Downtown Portland is bounded by the Willamette River to the east and Interstate 405 to the south, west and north. The downtown area is comprised of a grid system of city blocks that are only 200 feet by 200 feet (in comparison, Manhattan blocks are 600 x 800 feet). Originally, this was done to create more corner lots to increase developer profit, but it turned out to also provide a pleasant pedestrian experience, as blocks are short in distance, and therefore, very walkable.
The City of Portland favors walking, bicycling and public transit as the preferred modes of transportation in downtown and throughout the city. Downtown traffic signals are intentionally timed to favor bicyclists and pedestrians over automobiles. Unlike other cities, where cars get a continuous green through multiple intersections, downtown Portland's traffic signals are set so that cars only get continuous greens through a maximum of two intersections in the same traveling direction. This means that drivers will almost always come to a red light after passing through two intersections, unless traveling at a very (very) slow speed. While this might frustrate drivers who are in a hurry, it does benefit pedestrians and bicyclists by slowing automobile speeds significantly, especially when considering the short 200 foot city blocks in downtown Portland. Another benefit for pedestrians is that a Sim could theoretically walk from one end of downtown to the other, without ever stopping, assuming they entered the first intersection when the pedestrian signal just turned to "Walk" and continued walking in the same direction at typical walking speed.
Downtown Portland also features a transit mall on SW 5th Ave. The transit mall is used exclusively by buses and light rail.
Due to the short city blocks, MAX trains can be no longer than 2 car lengths. That's why you will never see a MAX train with 3 or more cars... it would block the intersections in downtown when stopped. All MAX lines serve downtown Portland. The MAX light rail system currently consists of four different lines, they are:
Blue Line = Gresham - City Center - Hillsboro
Red Line = Portland International Airport - City Center - Beaverton
Green Line = South Waterfront - City Center - Clackamas
Yellow Line = Portland State University - City Center - Expo Center
There are many MAX stops in downtown, so I won't list them all here. Generally, there's a stop every other block... which is good if you want to get on or off, and bad if you're in a hurry.
Automobile access to downtown Portland is provided via Interstates 5 and 405, as well as a number of surface street bridges that cross over the Willamette River.
Interstate 5 is the major north-south freeway on the west coast of the United States, stretching from the US/Mexico border to the US/Canada border. In the Portland area, the southern portion of I-5 (south of downtown) travels along the west side of the Willamette River. When it reaches downtown, it crosses over the Marquam Bridge to the east side of the Willamette River as it continues northward. Interstate 405 is a loop freeway that begins at I-5 in the south near the Marquam Bridge, and re-connects with I-5 just north of downtown via the Fremont Bridge, near the Rose Quarter (see my last entry). Both I-5 and I-405 have speed limits of 50 mph around downtown Portland.
Downtown Portland consists of several distinct neighborhoods and areas:
1.) The Downtown Core
2.) The University District
3.) South Waterfront
4.) Northwest/Goose Hollow
5.) The Pearl District
6.) Old Town/Chinatown
The Downtown Core
The main part of downtown consists of commercial office and retail, residential, and restaurants/bars. There's never a shortage of beer in Portland... and there are plenty of bars, pubs and breweries in downtown to give Sims all the liquid courage they need. Portland is well known for its microbreweries and many are based in and around downtown. So pub crawling and brewery hopping has become sort of a major past time here. Several Portland breweries that started out as microbrews have made it big time in recent years. I was lucky to run into Neil Fairbanks, the founder of Portland-based Rush Hour Brewing Company recently, and asked him a few questions. Here's the transcript of our conversation:
portlandexpos04: Tell me about how your brewery started...
Neil: My roommate from college, Sam Armstrong and I started the business during our college days at Portland State University. We weren't the best students, and were much more interested in drinking beer than studying, I mean, that's what college students do, right? Anyways one night, in a drunken stupor, we thought to ourselves, hey, maybe we can make money selling beer. So we started brewing. Our first microbrewery opened in downtown a few years later in 1996. Back then, downtown Portland wasn't exactly the happening place... the suburban shopping malls were sucking away a lot of life from downtown. It was nowhere as popular and lively as it is today. The microbreweries and restaurants really brought people back to downtown.
portlandexpos04: Where'd you guys get the funding to start your brewery?
