Saturday, April 25, 2009

Villard's Ruins

"That's one of the reasons why the streets grow duller and duller. If there is anything curious, anything beautiful in a street, they take it away and stick it in a museum." -from the short story "N" by Arthur Machen.

But not everything interesting ends up in a museum. On the wall in Jake's Famous Crawfish hangs on of Portland's more historic paintings, Villard's Ruins, by Portland artist Francesca Grothjean (1865-1945).

The painting, in a Romantic style suited for crumbling antiquities, was of ruins anything but ancient.

In 1883 Portland was connected to the national rail network via Henry Villard's Northern Pacific Railroad. Villard reasoned that the terminus of a trans-continental rail line would need a first class hotel. He purchased the block bounded by 6th, 7th, Morrison and Yamhill then began work on what was anticipated to be Portland's new palatial showpiece.

The completion of the railroad had financially over extended Villard. Work stopped on the hotel after only the foundation had been completed. For six years, Villard's ruins, as they were known, lay fallow, a civic frustration (and twice a crime scene) until the project was resuscitated by Portland's usual plutocrat suspects.

The Hotel Portland would be at the center of city life until being torn down in 1951. Much of Villard's ruins still lie beneath Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Separated by one block to the west and 126 years; the suspended Park Avenue West tower, what might be called "Moyer's ruins."

Thanks to the fine folks at Jake's Famous Crawfish, who not only allowed me to photograph their painting, but even offered me a chair to stand on.


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