Portland has a small, yet budding, film and television industry. While many of us would love to see it grow, especially with the prospect of job creation, there are some perks to enjoy while it is still small. One of those is the specialness of locations featured in some films and TV shows.
With the holidays in full swing, many will have family visiting from out of town. A great option for a family activity is to wander around town and check out these locations – it will get you out of the house and give you a reason to explore various aspects of Portland. As a bonus, you could visit in the day, and then watch the film/episode in the evening to geek-out over the spots.
While there are many walking tours of Portland that you can sign up for in the summer, it may be more appealing to visit one or two sites of interest in the rainy Portland December.
The Broadway Bridge is featured heavily in the 1996 classic coming-of-age/lesbianic/rebel-girl film, Foxfire, starring a young Angelina Jolie film. With many scenes on or under it, the bridge becomes a character in itself. The film includes the iconic shot of Jolie climbing to the top of the bridge (something I have ZERO interest in doing!).
It also features a scene under the old Lovejoy Ramp, a landmark only remembered by those of us who lived here before this century. Beneath the ramp were some columns (now known as the “Lovejoy Columns”).
The Lovejoy Columns were painted by Athanasios (Tom) Efthimiou Stefopoulos, a Greek immigrant artist who worked in the rail yard and would draw and paint on the columns during lag times. Stefopoulos painted subjects from Greek myth, including Diogenes, as well as lovely images of fauna and flora.
In addition to Foxfire, you might recall the columns from the opening scene in Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy (1989).
Like many of Van Sant’s films, Stefopoulos’ art exists as a remembrance of the working-class/blue collar aspect of Portland’s past working in tandem with the rich artistic history we have here. Much of this culture of Portland is quickly being washed away (or veneered over) by shiny new condos, the expansion of the tech industry, and an influx of wealthier residents – for which our southern neighbor often gets the blame. (Sorry CA, it is just too easy to blame your transplants!)
Retaining the paintings’ connection to film, local filmmaker Vanessa Renwick is in the process of creating a documentary chronicling the effort to preserve these pillars. While waiting for the complete film, you can get a 9 minute glimpse of it here, and you might as well take a look at her other brilliant work while you are at it.
Two of the columns which have the best-preserved art now reside in a courtyard on NW 10th between Flanders and Everett. The columns are currently covered in photographs of the paintings as they wait on resources for preservation.
In Other Words
14 NE Killingsworth
In Other Words (IOW) is a feminist bookshop-turned community center residing in close-in NE Portland. It is visually known on the small screen as the insular feminist bookstore in the popular (well popular amongst people who haven’t lived in Portland over a decade) IFC comedy show Portlandia.
While it is nice to get IOW a tiny bit of notoriety on TV, the type of feminist bookstore mocked in Portlandia couldn’t be farther from the reality of its real world counterpart. IOW is an inclusive space with a mission to “create a safer space where women, people of color, queer, trans, gender variant folks, workers, and those who live at the intersections of these identities can organize for self-determination and build a sustainable movement for liberation.”
When Portlandia came out, a friend on Facebook noted that the type of feminist bookstore satirized on the show is really a relic of the past, more indicative of these spaces in the 1980’s and 90’s. Today’s feminism is less about exclusion and more about elevating people from all forms of oppression.
In addition to selling books (in store and online), IOW also houses a lending library and hosts a variety of events like “Portland Books to Prisoners,” a discussion group for “Radical Elders,” and yoga.
If you are holiday shopping for a bibliophile, IOW is a great alternative to support rather than Amazon, and you can avoid the crowds at Powell’s. Having almost closed its doors last year, IOW could definitely use your support! You can even make a day of supporting long-time Portland businesses by dining for lunch or dinner at Pho Jasmine, just 8 blocks to the west.
The Witches’ Castle
Lower McClay Trail, Forest Park
Since Grimm is both set-in and filmed-in Portland, there are a multitude of sites fans can check out. There are even detailed Grimm location maps that can lead you to the spots of every significant scene filmed in town. If you are a robust Grimm fan, you could make a day of just touring locations in inner-Portland. If you do that, I suggest stopping by one of the Grand Central Bakery spots for a snack, since it appears to be the go-to coffee spot for characters on the show.
However, if you want to take your family/friends on a short hike with a note-worthy location attached, head up to the Witches’ Castle (I believe it is officially called the “Stone House,” but no one calls it that) in Forest Park.
Located at the junction of the Lower Macleay Trail with the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park, the mossy, 1920’s structure is a lovely place to bring anyone with an imagination. It is less than a mile from the Lower Macleay trail entrance in NW Portland, so you can bring kids who might want to search for faeries or hear ghost stories, adults interested in the history of the building, or any Grimm fan to geek out over a scene filmed there.
While Portland grows and changes over the years, it is fortuitous that we have so many relics, as well as some soon-to-be relics, preserved in film so they are not forgotten. As with the Lovejoy Columns, having a pop culture record of these landmarks can help ignite the effort to preserve them before developers send them to the dump. And as with In Other Words, a little notoriety can help fuel an effort to keep a community center afloat. Here’s to hoping the film and television industry in Portland keeps expanding and continues to document the evolution of the city’s landscape.