Neil: Good question. Actually, its kinda funny, Sam and I walked into this waterfront casino down in Louisiana on our spring break trip in college. Actually it wasn't even really a casino, more like a dock that stuck out into the water with a tent that had casino games in it. There was this game they had there, called Weakness Pays... or something like that. Anyways, we sat down and played it. As soon as we started playing, we won. So we played again, and we won again. We never lost, so we just kept playing until we had all the cash we could carry in our pockets and suit cases. It was crazy.
portlandexpos04: That IS crazy. So how did you guys come up with the name Rush Hour?
Neil: Well, the apartment that we were renting at the time had this really awesome view... I mean, really awesome view, of Interstate 405. It was so awesome that all the exhaust fumes from the evening rush hour traffic jams blew right into our living room window every evening. The pollution level was off the heezy... I mean, you'd walk into the living room and see this thick, yellow foamy pollution in the air. The first thing Sam and I thought was hey, that looks like our beer! It smells like it too!
portlandexpos04: I see. Well your beers have really taken off, I see them being sold everywhere, at practically every restaurant and grocery store I walk into...
Neil: Yeah, we've really hit it big time... We even recently started selling our beer in Timbuktu.
portlandexpos04: Why Timbuktu?
Neil: We met this financial advisor, Monique Diamond, who invited my brother and I out to Timbuktu recently. She gave us this whole seminar/tutorial on making money, and it all seemed to make a lot of sense. You should've seen her presentation, she basically told us how to avoid bankruptcy and minimize expenses... yeah, you should've seen it, craziest thing I ever saw. She even had flashing arrows that pointed us around different budget items and stuff. Absolutely the craziest thing I've ever seen. After that presentation, we were totally sold on Timbuktu.
Anyways, onward with our tour. Above you will find a picture of the downtown core. Some of the buildings are numbered, and descriptions are included below:
1 - The Wells Fargo Center: consists of two buildings, the "tower" and an adjacent five story office building across the street. The tower was completed in 1972 and holds the distinction of being the tallest building in the state of Oregon, standing at 546 feet and 41 stories. The tower is entirely an office building. The 5-story building across the street is also an office building, with a ground floor Wells Fargo bank branch. When it was completed, local Sims complained about it being ugly and blocking their views of Mount Hood, a mountain located east of Portland standing at 11,249 feet and part of the Cascade Range. As a result, the City of Portland passed an ordinance limiting the height of new buildings.
2 - The KOIN Center: is 509 feet and 35 stories tall. The building was completed in 1984. It is named after it's main occupant, local television station KOIN, Portland's CBS affiliate. Floors 1 through 3 consist of mixed use retail and office, including a small movie theater and a Morton's Steakhouse. Floors 4 through 19 consist of office space, and floors 20 through 31 consist of residential condominiums. Floors 31-35 are used for mechanical purposes, as well as housing equipment for KOIN's radio and television broadcasts.
3 - PacWest Center: is 418 feet and 30 stories tall. PacWest Center was completed in 1984 and consists of office space, with some small retail on the ground floor such as a coffee shop and deli, primarily serving the building's tenants.
4 - Portland City Hall: was completed in 1895. In 1974, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. City Hall is home to the mayor's office, the Portland City Council chambers, ceremonial and conference rooms, and the offices of Neighborhood Involvement, the City Auditor, Council Clerk, City Treasurer and the affirmative action office. The current mayor of Portland is Charlie Hales, who assumed office on January 1, 2013.
5 - The Portland Building: also known as the Portland Municipal Services Building. The Portland Bldg. is 231 feet and 15 stories tall, it was completed in 1982. It houses the staff of all city departments and bureaus that are not housed in City Hall. It is also home to a famous local statue, Portlandia, which sits above the main entrance to the building facing westward toward SW 5th Ave.
6 - The Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building: is 270 feet and 18 stories tall. It was completed in 1975. The building is owned by the United States Federal Government and houses federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Portland branches of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as well as the offices of Oregon's United States Senator, Ron Wyden.
7 - The Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse: is 318 feet and 16 stories tall. It was completed in 1997 and named after former United States Senator from Oregon, Mark Hatfield. The building serves as the home of the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, responsible for all federal-related court cases in the state. County and city-level court cases are heard in the Multnomah County Courthouse adjacent to the Portland Building.
