Did you know Portland got its name from a coin flip?
Okay, that was an easy one. If you know us, you know we’re here for the deep cuts — and there are plenty of interesting factoids to go around. As connoisseurs of the quirky and unconventional, we put together a list of Portland’s history, oddest characteristics, and more. Maybe you’ve lived here your whole life and know some of this, or maybe you’ll learn something new.
Either way, test your local knowledge with these 15 interesting facts.
1. Tanner Creek was once a waterway that flowed out of the West Hills and into the Willamette River at Couch Lake, where the Pearl District is now. As the city grew, the stream was rerouted underground into sewer pipes, and finally a separate line in 2006. It still flows beneath Providence Park, where sidewalk placards trace its path. Legend has it, some have even kayaked this subterranean flow.
2. Today, Swan Island is an industrial park at the base of the Skidmore Bluffs, but from 1927-1940, the peninsula served as Portland’s airport. Material that was dredged to expand the Willamette River’s main navigation channel was also used to build the 900-acre runway. It’s hard to imagine planes landing there now.
3. Bobbie the Wonder Dog, the real-life canine hero that inspired the Disney classic “Homeward Bound,” is buried in the Oregon Humane Society’s animal cemetery in Northeast Portland. Six months after disappearing on the Brazier family’s camping trip in Indiana, the two-year-old Scotch collie mix showed up on their doorstep — in Silverton, Oregon. He had traveled 2,800 miles in the dead of winter to get back.
4. Council Crest Park, located at the highest point in the hills above Portland, was once the site of an amusement park referred to as the “Dreamland of the Northwest.” From Memorial Day in 1907 to Labor Day of 1929, the Portland Railway Light & Power Company operated the park to draw riders to its new Portland Heights streetcar line. Attractions included an observatory, a steam-powered miniature railway, a Ferris wheel, and a boat ride called “Trip Up the Columbia.”
5. Portland sits atop the massive Boring Volcanic Field — which was anything but in its heyday — and you can climb to the top of its three extinct cinder cones: Powell Butte, Mount Tabor, and Rocky Butte. The latter of this trio played host to the Multnomah County Jail from 1942-1983.
6. Corporate-lawyer-turned-artist Stephanie Pierce’s coin-operated art gallery was one of Portland’s premier tourist attractions from 1985 until 2013, when it closed shop. Behold: the 24 Hour Church of Elvis. At this street-facing window, visitors could input varying amounts of cash and receive a sermon — and even a legal marriage — from the King of Rock and Roll.
7. Speaking of tying the knot, you can in fact say “I do” at both of Voodoo Doughnut’s Portland locations (Old Town and Northeast Davis Street). Isn’t that sweet?
8. In June of 1894, the Willamette River reached a high-water mark of 33.5 ft, covering 250 blocks during the worst flood in Portland’s history. Citizens erected elevated wooden walkways to get around and store owners sold their wares to customers in boats — from the second-story window.
9. Did you know some of the biggest names in the game of women’s soccer played for the University of Portland Pilots? Christine Sinclair, Megan Rapinoe, Shannon MacMillan, and others certainly helped fly the program and sport to new heights, amassing a trophy case full of national championships and World Cup winners’ medals along the way.
10. The Great Light Way was a series of 15 arched light structures, constructed from 1914-1915 at every intersection along Third Street, from Yamhill Street to Glisan Street. Each 82-ft-long, 2.5-ton steel span contained ninety-six 40-watt bulbs, topped by a 750-watt nitrogen lamp. Business owners hoped the electrical spectacle would counteract the allure of Broadway and its burgeoning theater district, and for a short time, it shined bright.
11. Eh... what’s up, Doc? Mel Blanc, the voice of 400+ iconic cartoon characters, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Mister Magoo, and George Jetson, grew up in Portland. His first job as a radio performer was singing on KGW’s “Stories by Aunt Nell,” a weekly program for kids.
12. Before founding a grocery store empire, German immigrant Fred G. Meyer (originally Grubmeyer) bought a cafe close to Union Station — before ever setting eyes on it. Unsurprisingly, the foot traffic was poor, so he took his coffee and tea business door to door. He also began delivering groceries to logging camps around Portland in a small truck.
13. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry has gone through many iterations, from a collection of artifacts in City Hall to its original official home at 908 NE Hassalo St. The PNW’s first domed planetarium was constructed there in 1950, but alas, it was forced to relocate. Donated money and labor saw OMSI rise again on the edge of Washington Park, but it eventually outgrew its capacity. On October 24, 1992, it opened on the site of the former Station L power plant, and hasn’t moved since.
14. Whale, this one’s a bummer. In 1931, an orca became stuck in the Columbia Slough, causing quite the frenzy in the city. Crowds gathered to witness the spectacle, and locals gave it several names, like Ethelbert, Oswald, and Moby Mary. Eventually, two men killed the animal with harpoons (they were arrested), and afterward, it was displayed at various locations in a 400-gallon tank of formaldehyde. Following a lengthy legal battle and an exhumation, the body was ultimately reburied on a mountain north of Washougal.
15. This list would be incomplete without revealing a certain truth — Portland is home to more strip clubs per capita than anywhere else in the country.
Your turn. Think you can get one over on us? Let us know your favorite local trivia tidbit and you just might make it into the newsletter.