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Published: April 9th 2012
The French inspired outside of the Pittock Mansion in Portland Oregon.
Portland, Oregon contains one of the largest urban park systems in the United States.
Covering the hills west of the city, these parks
are as good as the Blue Hills south of Boston, and much closer to downtown.
I explored a small part of them today.
The parks contain some more conventional sites in addition to extensive wilderness.
Two of the most popular are the Pittock Mansion and the Japanese Garden. Henry Pittock
came to Oregon along the Oregon Trail as a teenager in 1853.
Portland at the time was a rough and tumble frontier trading post.
He got a job at the local newspaper, the Weekly Oregonian.
He did very well there, and ultimately bought it in 1860.
He later branched out into paper products and real estate, and became wealthy.
Late in his life, in 1913, he bought a hill overlooking Portland and built a grand house
The house stayed in his family until 1958, when they put it up for auction.
Many Portland residents feared the landmark would be torn down.
A city group ran a successful campaign to buy the estate and
Pittock Mansion staircase
The Pittock Mansion's most famous feature, the grand central staircase.
donate it to the city, which finally happened in 1964.
Tours of the house, like most house museums, are given by knowledgeable docents.
The content was the usual architecture, decorative arts
, and family history.
The history reflects a part of the country I haven’t seen yet, so I avoided the history fatigue I experienced elsewhere .
The mansion exterior is patterned after a French chateau.
Inside, it contains a real mixture of architecture styles.
It has some notable features.
It was the first house in Portland to have electricity.
At the time, only downtown businesses had power.
It was also the first house in Portland to have a telephone, which Pittock installed so he could contact his paper on a moment’s notice.
The library is paneled in dark wood.
To avoid glare, the entire room was lit with indirect lights.
They heated up the ceiling, so the wood moldings had to be replaced with plaster that looks like wood.
The servant’s kitchen, which is plain in most houses, has an intricate tile floor.
The centerpiece is an elegant marble staircase.
Pittock Mansion view
The famous view of Portland from the Pittock Mansion grounds. Had the clounds cooperated, Mount Hood would have appeared in the distance.
Henry Pittock located his house for incredible views
In addition to everything else, he was an enthusiastic mountain climber
and a founder of the local climbing club.
The hill his house sits on has a perfect view of Mount Hood when the weather cooperates.
He went so far as to position his bedroom so he could wake up to a perfect view of the mountain every morning.
Unfortunately, all I got on the tour was a view of distant clouds.
Portland Japanese Garden
The other formal area I saw is the Japanese Garden
Portland citizens formed a society to create the garden in 1963, and hired notable Japanese landscape architect Takuma Tono
to design it.
He created a garden with five separate areas
that represent different Japanese design concepts.
The garden is the largest of its type outside Japan, and one of the most authentic.
It is a symbolic meditation on a life in balance.
I found the garden to be one of the most pretty and peaceful human created places I have ever been.
Much of the ground is covered in moss.
The ponds at the Portland Japanese Garden, Portland Oregon.
has a series of small ponds
, all of which have fish.
One of them is surrounded by nature inspired sculpture.
A lilac filled swamp connects two of the ponds.
People cross over it on a narrow wooden bridge that zigzags over the water in a precise pattern.
One spot has a circle of fir trees planted close together; inside they block out almost all light.
One part of the garden is set up like an outdoor temple
Next to it is a set of stones laid out to resemble Hokkaido Island.
Everything here is precisely designed.
A narrow trail leads through a set of sculpted bushes and fir trees.
They look a bit like ocean waves.
The trail ends at a Japanese house.
The porch has the only view of the part of a Japanese garden every westerner knows about, the sand garden
A large area of flat white sand contains small boulders.
The sand is raked in waves around the rocks.
The sand garden is designed to look like a pond frozen in time, and works perfectly.
My one disappointment with the garden is that the
Sand and Rock Garden
The sand and rock garden at the Portland Japanese Garden, Portland Oregon
handouts do not discuss the symbolism much, which I feel would have added to the experience.
While the garden itself promotes incredible calm, getting to it causes the opposite effect.
The gate area
has incredibly limited parking.
Prepare to drive around nearby park roads looking for a spot.
After putting the car somewhere, a hike leads to a stone staircase, which leads to the garden.
The staircase is precisely laid out and a taste of the wonder to come.
Powell's City of Books
I visited one final place today that had the potential to do great damage to my budget. Powell’s City of Books
is one of the most famous bookstores in the United States.
They call themselves the largest bookstore in the country (the Strand
in Greenwich Village also claims this title).
As one should expect, they have a vast selection of both new and used books in nearly every category imaginable.
Need a volume from an obscure art book series from the 1970s?
They probably have it.
After several hours, I managed to escape with only one bag worth of books, which some people I talked to
Powell's City of Books
Try to leave this place without at least one bag of books. It's impossible!
consider lucky indeed.
During my time in Portland, I stayed at the Ace Hotel
The hotel is almost the definition of a boutique accommodation, designed to appeal to arty hipsters.
They have a coffee bar in the lobby.
The overall design can be best described as minimalist industrial chic, with raw wood and bare pipes everywhere and art painted directly on the walls.
The rooms feature a selection of obscure art and fashion magazines (the first to do so since RoomMate Grace ).
Even the minibar selection is above average, with local soda and snacks instead of the usual brands.
It’s just as expensive, though.
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