8 - The Justice Center: serves as the primary home of the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department. The lower floors are used for administrative purposes, while the upper floors serve as the Multnomah County jail. Most Sims find themselves in this building either handcuffed on the way in (and sometimes out), or here to bail out a friend or family member who drank a little too much Rush Hour Beer and got themselves into a little too much trouble... about the only voluntary visitors are friends/family of police officers/staff, or those interested in checking out the small History of the Portland Police Bureau exhibit located in the ground floor lobby.
The downtown core is also home to Pioneer Courthouse and Pioneer Courthouse Square. Pioneer courthouse is a federal courthouse, built in 1869. It is a designated National Historical Location and is also listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. It currently houses the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The building features a bell tower, that is accessible by visitors with special permits and provides a nice view of adjacent buildings and Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Pioneer Courthouse Square is located on the block immediately west of Pioneer Courthouse. It is known by local Sims as Portland's living room. The square features a MAX light rail stop, outdoor chess tables and seating areas for Sims to unwind, relax, and people watch. There is a directional compass on the ground in the center of the square that tells Sims the distances (in miles and kilometers) to major cities and sights around the world. There are often live music performances held in the square, and it is also home to the annual Portland Beer Festival and the Portland Italian Festival. During the Christmas and New Year's holiday season, the square is home to a large decorated christmas tree. The square is also quite popular on the night of New Year's Eve, as this is the location of Portland's official New Year's ball drop.
Surrounding the square is the Fox Tower, completed in 2000, and standing at 372 feet and 27 stories tall. The Fox Tower is home to office space, as well as the Regal Fox Tower theater, featuring 10 movie theaters showing the latest blockbuster hits.
Also adjacent to the square is a Nordstrom department store, and a Macy's department store. The Macy's building was formerly the home of Portland-based Meier & Frank department store, before it merged with Macy's in the early 2000s. The building was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1982. Today, Macy's occupies the lower floors (1 through 3) of the building, while the upper floors (4 through 6) house Portland's only five-star luxury hotel, The Nines.
As mentioned previously, downtown Portland is home to lots of bars and breweries. One of them is Kell's Irish Pub. Originally founded in Portland, the pub now has locations in Seattle and San Francisco as well. The Portland location brews their own beer, and also offers a Whiskey flight, a tasting of various Irish Whiskys, and Irish themed food. The place is packed with local Sims on St. Patricks Day... and finding a seat here during that holiday is pretty much near impossible unless you come right at opening. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights feature live music from local bands.
Surrounding Kell's are several other bars and restaurants. Alcohol is served in the State of Oregon until 2:30 am, with last call happening around 2:00 am.
Also located in the downtown core is the US Bancorp Tower, known locally as "Big Pink". It is the second tallest building in the State of Oregon, standing at 536 feet and 42 stories tall. The bank is home to primarily office space, and was formerly the headquarters of Portland-based US Bank. US Bank merged in 1997 and moved its headquarters to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Though the company still leases spaces in the building. The building is also home to Portland City Grill, Portland's top-grossing restaurant, located on the 30th floor. The restaurant offers new American food as well as a nice 30th floor view of Portland. A good place for Sims to impress client(s) or romantic partner(s).
Located west of the US Bancorp Tower along SW Broadway Street is the Benson Hotel. Currently owned by Coast Hotels & Resorts, it is known locally as "The Benson". The hotel was completed in 1912 and added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1986. In the past, it was a favorite of many famous people when visiting Portland, including several US presidents. Today it is also home to the El Gaucho Restaurant & Steak House. The lobby is quite small, but features many historical pieces from the early 1900s. Some Sims insist that the hotel is haunted... especially those who just came back from Kell's on St. Patty's Day.
The University District
Immediately south of the downtown core is the University District, home to Portland State University (PSU). PSU is primarily a commuter school, though recent efforts have been made at increasing the number of students being housed on campus. Founded in 1946, it currently serves 23,489 undergraduate students and 5,963 postgraduate students. Schools at PSU include the School of Business Administration, Graduate School of Education, College of the Arts, School of Social Work, College of Urban and Public Affairs, Masseh College of Engineering and Computer Science, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
US News & Report currently ranks Portland State as a second tier research university, but the school is unranked nationally. The school offers a multitude of night classes, and the average student age for undergraduates is 26 years old.
