PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For the first time in 3 years, Pioneer Courthouse Square will host its holiday tree lighting, a welcome tradition in what’s called “Portland’s Living Room.”

Pioneer Courthouse Square was created in the footprint of what was once one of the city’s most prominent hotels, The Portland Hotel.

The Portland Hotel was one of the city’s grandest from 1890 until it closed in 1951. Today, its wrought-iron front gates are preserved at the east end of the square. After it closed the hotel was replaced with a parking lot and there was talk of building a parking garage at the site.

But civic leaders in the 1970s decided to make the land they’ve owned since 1856 a public square.

  • The Portland Hotel, seen here in 1900, sat on what is now Pioneer Courthouse Square (Courtesy: TheSquarePDX.org)
  • People enjoy Pioneer Courthouse Square on the day it opened, April 6, 1984 (KOIN)
  • People enjoy Pioneer Courthouse Square on the day it opened, April 6, 1984 (KOIN)
  • Pioneer Courthouse Square architect Will Martin, April 6, 1984 (KOIN)
  • A giant cake was brought into Pioneer Courthouse Square when it opened, April 6, 1984 (KOIN)
  • There are 83,000 engraved bricks at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, 2022 (Courtesy: TheSquarePDX.org)

“It was the site of Oregon’s first school, and then there was the Portland Hotel here,” said Theresa Vetsch-Sandoval with Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Local designers and architects won the design competition, creating the public space we see now. It cost nearly $7 million to build, and nearly $1 million was raised by people buying bricks with their names on them.

And on April 6, 1984, thousands of people filled the space for the opening of Pioneer Courthouse Square — which was also Portland’s 133rd birthday.

“We hope that we have here designed a public square which will attract both use and affection, and thus become a vital place in the hearts of the people,” architect Will Martin said at the dedication.

The city-owned park now host some 300 events annually in the heart of downtown.

“When we have all these events at the square it brings the community together and it’s really serving the purpose as it was intended to be,” Vetsch-Sandoval said. “Currently we have over 83,000 named bricks in the square.”

The square still sells engraved bricks to help with ongoing maintenance and improvements. In the early 1980s a brick cost $15. Now it’s $125.

From holiday events to concerts and movies, Pioneer Courthouse Square’s mission is to live up to its reputation as Portland’s Living Room.