PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Thompson Elk is the second-oldest piece of public art in the city of Portland, just behind Skidmore Fountain. But the Elk statue, its podium and its fountain base were damaged during the demonstrations of 2020.
KOIN 6 News broke the news the historic Elk statue will return to downtown Portland, but bringing the statue back isn’t as simple as it sounds.
At this moment, the 9-foot high Elk statue is in a secret location awaiting its return to public view. The Regional Arts and Culture Council, which maintains the city’s public art, removed the statue to preserve it and a big part of the city’s heritage.
The historic landmark was donated in 1900 by former Mayor David P. Thompson. The fountain at the elk’s base watered the goats and horses that came into the center of town. Cars, buses and bikes now travel Portland’s Main Street.
“We anticipate it will come back to this location, the same location that it’s always been,” said Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio.
But when the Elk statue returns, the fountain likely will not.
The city maintains the fountain is too big to accomodate traffic safety changes the city wants to make on Main Street and the Portland Water Bureau said maintaining the old fountain is too problematic.
“But there’s lots of opportunities and we’re going to hire some designers to consider what the new base will look like,” said Portland Public Arts Manager Jeff Hawthorne.
Architect Bill Hawkins, who specializes in historic restoration, is excited to see the Elk return but is “opposed, absolutely opposed” to not bringing the fountain back, too.
Hawkins said he’s raised $130,000 to preserve the fountain as well, even if it’s in another location. Althought the water troughs couldn’t be salvaged, a majority of the fountain was.
The water bureau still has it.
“It could be saved,” he said. “There is no reason in the world to destroy a Portland historic landmark other than making it more convenient for bikes and buses.”
Hawthorne said they are “going to explore lots of options. We’d like to bring some scenarios together for the public to respond to.”
Now the process of deciding what the new base for the Thompson Elk statue will look like, but the fountain is an open question. Portland’s Historic Landmarks Commission has said both the Elk and the fountain should be restored and returned to Main Street or to another location.
The City of Portland is looking to return the Elk statue to Main Street by this fall.