Now, unlike the Wagon Wheel Motel on Route 66, I haven’t stayed here, so can’t vouch for the place as a whole. But its spiffy new paint job and its place on my other favorite historic highway give it a permanent place in my heart, nonetheless.
June is the month of roses in the Pacific Northwest, and there’s no better place to see roses than the City of Roses. And there’s no better rose garden in the City of Roses than the diamond gardens in Ladd’s Addition. So in honor of my favorite Portland neighborhood, here are two midsummer sketches, done exactly three years apart.
Ladd’s Addition was the first planned residential development in the state of Oregon. Conceived in 1891 and mostly built between 1905 and 1930, the area is now a national historic district. In deliberate contravention of the city grid, the neighborhood is laid out in an “X” pattern with a circle park and rotary in the center. Where each diagonal street intersects one other at points north, south, east and west of the circle, there’s a small diamond-shaped garden that’s home to one of Portland’s many rose test gardens. And along every tree-lined and tree-named (though some have been rechristened in modern times; the map above shows their original names) street are many dozens of historic homes—many of which are unique or unusual examples of Craftsman-, Tudor- and Mission-style architecture.
Every part of this neighborhood is appealing to me—I’m a sucker for a good map, a Craftsman house and a pale peach rose. Put them all together, with a shady spot for me to sit and sketch, and I’m instantly in heaven.
Bookstores are a big part of our annual holiday shopping rounds, and my two most sketch-able favorites are Powell’s in Portland—
—and Elliott Bay in Seattle. Of course I’m probably going to love any indie bookstore, but both of these places have such inviting spaces that I could stay and sketch for a year. If I weren’t so distracted by all those zillions of books, that is…
Life seems to be going at a thousand miles an hour these days—between work and the season, it’s hard to find any sort of break. So when I came upon this sketch today, it reminded me to take a deep breath, looking forward to the next quiet moment.
Cathedral Park is one of my favorite spots in Portland. It’s pretty far off the beaten path, so I don’t know how many non-locals make it out that way, but it’s well worth the effort to get there. The park is named for the effect created by the gothic arches under the span. The long row of arches acts like a kind of barrel vault, while the diffuse Northwest light filters in at an angle—which feels a whole lot like you’re standing in the nave of the airiest cathedral you can imagine. The whole effect is as inspiring (for me) as visiting Notre Dame in Paris or St. Patrick’s in New York—only with a distinctly Northwestern spin on the experience.
Well, if I’m going to spend all this time talking about roadside attractions, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the legendary Muffler Men—guardians of gas stations, presidents of photo ops. If you’ve ever taken a road trip, you’ve probably seen at least one of these guys along the way.
These behemoths started appearing in the early 1960s (the very first one was on Route 66), to promote the brand new International Fiberglass Company in California. For whatever reason, they usually ended up in front of gas stations, holding giant mufflers—hence the nickname.
By 1970 there were thousands of them around the country, but the 1973 oil crisis forced the decline and eventual demise of International Fiberglass. These days the muffler men are an endangered species, down to just a few hundred stalwart lads (and a handful of lasses, too!).
For me, finding them has turned into something of a quest—and not just because I’m a completist (though, of course I am). You see, the most fun thing about these guys is that they’re not identical—there are many, many variations on the original design (and a few knock-offs, to boot).
Probably the most common variation is the Paul Bunyan—they’re certainly the most recognizable, even when their axes get stolen.
And when they’re spiffed up to their original glory, they’re unmistakeable. (This one is a mobile muffler man! When he surprised me at the local Daffodil Parade a few years ago, it felt like Christmas had come early.)
And best of all are the mutant modifications that have happened to some of these guys (you should have heard me squeal when I found this one!). Some have been altered so much as to be rendered almost unrecognizable. But you can’t fool me—once a muffler man, always a muffler man.
So tell me: have you found any muffler men in your travels? Do you have one in your neighborhood? I’m always on the look-out for a good one, so if you have any recommendations, I’m all (rabbit) ears.
Drawing super-complex things like rose gardens always breaks my brain a little. I start out with good intentions, attracted by the detail in every petal and the stunning colors of all the rose varieties. But every time I look down at my page and back up again, I lose track of where I was. Then I kind of throw up my hands, and suddenly everything becomes a mess of color blotches. But that’s okay—because when I go and look at the sketch later, my memory of actually standing among all those real roses is crystal clear.
Every time I’m in Portland, it seems like I have a list of errands a mile long. Inevitably I get caught up in the bustle of the city, ticking items off my list, and usually only taking a break long enough for a hurried sketch now and then. But whenever I get the chance to visit the Japanese Garden, all the noise disappears and time seems to stand still.
Which, I’m pretty sure, is precisely the point of the place.
Well, I wouldn’t exactly call this statue the handsomest Paul Bunyan in the world, but you gotta love that plaid shirt and winning smile. He’s got plenty of moxie—which makes me think Portland is the perfect place for him.