The Schnitz Gets a Better, Brighter 'Portland' Sign

A Southwest Broadway icon gets the makeover it deserves.

By Rachel Wilson August 8, 2017

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Workers finishing the installation of the new "Portland" sign on SW Broadway

For more than 30 years, the 65-foot-high “Portland” sign has dazzled downtowners with 2,200 brightly lit bulbs. That's 30 years of rain, snow, and even occasional sunshine. Just like anything else after this amount of time, the Oregon landmark was in need of some tune-ups.

Since May 2, those long-overdue tune-ups have meant there's a hole on Southwest Broadway where the icon hung from the side of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. But fret not: the $500,000 refurbishment comes to an end on August 16 with a relighting ceremony.

The “Portland” sign first went up in 1928 when the building was the Portland Public Theatre. In 1930, the sign was altered to say “Paramount,” as the theater was set to show only Paramount films. When it opened as the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in 1984, the sign was changed back to say “Portland.” Over the years, the sign has gone through a few changes, but the latest is meant to extend its lifespan for another 50 to 100 years. 

“The sign was essentially built in 1984," explains Tom Sessa, the marketing director for Portland’5 Centers for the Arts. "Due to natural wear and tear on the sign, there were parts that needed to be replaced. This was visible on the parts we call the face.”

While the overall design and look remain the same, improvements include a new, lightweight aluminum shell, a fresh coat of paint, UV coating to help prevent fading, brighter neon letters and new LED light bulbs, and the replacement of structural support elements. Visitors who rarely make it to this corner of downtown may not even spot the differences.

Nevertheless, Sessa says that fans may note the more subtle changes. "The paint is all brand-new and the colors are the same as the original. It’s going to look exactly the same to the untrained eye. But we look at it and go ‘whoa!’ because we look at it every day. It looks spectacular—crisp and clean.”

Portland Sign Relighting Ceremony

7 p.m, Wed, Aug 16, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, FREE

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