes to be proactive within the community or "flexing their muscles" so to better integrate them within the city.

Established architecture school are always well invested in the city they are in when it comes to civic project and design firms, which makes it easier for students to transfer from the school environment to the work environment.

Also, just because this project isnt sponsored by the union, doesnt mean it isnt sponsored by the firefighters, which are still apart of the Fire Department Bureau which makes sense that a Bureau would be leading a memorial proposal.

It sounds like you have issues with PSU, but I dont think that should be taken out on a program that struggled to survive for many years and is now finally starting to grow and evolve into an actual player in the city.

Steve L.

Dennis, I support the PSU architecture program in general and by mentoring one of their students. I am uncomfortable with PSU getting too involved in what should be a city planning role.

Steve L.

I first though this riverfront site offered a chance at both a private peaceful place to reflect on the sacrifices of firefighters and a public prominent place to display a strong symbol of a cities support for firefighters, but after closer examination, this site may fall short on both its private and public mission. Wedged between the freeway and the firehouse boat dock, the public views to and from this site are screened or blocked in almost every direction by ramps, buildings and dock pilings, and the noise and commotion from boats and automobiles would be less peaceful than most waterfront locations.

The riparian habitat in this area is so damaged; I would like to see what little space there is between the freeway and the river used to rehabilitate habitat and as a natural buffer to the river.

Maybe there is another location, where the missions of the memorial and the rehabilitation of the river could better mesh and be more successful.


The space the existing memorial fills is one of those funky circumstances where the two grids of the city meet. I like the little pocket parks and sculpture opportunities found along there. Whatever they do at the existing location, if even leave it as is, I hope they don't just pave it. I like the juxtaposition of the new memorial location and the river. A memorial that offers those moments of contemplation, while also giving you a place to rest seems a great installation and way for the city to engage the river more than it does already. All the talk of the assumed noise and overhead ramps being distracting, are in reality just part of the city, and doubt it will compromise the purpose if well designed. Do it and have more competitions like this to improve the city.


Steve it seems as if you are just seeing the negative in the site that is being proposed rather than its positives. What you have described are challenges that should be addressed, much like any site that has its own challenges.

If someone were to ask me where I go to reflect within the city, it would be this location. There is the best view of the Hawthorne Bridge and the city's skyline, the traffic noise is more of a constant white noise that is far above the head, thus drowning it out as just background noise. The other key factor to this site that you are overlooking is that it is currently a common stopping point for people walking, biking, and jogging. There is currently a constant use for this location and adding a memorial that would be seen by everyone that uses this path would serve a great purpose for remembering, unlike the current location which gets lost within the intersections and all the cars that pass through that space.

But isnt PSU and the architecture department apart of the city? Should the school act as an island or be what it is an institute promoting the future talents of the city? Also you see the architecture's department as a PSU involvement when it is just one small department that is making an attempt to be apart of the city. Does it bother you when educational departments receive giant grants to do numerous studies that can have an impact on the world?

This is a small memorial that is dedicated to local firefighters that is being designed by local architects that are teaching local students how to design within the fabric of their own city. How could this be seen as a negative thing or something that would make one uncomfortable? Would you feel the same if the Fire Department Bureau had this memorial proposal being designed by Frank Gehry?


The SUM Design scheme also looks a lot like the "Water Benches" at the More London development near Tower Bridge. Getting the watter to flow evenly over all surfaces was a challenge, but a nice end result that's very interactive - someone's always got their hand in it.

Common Sense

I am uncomfortable with PSU taking on city planning roles that declare public property "beyond repair" with little or no public process, whether it is a memorial large or small or a school.

Since city planners make decisions that weight PSU's interests against the interests of others in the city, I think there should not be too cozy a relationship between the city and the institution.

Dennis, do you have any information from the inside "players" at PSU about what makes the current memorial "beyond repair?"

As for Gehry, I am not a fan, sorry.


Common Sense, you might want to reread the article that Brian wrote, especially paragraph 2...I think the answer you are looking for is there...sorry, I have no inside information on this one...actually I didnt even know it was going on until this article, but I think it is safe to say there is no shady things going on at PSU with the city's urban planning.


This seems to be one case, where we should be able to have our old memorial and a new one too. Lets's not bulldoze history unless absolutely necessary. I think the City needs to hear how valued the old memorial actually is. And I agree that the worn and aging (beyond repair) stone adds a certain patina that not many things in our city have.

Steve L.

Dennis, if there was an open public process that declared the current memorial “beyond repair,” selected the public riverfront site, choose a PSU only competition and choose the selection committee, some of my concerns would be alleviated. I am not concerned that, as you say, something “shady” was going on, I just want this project to meet its full potential and as I say not “fall short on its missions.”

I think a memorial at the proposed site could be a fine memorial and I have pointed to some positive aspects of the proposals, but at this point I have not seen evidence of the historic memorial evaluation process or evidence of a diligent site selection process and that reminds me of the Memorial Coliseum and Beavers stadium “process,” from which the city should have learned.

Can someone answer what was gained by keeping this a PSU only competition?

Is there anyone else on the selection committee besides the four mentioned?
Chief Klum works for Randy Leonard right?