For athletics, Portland State is a member of the Big Sky Conference for most sports. For wrestling, it belongs to the Pac-12 Conference, and for softball, the Pacific Coast Softball Conference. PSU's teams compete at the NCAA Division I level in basketball, women's volleyball, golf, soccer, wrestling, tennis, softball, indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country. Football competes at the Division I AA level. PSU's athletic nickname is the Vikings and the mascot is Victor E. Viking. Home games are played off-campus at Providence Park (football) and on-campus at Peter Stott Center (basketball).
South Waterfront & "Pill Hill"
Immediately south of the University District is the main campus of Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU). The main OHSU campus sits on top of Marquam Hill, and because of the medical focus of the school, the area is also known as "Pill Hill". OHSU was established in 1974 and serves as a postgraduate institution with a focus on medicine. Schools at OHSU include the School of Medicine, School of Nursing and the School of Dentistry. US News & World Report ranked OHSU amongst the top medical schools in the United States, placing the school 3rd overall in Primary Care and 31st in Research.
OHSU has a secondary campus on the bottom of Pill Hill in the South Waterfront neighborhood. An elevated section of the MAX Light Rail, Green Line provides direct travel between the two campuses. OHSU employees and students with ID are allowed free and unlimited rides between the OHSU Main Campus Station at the top of Pill Hill and the South Waterfront Station at the bottom of the hill.
OHSU is also home to the Oregon Health & Sciences University Hospital. The hospital is adjacent to Doernbecher Children's Hospital and a Shriners Hospital for Children. OHSU Hospital is one of only two Level I trauma centers in Oregon. The hospital buildings feature helicopter landing pads on the roofs of both buildings. US News & World Report has ranked the OHSU Hospital 23rd in the US for ear, nose and throat specialties; 32nd for urology care in pediatrics and 35th for cancer treatment in pediatrics. Like OHSU employees and students, patients needing transportation between the two OHSU campuses are allowed free rides on the MAX light rail between the Main Campus/Hospital and the South Waterfront Station. Special tickets are issued at reception desks to patients and are good until the expiry date printed on the ticket... though Tri Met does not enforce ticketing between these two stations anyways. There is also a shuttle bus service running between the two campuses that is free for patients, employees and students.
Located along the banks of the Willamette River and south of downtown is the South Waterfront neighborhood. It is home to OHSU's South Waterfront Campus, as well as luxury condominiums, senior housing, and apartments. The residential portion of the neighborhood was developed beginning in 2005. Previously, this area was nothing but grassland and light industrial.
The area is served by the South Waterfront MAX station. Recently, the Tilikum Crossing MAX bridge was completed. In the future, this bridge will serve the MAX Orange Line that is currently being constructed between Downtown Portland and the suburb of Milwaukie. Tilikum Crossing currently connects the MAX Green Line with a light rail turn-around on the east bank of the Willamette River that allows southbound Green Line trains to turnaround and begin their northbound route.
Just north of the Tilikum Crossing is the John Ross Bridge, a two-lane bridge that connects the area with southeast Portland. The roadway becomes Powell Blvd., a major east-west arterial in SE Portland, also designated as US Hwy 26.
Located on the northwest corner of downtown Portland is the Goose Hollow neighborhood. It is home to small retail stores and restaurants including vintage clothing stores, coffee shops and cafes, as well as one of Portland's best steakhouses, Ringside.
It is also home to Providence Park, a stadium that is currently the home of Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, and the Portland State University Vikings Division I-AA football team. The stadium, was built in 1926 as Multnomah Stadium. From 1966-2000 it was known as Civic Stadium, from 2001-2010 it was known as PGE Park, and from 2011-2014, Jeld Wen Field. Earlier this year, Providence Health & Services purchased the naming rights for the stadium, and thus, the stadium is now known as Providence Park.
