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Dave

I guess I had better take a photo of this one on my way home from work today then...

I was quite sad to notice that the 7Up sign which used to be at 33rd and Sandy by the Banfield freeway, and is now atop the Portland Bottling Company building at about 14th and Sandy has been covered over with nylon banner ads and the bottle on top has been covered as well, so there is nothing of the original sign visible. It just looks ridiculous, spinning up there with plastic banners hanging off of it.

I think part of the issue is not so much that it's one advertisement replacing another, but that it's an advertisement of local importance being replaced by a generic, banal advertisement, the same one which can be seen in every city in the country, on every television station, and in every newspaper. There's nothing interesting or important about it.

Jason

Man Brian,

I have to agree with the "Oh the humanity" crack. Jeez, let get some more bureaucrats to save this insignificant sign instead of dealing with the real economic and social problems this city faces. Sure I'm a big fan of Ed Ruscha photography and am happy to see that people are documenting these industrial areas that will no doubt be dramatically changed in the next 25-30 years. But perhaps during this ridiculous recession we should actually loosen up things a little bit.

I don't think any place in town is in danger of becoming times square or Vegas anytime soon - we'll never be that attractive to business or tourism. Also, if wanting additional income is akin to a crack addiction, then I guess after 18 months of unemployment I need some serious rehab too. At least you pointed out the property-owner's perspective.

With moronic editorials like this in the Mercury, I guess the mayor will just have to re-brand Portland by focusing on how hip it is to be poor and anti-business..

PS: I can't imagine the billboard ad will be any less crass than the advertisements that subsidize the Mercury's existence..

Robin

Time is change. Good or bad it will happen. It will happen because of you or in spite of you. If you feel strongly about this sign, I have to wonder why personally, but more power to you. Affect change the way you would have it.

We have so little say in what we buy in spite of our plethora of choices. You can argue that media doesn't dictate what you do, but unless you grow your own everything and really live off the grid (i.e. not panhandling), I tend to believe that you are captive to what the market (global or local) wants and what it does. If everyone stopped buying candy bars they would cease to exist relatively quickly. If nobody had vice issues there would be no war on drugs. And if people stopped believing in money it would just become meaningless paper, metal, and data. That isn't the world we live in, for better or worse. We live here with change happening seemingly out of our control, making us uncomfortable. I think we need to either put up or shut up. I usually shut up because the closer I get to know people the deeper our differences become and the less we agree on fundamental issues. I comment here because I felt more articulate today. I don't debate. Debates have relatively little to do with right and wrong and much more to do with how far one can convince someone of something. And to me that spells intellectual masturbation. Just like swaying people to save a sign that doesn't matter. Unless you really think it does. Whatever.

Also the post script in Jason's comment is spot on. Cheerio.

Gabriel

Brian,

I've been a long-time reader of your blog despite disagreeing with you on several issues. But I have to agree with the commenter above in wondering why I should care in the least little bit about this sign.

For context, I'll recap:

I was enthusiastic regarding your support of the A.E. Doyle school. It was unfortunate we were not successful there.

I supported your position regarding saving Memorial Coliseum even though I honestly believe the highest and best use of that site might mean the unfortunate demise of a local landmark.

I even understood your position regarding the Made in Oregon sign despite thoroughly disagreeing. The historical record shows an iconic local placemarker that changed ownership AND advertising several times throughout its history without losing its importance. I couldn't and still don't see how "Made in Oregon" was so much more meaningful than "University of Oregon."

However, this article bridges the gap to patently silly. So the new billboard will be banal and crass (what isn't in mass-marketing these days?). I have a hard time believing there is absolutely any reason to mourn the loss of this equally banal script. Further, to consider this sign a "de facto symbol of the Central Eastside" says more about the Central Eastside than the sign. Surely you're missing the forest for the trees when you seem more interested in a sign that screams "Urban Industrial Blight Here!" rather than the blighted urban industrial district it represents.

So please, if you're going to make it your mission to raise awareness about issues in our city, please make sure you're not missing the big issues right under your nose while you expend your energy trying to save an arbitrary symbol. More about the Central Eastside that desperately needs our attention and less about the paint applied to it.

