Portland, Oregon—Today, Commissioners Dan Ryan and Carmen Rubio filed a resolution directing the City of Portland to restore and return the Fountain base when the iconic Thompson Elk statue returns to Southwest Main Street. This resolution builds on the Portland Parks Foundation’s funding a feasibility study into restoring and returning the Fountain, including the consideration of right-of-way improvements to support bus, bike, and pedestrian safety.
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“Thank you to Commissioner Rubio, the City Arts Program, the Water Bureau, the Portland Bureau of Transportation, the Portland Parks Foundation, and the Office of Management and Finance for working nimbly to respond to Portlanders’ request to fully restore the Thompson Elk Fountain,” said Commissioner Dan Ryan. “Simply put, the Thompson Elk Fountain centered our Civic Affairs district with welcoming public art—when one came to testify at City Hall, serve on jury duty, and visit with a federal judge, The Elk was there to remind you that you are in a special place, and the fountain base represented our vitality as a community. For countless Portlanders, The Elk is part of the soul of our City, and restoration of the fountain is connected to the healing of Portland. I look forward to celebrating the return of the Thompson Elk Fountain with our community as we heal together.”
During the summer of 2020, as a racial justice reckoning swept the United States, protestors lit several fires in the Fountain’s troughs and destroyed portions of the granite. The elk was damaged as well. You can find a full narrative of the damage on Portland.gov.
To protect the Elk, the City’s nonprofit arts partner removed it on July 2, 2020. The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) has stored the elk safely and fully restored it with funding from the City’s arts insurance policy.
Portland Water Bureau contractors removed the Fountain in July 2020, and the Bureau hasprovided a full inventory of the salvaged, cleaned, and cataloged Fountain pieces.
In mid-February, Commissioner Rubio, the City Arts Program, the Water Bureau, and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) announced that the Elk would return to its home in the middle of Main Street. The City proposed to design a newer, narrower base, which would include a public process to collect feedback about that design and the possibility of returning the Fountain. PBOT also shared that the Elk’s return would present a need to improve the street to ensure a safer roadway. This includes improving the street to better accommodate TriMet buses, and adding bike facilities to connect cyclists from the Hawthorne Bridge to the upcoming Southwest Fourth Avenue Improvement Project.
Following that announcement, many members of the community expressed strong objections to the proposal because it did not guarantee that the Fountain would return as well. In response, the Portland Parks Foundation offered their financial and logistical support in exploring how to both restore the Fountain and improve the right-of-way for buses, bikes, cars and pedestrians to safely navigate around it.
Roughly one month ago, the Portland Parks Foundation (PPF) board voted to hire a firm or team with experience in architectural restoration, stone carving and masonry, and traffic engineering design to:
- Create a detailed assessment of the remaining fountain parts and whether and how new parts can be fabricated to faithfully reproduce the original fountain
- To develop scenarios for how the right of way can be designed to accommodate the restored fountain and base while addressing safety concerns for pedestrians, bikes, transit, and automobiles
- provide cost analysis for these scenarios
“The Portland Parks Foundation and I share a common goal: to give life and beauty to our city by creating safe, welcoming public spaces,” said City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees parks and arts. “The Foundation’s investment will help us understand how to repair the Fountain, what it will cost, and also address the core safety concerns with having a fountain in the middle of the street. I look forward to their findings and appreciate their ongoing partnership.”
"Our city and the Foundation are very lucky to have a civic patron willing to fund the necessary upfront design and feasibility work to accelerate the Thompson Elk Fountain's careful restoration and return to Main Street," said Randy Gragg, executive director of PPF. "We've put together an accomplished Project Advisory Committee and are in the process of finding and vetting firms to restore the fountain and, budgets willing, make the setting a safer, better place."
The resolution directs the relevant bureaus, “to take all necessary steps to fully restore and return the Thompson Elk Fountain to its original condition and location” and reads:
WHEREAS, the Thompson Elk Fountain, also known as the Elk Fountain or The Elk, is a historical monument, fountain, and bronze sculpture located on SW Main St. between 3rd and 4th Avenues; and
WHEREAS, the Thompson Elk Fountain was donated to the City of Portland by former Mayor David P. Thompson in 1900; and
WHEREAS, the 3,000-pound bronze Elk Fountain was placed in a site that was a former feeding ground for elk that wandered down from the west hills of the City; and
WHEREAS, the original installation of The Elk is between two public plazas, Chapman Square and Lownsdale Square, that comprise the Plaza Blocks in downtown Portland; and
WHEREAS, two distinguishing features of The Elk Fountain include a bronze Hunting Elk sculpted by American artist Roland Hilton Perry, and an eastern-granite base and water-spouting fountain, which consisted of a top utility for humans and lower troughs for horses, dogs, goats, or other fauna, was designed and built by local architect H.G. Wright; and
WHEREAS, the Elk Fountain is the second-oldest piece of Public Art in the City of Portland; and
WHEREAS, the Thompson Elk Fountain has been an object of endearment and has served as a gathering place for Portlanders and a hub for activism for more than 120 years; and
WHEREAS, on or about July 2, 2020, the Elk Fountain was damaged and subsequently removed from its original location; and
WHEREAS, City officials went to great lengths to preserve The Elk in its entirety; and
WHEREAS, return of The Elk will send a clear message that the City is committed to revitalizing the downtown core; and
WHEREAS, the Portland Parks Foundation has graciously offered to hire a team with experience in architectural restoration, stone carving and masonry, and traffic design engineering to assess the remaining fountain parts, identify how new parts can be fabricated and adapted to recirculate the water used by the fountain, develop scenarios for how the right-of-way can be designed to address safety concerns; and provide a cost analysis for the full restoration of the Elk Fountain and street redesign; and
WHEREAS, on February 15, 2022, the Office of Management and Finance submitted an application for Historic Demolition Delay; and
WHEREAS, Council seeks to retain the local Historic Landmark designation; and
WHEREAS, returning the Thompson Elk Fountain may trigger land use reviews under Title 33 and the Council cannot guarantee the outcome of the land use review; and
WHEREAS, the Thompson Elk Fountain is an important piece of Portland History and, to the extent feasible, should be returned to its original state and location.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Office of Management and Finance is directed to withdraw its application for Historic Demolition Delay
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council directs the Office of Management and Finance to take all steps necessary, including applying for necessary land use reviews, to fully restore and return the Thompson Elk Fountain to its original condition and location to the extent feasible.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that all applicable bureaus work in collaboration with the Office of Management and Finance in this effort.