Walk the piled-high aisles of Peter Corvallis’s warehouse—a 100,000-square-foot family business that’s rented party décor, tents, and AV equipment to Portland for the past 50 years—and you’ll find unlimited possibilities for mise-en-scène. Five-foot artificial roses sized for Alice’s Wonderland, Corinthian columns for toga-rific times, and a 1950s parking meter? Check. A row of dusty jewel-toned iMacs and old Remington typewriters, three 12-gallon crates of plastic lobsters, and a life-size pirate wench complete with skull belt, curved cutlass, and shoulder parrot? Yep. All of it. And so much more, thanks to one family’s decades of collecting.
Peter Corvallis was a networker through and through. When KOIN TV went on the air in 1953, he was the city’s first news cameraman. Five years later he founded his rental company, Peter Corvallis Productions, primarily catering to Portland’s growing trade show market, in the basement of the Hilton hotel. He also worked as a photojournalist for the Oregonian, shooting celebrities like Zsa Zsa Gabor and RFK (the week he was assassinated), along with plenty of locals. By the ’60s Corvallis was directing fashion shows for Pendleton and Jantzen and propping out the holiday scenes in his friend Fred Meyer’s stores. Later on, he handled campaign events for candidates including Bill Clinton and George Bush, always adding props to the collection that now fills three warehouses under the Fremont Bridge.
“Back then media and events were one, there wasn’t a separation,” says current company president (and Corvallis’s daughter) Maria Corvallis. “He was never starstruck. He just did his business taking care of the client’s needs.”
Maria and her sister Athena took over the business and its 50 employees after Corvallis died in 2016, continuing to stage and decorate massive events like the Multnomah County Fair, the Oregon International Air Show, and corporate galas aplenty. But small party planners can also take advantage of the plastic-lobster-filled warehouse—a three-day rental of the sock hop–era parking meter runs $15, or score that parrot-topped pirate gal for $175—something the sisters encourage.
“People love [this place],” Corvallis says. “They come down here like kids in a candy shop. There’s a lot of cool things and, you know, nostalgia.”