Brian Libby

Gabriel and all,

I would be the first to admit that this sign isn't even remotely as important as projects we've tried to preserve like Memorial Coliseum, Riverdale School and the Rosefriend Apartments.

If it seemed like I was starting a crusade on behalf of this sign, I misspoke. I like the sign, but it won't be the end of the world if it goes.

At the same time, I think people having a sense of outrage in response to my suggestion that the sign was worth preserving, as if it's some kind of straw breaking the camel's back of legitimacy, are over-reacting.

There is a principal here worth supporting even if the sign goes away: that some signage crosses over from being just advertising or identification and becomes part of the cultural, historical fabric of the city. The Made Oregon/White Stag sign is but one example.

Is the Portland Storage sign an irreplaceable part of Portland? No. But it's an identifiable and highly visible part of the Central Eastside and a contributor to its visual identity. That's not a worthless concept in and of itself, even if you won't shed a tear for the Portland Storage sign itself.

Matt H.

Thanks for the continued opportunity to discuss these matters, Brian.

I for one couldn't agree more, that the Portland Storage Co. sign is a beacon of SE industrial, and I would absolutely hate to see it go. I would especially hate to see it turned into a crappy beer ad (though, a Pabst logo could be fitting...)

That said, I sympathize with those who tire of the argument from preservation, as there are many perhaps more troubling matters at hand and preservation requires a good deal of energy and resources, and is so subjective.

Preservation of signage seems unique due to people's perceptions of old signs as junk or ephemera, but I would imagine it's easier to carry through once/if a community decides they value the object in jeopardy. I offer my support in this regard. I've looked fondly on that sign for well over a decade, and view it as a Portland staple.

At very least, Clear Channel could be made aware that the subjects of their advertisements are upset about the intrusion.

Greg Moore

Times change. Portland has a long history of unfortunate, rapid change in structures and displays. I agree with some of the other comments here, it's not as bad as some places in the world (has anyone seen Vegas in the last few years?) - but that doesn't mean the fight should be abandoned. On the same token, everyone's got a right to make some money. Tough call. I have to side with the building owner for now.

Bo

It is hardly a issue of missing the forest for the trees - it is an issue of at some point losing so many trees (one at a time - each loss seeming innocuous in itself) that it simply can't be called a forest anymore.

This sign is a humble yet powerful expression of the Central Eastside's industrial history and character. Iconic may be too strong a word, but distinctive isn't.

Perhaps the loss of this history and character will be the ultimate fate of the Central Eastside - one can certainly debate whether the same qualities that gave the Pearl District it's nitty-gritty appeal have been lost in the rush to capitalize on its real estate opportunities - but I think it is fair to ask this questions before it happens.

Brian, I think it is great to acknowledge that this sign (and what it contributes to the area) has value to some people, and to ask if that value might be worth having a conversation about before it is gone forever.

I believe the key in this scenario, as in many heritage conservation conflicts (which is what this is, even at the level of a few snarky blog comments), is to ask if there might be a creative solution that balances the competing points of view while avoiding the destruction of a unique resource - in this case, reversibility. I would think an appropriate solution could be to simply cover the existing sign with a removable surface on which Clear Channel can advertise to their heart's content (I don't want to be assaulted by mega-ads when crossing the Morrison bridge, but I can vote with my dollars).

In fact, simply covering the sign up in a manner that could later be undone would act to preserve it for future generations with more money and insight into urban character than this one.

An good example of this dynamic is perhaps the restoration of the Grand Central Market building, which was actually protected by its awful sheet metal skin for years (no doubt economic arguments drove the owners to sheath this building in the first place) until someone could see (and afford) the benefits of bringing it back. Though somebody out there probably mourns the quirky mosaic/bas relief wall of brightly painted bowling families that was destroyed in the process...

