Every district has its last wolf.
The Lovejoy Columns? Ah, yes, whatever happened to those columns? Greek immigrant and train night watchmen, Tom Stefopoulos, painted murals on the Lovejoy columns in the 1940’s. Over the years, those murals have made starring appearances in the films “Foxfire” with Angelina Jolie and Gus Van Sant’s “Drugstore Cowboy,” plus an Elliot Smith video.
The murals held up the Lovejoy ramp, coming off the Broadway Bridge, dropping you into the now gone flatlands of the NW train yards and industrial district. When the ramp was taken down—to be rebuilt just a few inches over to make room for the new trolley track—it was like a dam had burst and the development of what is now known as the Pearl District came crashing in, engulfing the once wild and open terrrain in the center of the city. It was always an adventure for me to walk through those plains. When one was under the Lovejoy Ramp, listening to the ba-thump ba-thump of cars traveling overhead, it was if you were in a cathedral of the wilds. Tom’s paintings of mythical animals and the Greek philosopher (cynic) Diogenes touched you deep inside... It was the emptiest—the largest part of Portland that was so close in to the core of the city—but that emptiness was filling and fulfilling. It was always an adventure, wandering the district because of invariable discovery; finding the former train roundabout or 6 pairs of Chinese embroidered shoes lined up at the base of one of the columns.
Great lengths went into saving the hallowed Lovejoy columns, without good end. When the ramp was to be demolished, the now defunct art and architecture team of Rigga, spearheaded by James Harrison, was the foremost voice of dissent. Art conservator Claire Dean worked to keep the 60-year-old murals intact. There were meetings with the Dept. of Transportation, Commissioner Hales and Mayor Katz, and Erik Sten’s assistant Marshall Runkel, wrestling with how they could be preserved. Concurrent with those meetings were rituals performed by Rigga, beginning with a eulogy in 1998 when it was thought the columns would not be saved. Later there was a Suspension Ceremony in 1999 when they were to be cut down and moved, followed by a Sleep Ceremony for their resting place in transition until they were to be resurrected. So far, ritual, political pressure and community activism have not succeeded in reinstalling the columns to a new spot in the Pearl District. The columns have been patiently sleeping in a lonely storage lot for 4 years now, waiting for the day they might stand again and display their mythical visions.