For UO signage in Portland, it’s all or nothing
After nearly a year of discussion and conflict, stakeholders are still awaiting a final decision regarding the neon text and ownership of the historic White Stag sign atop the University’s Portland campus.
Despite the University’s April agreement with the City of Portland to change the sign to read “Oregon” and bear the Ducks’ signature green, administrators here later decided they also want a neon “O” posted on a neighboring water tower. Now, unless a Portland commission grants the University the O, or the University accepts the sign without the O, the school could lose any say in the White Stag sign’s text.
Currently reading “Made in Oregon,” the name of a retail store that once owned the building, the sign has gone through multiple transformations since the 1940s, when it was designed by present owner Ramsay Signs. The sign originally read “White Satin Sugar,” the name of a candy store housed in the building, then the sportswear company “White Stag” and then, 10 years ago, to the present “Made in Oregon.”
The University began leasing space in the building in 2006, opening the facility in 2008 with an 18-year lease. The block-long building now houses the University’s Portland campus, consisting of a law program, journalism, architecture, product design and business departments, plus other mixed academic resources.
In winter of 2008, the University, in collaboration with Ramsay Signs, began discussing changing the text of the sign to “University of Oregon,” sparking a dispute with Portlanders accustomed to the historic sign. Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard, the city’s main advocate in this ongoing matter, said he believed changing the sign to feature a Eugene-based institution insulted Portland.
“Changing the sign from a neutral City of Portland-oriented institution to a Eugene, Oregon based school that is well recognized in its own right seriously degrades the value of the icon to an entire community and commandeers it for the narrow purpose of institutional self-indulgence,” Leonard wrote in his personal blog in March.
After a heated process, the University and the city of Portland came to a compromise in early April, agreeing to change the sign to simply read “Oregon” and changing the red lights on its bottom to University green. Leonard proposed this new idea, and was glad the sign “will be forevermore in the public domain and under the constant vigilance of the University of Oregon.”
While this seemed final, the signage debate continued. The University reopened the discussion on April 16, pairing changing the sign to “Oregon” with the addition of a neon “O” to a neighboring water tower. The Landmarks Commission of Portland spoke up about the historic nature of the sign, and on July 13 voted unanimously to overturn the proposal made by the city and University, wanting to approach each sign separately, not as a unit. City planner Mark Walhood said the “O” sign proposed for the water tower, which currently has “Old Town” painted on it, would affect the skyline and create a precedent for other wood water tanks around the area.
University officials believe they have cooperated with the commission enough. “We had agreed with the Landmarks Commission that we would keep the original font and design of the sign as well,” University spokesperson Phil Weiler said. The University ultimately refused the commission’s request to divide the White Stag and “O” signs into two separate issues.
This conflict leads to a July 27 Portland City Commission hearing and historic design review to determine the sign’s fate. “This sign has changed three, four times over the years, depending on the owner of the building,” Weiler said. “Now that it’s part of the University, it only seems right to change it from the title of its previous owner.”
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