kyle

It is funny I was driving over the Morrison Bridge just the other day and thinking to myself how long would that sign be there? When we restore buildings, we try to restore the painted billboards from the past. Sometimes we tear down buildings and find a wall that once had a mural on it. The story gets buried and then reappears, and we go to great lengths to preserve that story of the past. At the fear of sounding nostalgic I must admit I prefer something place specific. In this case even to the word - PORTLAND. Now replaced by something corporate and omnipresent such as CLEAR CHANNEL. This is where the richness of place is left behind and it becomes solely advertising, bought by profit. I agree I am sure the storage building operates on narrow margins, so who can blame them for the easy money. The funny part was that as I went over the bridge this morning I realized that the next two billboards you see are Verizon and Cricket, two more corporate ambiguous brands. With all that said...I am torn whether to let go of the past or follow my spirit and hold on. Why paint it? Will it be a piece of art or something? Why not screenprint the advertisement and hang it over the facade?

carless in pdx

I honestly could care less about a banal old advertisement of peeling old leaded paint being replaced by a newer one. Commerce is commerce, and the times, they are a-changin'. At least a large global company is spending a few dollars on that part of town, to the benefit of business owners.

I'm sure not everyone will agree with me, but it IS a form of investment, however small. Considering the east side freight tracks and freeway, I don't think we can hope for much more in that area, however.

S. Linder

Couldn’t the new billboard be placed just below the existing sign?

If the billboard is placed over the existing sign, would it actually destroy the existing sign beneath? I know the Mercury article says they will “paint over” the sign, but most billboards are not painted, but are stretched printed material and the Mercury admits the story is not 100% confirmed. I know having this historic sign hidden from view may not be ideal, but covering it with a stretched vinyl billboard would preserve the historic sign for future generations to decide its ultimate fate.

kyle

linder - With screenprinting they can do huge prints and stretched - actually I think that is what they are doing for the majority of signs these days, so no harm.

billb

so the space is just leased ? and could be returned to existing by
removing the 'Clear print' , or replacing it with the next one ,
say a huge 'Randy for Mayor' portrait .....

RD

Modern cities need modern sign ordinances. Signs certainly can be historic and aesthetic (NYC times sq. modern signs), but clear channel billboards should be legislated out of existence (after being amortized to avoid "takings"). They are a blight and visually disgusting. See http://www.scenic.org/billboards for solutions.

Jeff Joslin

As one who spent over a decade in litigation such entities on behalf of the City, I can tell you why you might want to care. These companies are not stewards of the environment, they are aggressive exploiters. They are to the visual environment what offshore drilling is to the gulf. Their site-by-site projected revenues are based on square footage and traffic volumes, and they seek to maximize both. While they will herald their accommodation of public service messaging, they seek opportunistic code loopholes in viable markets to force their giant rectangular message pegs through.

In the early 1990s, the City attempted to allow murals to the preclusion of large signs. It was understood that this might be challengeable: Oregon's constitution precludes distinguishing messages based on commercial v. non-commercial content (both forms of "speech" must be treated equally; more so than the federal constitution, which allows such distinctions).

In 1996 Clear Channel's predecessor began a litigational assault on Portland, showing up an understaffed Friday before a holiday weekend at 8am with an armada of attorneys and dozens of applications for billboards and painted wall signs. They "established" sign rights all over the City by signing up walls and putting up placeholder roses and butterflies. When they got a successful determination that our code was constitutionally deficient, it was required that all signs prior to that determination, including these new signs, be given "grandfathered" status. As a result, City Council had to decide whether to ban murals and wall signs together, or allow them equally. For a number of years, no murals could be painted in Portland until, during another related litigational moment, a circuit court judge provided the City with an alternative path to attempt to allow murals.

In the meantime, this company - along with others - have repeated this pattern throughout the country: looking at ripe markets with constitutionally deficient codes, and legally bullying those municipalities into allowing these overscaled, dominating signs. At planning and sign conferences, Portland is identified as the place where this syndrome began.

Additionally, such message presences then make it difficult to apply other kinds of sign and design controls, as it's hard to make an argument that the visual setting matters when such signs are proliferating. Furthermore, most or many of the signs established in the 90s have continued to expand without review and approvals. With a complaint driven process, too many growing too fast to keep up with, and no City budget and staff to enforce, these signs (and the equally-or-more illegal vinyl signs they're now placing over them) continue to grow and proliferate with impunity.

If we care about a balanced visual environment defined by community-driven design values, these signs are not the way to get there.

