PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One of Portland’s earliest pieces of public art was seen as the center of the city for more than a century. Before Pioneer Courthouse Square there was “The Elk” — a majestic bronze statue that is no longer the city’s focal point, but it’s still a big part of where we live.
Standing 9-feet tall, the Elk is literally in the middle of Main Street between Chapman and Lownsdale Squares.
The statue was a gift from former Portland Mayor David P. Thompson in 1900.
Born in Ohio, Thompson was a surveyor who had been the U.S. minister to the Ottoman Empire and governor of the Idaho territory. He also built the first railroad in the state near Oregon City.
Thompson wanted a landmark in the center of downtown Portland, so he commissioned a water source for the city’s early residents and their animals.
“The idea of providing an open fountain where you could stop, pause, water your horses, was one of the inspirations,” Keith Lachowicz with the Regional Arts and Culture Council said. “He was also inspired by the elk that used to come down here from the west hills to graze here in these areas.”
The Thompson Elk — surrounded by government buildings and 2 public squares — has been a gathering place for demonstrations, including Occupy Portland several years ago.
The bronze statue has survived 115 years of wear and tear.
In 1994, it received major renovations and recently there was an overhaul of the bronze surface.
“It creates special areas in the city,” Kachowicz said. “It defines place in the city.”
There are about 170 outdoor public sculptures in Multnomah County, all of them cared for by the Regional Arts and Culture Council.
The Thompson Elk was the second major piece in Portland after the Skidmore Fountain in Old Town.