Portland’s Westside, Part 1 – The Pearl District

Continued from
Portland On Our Minds

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Portland's North Park, in the Pearl District

Portland's North Park, in the Pearl District

Portland, Oregon is our favorite American city — you could even say we have a crush on it. We just took our third trip there last weekend, and the long-distance romance still lingers.

Crisp fall weather, pink sunsets, thick woods, cool art and friendly smiles…we even found our dream house. Portland could be our reality, we like to tell each other, if only Adam could figure to a way to make a living there.

But would we really want to destroy the dream with day-to-day reality?

In our continuing fantasy of someday living in Portland, we’ve dream-chosen to settle on the Westside. (For a map of Portland, click here.)

The city’s bisected into West and East halves by the Willamette River and incredibly long Burnside Avenue: the West has a pretty tony reputation, while the East is known as less refined and more…evolving.

On both sides, there are beautifully-preserved vintage neighborhoods, good restaurants and cool shopping. There are pale, slim, quiet guys with dark-framed glasses, leather bracelets, skinny jeans, and bikes. But the Westside has most of the art galleries, most of the parkland, and the most of the cultural institutions. (Oh, and Anthropologie.)

Most iconic of phoenix-from-the ashes-of-its-industrial-past Portland is the Pearl District, which just ten years ago was the sort of decrepit downtown district you’d visit only in broad daylight, and still never mention the journey to your mother.  (How would you ever convince her you weren’t there to buy drugs?) Now it’s a tax-free magnet for galleries, condos and (often) unique retailers.

We’re fans of some of the modern buildings here, with organic twists of wrought iron and penthouse gardens, peppered amongst historic landmarks like the Portland Armory (which now houses Portland Center Stage.)

Check out the folksy, design-y Dig for garden decorations, borderline-fussy Cielo for great gifts and home stuff, and for a great Vietnamese meal (like the huge banh xeo) in a sumptuous, modern dining room, visit Silk by Pho Van.


At the right, the facade of Portland's Museum of Contemporary Craft

The Pearl has, in our opinion, the best art galleries in Portland. On this trip, we were treated to a mini-tour by my friend and fellow artist, Wes Younie, a Portland native, who was on his way to a weekend in Vancouver. (In addition to being an amazing artist whose rendering of a coelacanth hangs on our bedroom wall, Wes is also a part-time landscape designer, Oregon Zoo employee and corgi lover, making him officially one of the coolest people I know.)

Together, we sped through:

  • an exhibit about turning mass production on its head at the incredibly cool, free-admission Museum of Contemporary Craft
  • the wildly eclectic tastes (and fabulous bow-tie attire) of Pulliam Deffenbaugh
  • the enigmatic photography at PDX
  • the jewel of Augen Gallery, with intricate etchings by Washington State artist Thomas Wood that we flipped over
  • almost everything in the back room at the sophisticated and witty Elizabeth Leach Gallery, thanks to the gallery’s assistant director, Nathan Bowser
  • Los Angeles artist Jessica Curtaz’s exquisite show of quiet, technically astounding pencil drawings of plants and chain link on smooth white canvases at Charles A. Hartman, an airy space right on North Park

 

And speaking of North Park (between Couch and Burnside), we were happy to once again see our favorite piece of public art in town, Da Tung, a bronze statue of a momma and baby elephant. A gift from an admiring Chinese foundry owner to the city of Portland, it symbolizes safety and prosperity. It was especially exciting to visit the elephant sculpture this time around, as Wes told us that a baby Asian elephant was just born in late August at the Portland Zoo.

Photo by The Kozy Shack

Once you’ve had your fill of visual art, we urge you to wander throughout the five floors and square city block of Powell’s City of Books, the nation’s (the world’s?) largest independent bookstore. Home of the new, used, and out-of-print, at Powell’s you can find tomes on everything from wallpapering your dollhouse to growing fungi in your basement, as well as hundreds of volumes of political history and the latest bestsellers.  Offset their disappointingly thin collection of magazines (Adam’s true test of a great bookstore) by a visit to the fifth floor, chock full of rare books on art and design.

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Continued in
Portland’s Westside, Part 2 – Downtown

See related posts
Portland’s Westside, Part 3 – Chinatown & Old Town
Portland’s Westside, Part 4 – Northwest & Nob Hill
Portland’s Westside, Part 5 – Washington Park
Portland’s Southeast Side
Portland’s Northeast Side
Portland On Our Minds
Falling Into the North Willamette Valley
By the Seaside…Oregon
TWT Travel Binder: Oregon

 

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