That said, if Clear Channel has bought the Portland Storage sign area, say hello to whatever message bids highest. Farewell classic font, hello visual barrage.

S. Linder

Jeff-
Would you support an amendment to the state constitution to establish a legal distinction between commercial and non-commercial content? Has anyone tried this?

I do agree that we would be better off without additional billboards, but I imagine the changing advertising landscape is making these signs more and more valuable.

Have you seen the giant hamburger billboards on the Farmer’s Insurance building in Tigard? Yuck!

Jeff Joslin

I not only support the prospect of such an amendment, I believe it to be the one best solution to some of these issues. Without it, any effort to prefer one form of communication (for example, art) over another (for example, an ad) will open the door to further assaults. Though suggested a number of times over the years, there's been no serious consideration of pursuing it that I'm aware of. Given the stakes, it'd be a rough road finding a legislative sponsor and accruing the votes in the face of the invariable aggressive and sophisticated lobbying.

Casey

what a tragedy! that sign is beautiful.

Henry

As always, great perspective from Jeff and others! Before we all get our collective knickers in a bunch over this specific sign issue, there are far bigger and more ubiquitous issues at stake in our fair city, more on that later. The Portland Storage Company Bldg (John Deer Plow Bldg) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and currently receives the state’s Special Assessment Property Tax Freeze benefits. With this ‘public” benefit the property owner must go through the State Historic Preservation Office for any alterations to the property. In the case of the proposed new sign, the owner has been in contact with the SHPO for design review. As it now stands, the new sign has as yet to find a “tenant” to advertise on this space. Clear Channel will be the purveyor of the space and the new sign will need to be a painted sign in the current space, no add-ons or traditional billboard will be allowed. In this regard, the new sign will be much like other historic painted signs. The SHPO cannot regulate content but can regulate application and design. The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission and the BDS staff will most likely not be involved in this matter.
The bigger and more pressing matter facing the City is the proposed new Cell Tower in the Beaumont neighborhood and potentially, a number of residential neighborhoods throughout the city as recently noted in the Oregonian, June 11, 2010 by Anna Griffin http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/anna_griffin/index.ssf/2010/06/portland_neighbors_fight_uphil.html.
The FCC and the City have washed their hands of this matter and there is no to little recourse for petitioners through current city and state land use laws. The only potential to halt a new cell tower is if the site is in or adjacent to a national Register property, District, National or local Conservation District. If you think that the advertising media has clout with its cadre of suits, the cell phone industry will bring their phalanx of suits to the table with as much clout as is needed to meet their clients objective.

S. Linder

I am with you on the cell towers. With the Supreme Court allowing corporations the same “speech” rights as people, Oregon should to take the lead in finding ways to check or limit the actions of large corporations that are negatively affecting the lives of so many Oregonians.

Could Oregon regulate cell towers more strictly, or are they protected by interstate commerce laws?

Jason

It's been interesting following this conversation move from a simple discussion of the historic merits of a sign to a dissertation on the evil corporations and legal issue of free speech. The major irony thing is the Portland Storage Co. graphic started out as a commercial message, but over time took on a more symbolic meaning to some parts of the community. If commercial signs were banned or regulated 75 years ago the current sign wouldn't exist and we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Furthermore, what is art and what is commercial, let's call up the ghost of Andy Warhol and flesh that one out...I happened to love those PBR Murals a few blocks away, but they were larger and more commercial..

I get the vibe that alot of anger is about the fact that a national-chain (Clear Channel) is going to cover up a local business message. Perhaps the Portland Storage Co. was actually owned by NYC or Chicago investors 75 years ago...

While I agree that clear channel's tactics are horrible, I don't think Jeff the lawyer or any of his friends will be able to solve these problems through the legal system. There will always be loop holes, and the more regulations we make up in this city, the fewer opportunities people (both evil outside corporations and thoughtful local residents) will have to express themselves..

[name removed - spam]

The old sign is a bit ugly. I don't like commercial billboards, but the PORTLAND STORAGE CO. is just a bit too stark, overlooking the city like a harbinger of post-industrial blight.

Why not go with a third option - something nice and cheerful that isn't a burger ad?

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