It is a shame that this competition was only open to PSU people.


A design competition is available to that which the group putting it on wishes to be apart of it...student competitions are available only to students, would this be an issue if this competition was only available to local firms?

Also, since when do we have a public process to decided if something is beyond repair...I dont recall there ever being something that asked the public if a structure was structurally sound...I am guessing it would make more sense to check with people who know what they are looking for.

Also, who is to say that the Fire Bureau felt that the current memorial did not best represent the memorial that best reflected their department and the men and women who have worked as firefighters. It is safe to say that not every memorial is perfect and I can see their point in wanting to have a memorial that people might actually visit...the reason the Vietnam Memorial in DC is so moving is because people visit it (granted it is great architecture as well, but if no one sees it, would it still be a good memorial?)

Isnt the future site a location for the Fire Department's boat? (I am not totally sure of this, but I was under the impression it was) Plus it is city owned property along a riverfront path in the heart of the city. I would think it would make sense for the city to want to locate more of it memorials at different places along the waterfront path...how nice would it be to go for a walk or a bike ride along the path, stopping periodically to see each memorial.

Personally I think the city should do more competitions like this for small projects that involve faculty from both PSU and UofO's architecture programs...as well as doing competitions with grad students from both products. I dont see why this is a shame that it was only available to just PSU...many of them are apart of local firms. I am confused on what you guys would want that would make you happy with the process. Should the city of had a public gathering to "kick the tires" of the old memorial to see if it was okay? Should we of had everyone pick their favorite sites in town to find the best location? Should we of had a competition that anyone with an idea could of submitted to? Everything has limitations and regulations, I dont see how this has to be any different, especially when the school has actually talented architects teaching students how to practice architecture.

Jeff  Schnabel

I thought I might add a few clarifications to the conversation. The decision to relocate the memorial was made by the Fire Bureau and the David Campbell Memorial Committee prior to engaging the PSU Department of Architecture. My understanding is that this decision was made carefully and thoughtfully over a long period of time. Also none of the participants in the competition were full time faculty. Instead the participants were a cross-section of talented Portland professionals who also give their time in service of educating the next generation of architects. Our opinion is that these are exactly the right individuals and firms to envision new civic places for the city. In addition, no faculty served on the selection committee. This was made up of civic leaders and Fire Bureau representatives. There was also an extensive public voting process that carried significant weight with the selection committee. The Department of Architecture at Portland State University is committed to supporting a culture of design. We will continue to facilitate competitions in service of that goal. Thanks to everyone who has shown an interest in this important project. We look forward to updating you with a winner in December.


Jeff, are you involved with one of the shortlisted entries?

Jeff  Schnabel

No, I don't have a horse in the race. I would have loved to participate in this competition. It is an amazing site and the memorial has such an important mission, but my role in the competition is as a sponsor and an organizer. Neutrality is critical to fairness, so I don't even get to weigh-in on the schemes.


Oh, I had thought the project site was public property owned by the City of Portland. So yes, it is a shame the competition was only open to a select group of individuals.

Perhaps PSU could sponsor an exclusive design competition for a building or a space at the PSU campus. That would make more sense to me. Just sayin...


Thanks for clarifying Jeff.

Steve L.

Different people are affected by noise in different ways. Some people, particularly people that are hard of hearing, can find background sounds, even white noise, confusing and can make it very hard for them to understand speech. Though there are other challenges with this strip of land, I think the noise alone would make it the wrong choice for a Capital Mall type plan.

Having spent a lot of time on the esplanade biking with my children I know it can get crowded and with serious bikers whizzing by it can be somewhat dangerous for children or elderly pedestrians. As bike commuting becomes more popular, I can see this confined strip becoming well used which may make access difficult for some folks and create conflicts between people that want to leisurely enjoy the memorials and those who just want to get to work.

“Student competitions are exclusive, so why not this one?” Keeping a competition exclusive to students prevents experience professionals from dominating the competition and so gives the students a better chance to win which encourages more participation by students. I don’t think a professional competition should need to exclude students. In addition, most student competitions are strictly academic exercises and do not make determinations about prominent public properties or historic memorials.

“Should we of had a competition that anyone with an idea could of submitted to?” Why not?

Did the site selection entity (person? group? Randy?) take into consideration the need for habitat rehabilitation?


let it go already.


You can show your support and find information for the existing memorial by joining the Facebook group 'Save Portland's Firefighters Memorial'


Thank you Jon. Don't let it go.


About the existing memorial's condition: At least 20 years ago, the bronze lanterns were 'refurbished'. At the time, some people were upset and spoke up about the result, because what the work involved was to remove the remove the green verdigris, buff them out and cover them with a clearcoat. So, the bronze was kind of bright...not quite polished and shiny like polished brass, but they didn't look much like bronze either.

Haven't been by to see them for awhile, so couldn't say how they compare now to how they looked when first finished. Today, refurbishing would probably leave them looking like the patina on the Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt statues in the South Park Blocks.

Steve L.

See new the WW cover story "Randyland, With the Mayor sidelined, Leonard takes over" in relation to this Randy-run \ PSU-run competition.



These are beautiful but leave the original!!! It is a great historic site.

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