12 Signs from Portland

Posted on
Feb 23, 2012
Posted in: Photos, Top Ten

Rand and I are heading to Portland soon. We haven’t been there since the end of last summer, when we stopped for a night on our way down to Ashland.

I’m thrilled to be going back. I love Portland. It’s this wonderful combination of beauty and grit, of art and industry. And perhaps nothing captures that better than the signs and marquis that dot the city. They’re everywhere: some spray painted, some neon. They denote all manner of businesses, from book stores to strip clubs, upscale restaurants to homeless shelters.

The last time that I was in Portland, between the light of a late summer sun and the magic of neon gas, the city positively glowed. Here are a dozen photos from that afternoon, when I roamed the city with my beloved, and marveled at its dingy loveliness.

  1. The Golden Dragon Exotic Club. From what I’ve heard, you shouldn’t bother going in. And for the love of Pete, don’t eat there.
  2. ย Keep Portland Weird sign, 3rd Street between Burnside and Ankeny.

    Unofficial city motto.

  3. Portland Outdoor Store, at the corner of SW 3rd Ave, and SW Oak Street.
  4. VooDoo Doughnut. I personally find them gimmicky and overrated. But you can’t fault a place too much when they have the following tagline: “The magic is in the hole.”

  5. The Salvation Army Harbor Light, SW 2nd Street. I find it kind of poetic that a shelter has a lighthouse on their sign.
  6. Chop Suey Hung Far Low. One of my favorite signs in Portland, this one underwent a huge restoration, and may have been part of the inspiration behind Hopper’s Chop Sueyย painting (a revelation which makes me geek out with delight).

  7. West Side Auto, The Pearl District.
  8. Working/Playing Neon Sign, The Pearl District
  9. Georgia’s Laundromat/Vintage 7UP sign. (Apparently the establishment this sign refers to no longer exists; this is just, as one artist put it, a ghost sign.)
  10. Sign from the Joyce Hotel, one of Portland’s more ill-reputed establishments.
  11. Cameron’s Books and Magazines. (With no disrespect to Powell’s, this sign in front of this dingy little shop captivated me).
  12. Stop sign, ignored.

This time around, the city won’t be nearly so warm and dry. It will be cold, and chilly, and the streets will be damp with the seemingly endless rain that falls in the northwest this time of year. But, despite all of that, I suspect Portland will still glow. It always seems to.

Leave a Comment

  • Melanie

    Great post. I love old signage. It’s why I bought my house in the neighborhood I did.

    I agree about Voodoo Doughnut. We have a place here called Doughbot that makes way better “weird” donut flavors.

  • I think that 7-Up logo/laundromat sign is my favorite. I live in a city called Gilbert in AZ…about 25 minutes southeast of Phoenix. Our tiny stretch of downtown is full of vintage neon signs that most of the establishments have refurbished over the years. I think it adds the perfect dose of character.

    These are my two favorites:
    http://authenticityphoto.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/liberty-market-49-low-res-wtrmrk.jpg?w=497&h=395
    http://www.arizonafoothillsmagazine.com/images/Screen_shot_2011-09-13_at_2.00.26_PM.png

  • Sloane

    We’ll be glad to have you back in the Rose City! If you’re coming down this weekend there is supposed to be a sun break on Sunday between 12:00 – 12:25pm, in case you want to schedule around that. Have a great visit!

  • Always love looking at signs at other locales, would love to see more of the weird of Portland as well.

  • Love these. Having grown up in PDX, I know where almost all these signs are!!

    • Nick

      Where is the working/playing sign? is it usually lit up on Playing or Working?

      • It’s on Park Ave and Davis. I know, because it’s ours ๐Ÿ™‚

  • As a Portland native, I love this post! I agree that Voodoo is completely overrated. I have never heard the Hung Far Low/Hopper connection, very cool!

  • Love these old signs, hope you catch some of Portland at night so we can really see the neon glow. Enjoy the visit.

  • When I was 17, a girlfriend and I skipped work experience one Thursday and opted to get underage tattoos. Yeah! Hardcore!

    We catch a bus to one of the scarier suburbs – we’ve heard along the grape vine that they do it underage there.

    We’d only decided we’d wanted tattoos at about 2AM that morning, while chatting on MSN messenger.
    I hastily did my research on Google. What do I want? A quote. Something meaningful. Something that says fuck you but doesn’t.

    Somehow I come across ‘alis volat propriis’, which means, ‘she flies with her own wings’. Bingo.

    12 hours later, I’ve got myself a freshly inked tramp-stamp.

    I loved that tramp-stamp, and would spend hours gazing at it fondly in the mirror (this was when tramp-stamps were still cool).
    Until I discovered two things. a) it was spelled wrong (I think I’ve got ‘propiis’, we missed the R) and b) it’s the state motto of Oregon, a place I’d never heard of (I’m from Brisbane, Australia). Oregon sounds lame! Boring old lame place in America that must be so lame and full of old people because it’s not LA or NYC. OMG I have their state motto on my back! I am now old lame and boring. I want to die.

    Anyway, now, many years on, I’ve come to learn that Oregon is AWESOME and it’s in my 5 year plan to live there. And maybe, with a simple flash of my tramp-stamp, I’d gain VIP access to everywhere!

  • loved this post. You’ve managed to capture some amazing signs! My favourite is definitely of the vintage 7UP. I would buy that if I had money ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Love your pictures. The Keep Portland Weird sign is the best, right? But I disagree with you about Voodoo Donuts. I LOVED my vanilla glazed with Cap’n Crunch! And just waiting in line at that place provided a cool experience in itself. I loved the energy of the place.

  • Quibbler

    #6 – The article you linked to is about Empire Chop Suey in Portland — Portland, Maine. Unless you’ve learned how to bend the laws of space and time, Chop Suey Hung Far Low in Portland OR is not the inspiration for Hopper’s painting.

    • Everywhereist

      Wait, there’s a Portland, Maine now?

      I think it’s far more likely that I can bend the laws of space and time. Duh.

  • Hey, I am using the picture of working/playing neon sign in my blog. If that’s not OK with you, please let me know, and I’ll take it down immediately. I’ll give you props in my blog post.

    • Everywhereist

      Go for it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • T.

    I LOVE this post (I googled where the “Keep Portland Weird” sign was and you came up first in the search)

    So, thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

    I LOVE taking photos of all the signs around P.Town at night, we have some amazing vintage ones ๐Ÿ™‚

    About Voodoo Donuts, I have never been there but my son did buy a beer at Christmas in a pink bottle by a local brewery called “Voodoo Donut Bacon Maple ale” it was really bad but I think it would be a great gag gift ๐Ÿ™‚

    Cheers, T. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • sarah martin

    Yes I also googled ‘where is the keep Portland weird’ sign and ended up here. Now I have a whole pile of other signs to go look for. Really love this.

  • Monica Drake

    I’m curious why you included the West Side Auto sign…?

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