The stadium seats 20,438 for soccer and college football. It was previously configured for baseball and football. From 1956 to 1973, it served as the home of the Pacific Coast League's Portland Beavers, a minor league baseball team. From 1973-1977, it was home to the independent baseball team, Portland Mavericks of the Northwest League. Actor Kurt Russel played as an infielder for the Mavericks.
In 1978, the Pacific Coast League's Portland Beavers returned to the city and to the stadium. Minor league baseball games were played here until 1993, when the Beavers were moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. From 1995 until 2000, the stadium served as the home of the Portland Rockies, a short season, Class A minor league baseball team in the Northwest League.
In 2001, the Albuquerque Dukes relocated to Portland and were renamed the Beavers, bringing Triple-A minor league baseball back to the stadium and Portland. Prior to the relocation, the stadium was renovated to include luxury suites and a new media box.
Beginning in 2001 through 2004, there was discussion about bringing Major League Baseball's Montreal Expos to Portland. The plan was to renovate the stadium to serve as an interim facility for the Expos until a new, larger ballpark could be built in Portland. Efforts went as far as securing $150 million in funding from the State of Oregon for a new ballpark. Nonetheless, the Portland Expos never came, and the team moved to Washington, DC instead, becoming the Washington Nationals.
In 2007, Major League Soccer announced that Portland had won an expansion MLS soccer franchise. The stadium was renovated again to bring it up to MLS standards. Unfortunately, with the renovations, baseball could no longer be accommodated. Efforts to build a new minor-league ballpark went nowhere, and the Beavers moved to Tucson, Arizona, leaving Portland without a baseball team.
Renovations to the stadium were completed the following year, and the Portland Timbers began playing to consistent sell-out crowds in 2009. Today it is still one of the hottest tickets in town, with die-hard soccer fans showing up to each and every home game. The atmosphere is similar to European soccer matches and things get really crazy when the rival Seattle Sounders come to town.
The Pearl District
Yuppies, hipsters, coffee shops, art galleries and luxury condos/apartments/lofts. That's the Pearl District for you. Before 2000, the area was primarily a light industrial and manufacturing area. Today, it's home to everything a yuppie and hipster would want. One point of interest for all, though, is Powell's Books, a locally owned and operated bookstore that has been in business for decades. It has a huge selection spanning two buildings and multiple floors. One can actually get physically lost in this book store, it's that big. It was also one of the first book stores in the country to feature a coffee shop inside.
Located north of the downtown core and the US Bancorp Tower is Portland's Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood. The Chinatown portion is located along NW 4th Avenue. It spans just a couple blocks, and is much smaller compared to Chinatowns in larger US west coast cities, such as San Francisco and Seattle. There are a few Chinese and Thai restaurants in the area... but today, it is mostly home to bars and nightclubs. One of the more famous local establishments, Hung Far Low Cocktails (I'm not kidding, this place really exists... in our own universe too!), serves up cheap (and strong) happy hour libations. It is probably one of the dive-ist of dive bars you will ever walk into. The entrance way leads directly into a staircase that leads directly up to the restaurant and bar. The walk up the stairs is accompanied by flickering fluorescent lighting. By the time you reach the bar, you'd have thought you were in a bad 1960's kung fu movie and bad guys would jump out at you at any time. It's stereotypical. It's dirty. It's bad. But the drinks will mess you up and it won't cost you much (financially, at least)!
Old Town is adjacent to Chinatown. It's home to mostly social service agencies that help Sims who are in desperate times. The neighborhood is a bit seedy. There's always Portland Police activity around here... but you know, a walk through here is always interesting to say the least!
The area is also home to Portland's Union train station. Served by Amtrak, it connects Portland with Eugene and Seattle/Vancouver, BC, Canada (via Amtrak Cascades), Portland and California (via Amtrak's Coast Starlight) and Portland and Chicago (via Amtrak's Empire Builder).
Alright, well, it's getting late, so let's go grab a quick dinner and hit up that Hung Far Low place for some drinks. Cheers!
Several hours later...
... wow, those drinks were strong!
I hope you enjoyed your tour of Portland! After sobering up, feel free to let me know which city you'd like to visit next. We can either go south to Eugene, Oregon, or we can go north to Seattle, Washington. You can vote by using the poll at the top of this entry.
Thanks for following and I hope you enjoyed your visit to An Alternative Universe Portland!