Portland Walking Tours

Make a Name for Yourself! Discover the Pioneer Courthouse Square Bricks in Portland’s Living Room

September 15th, 2015

What makes a living room inviting? How about opening it up to the public?! Pioneer Courthouse Square, affectionately known as Portland’s Living Room, is one of our many gathering places where we find all kinds of fun and interesting uses for such an open, inviting space. We build sandcastles, celebrate diverse cultures, attend concerts, watch movies, light a giant Christmas tree, peruse the farmers market, or even just sit down for lunch. There is so much going on in the Square that it can be easy to overlook a very special detail about the more than 72,000 bricks that are under our feet: they are inscribed with names. So what’s the deal with these Pioneer Courthouse Square bricks?

The city block that is currently the Square has been many things over the last century and half since it was bought by the city in 1856. During its last metamorphosis, when it turned from parking lot to urban public park in the early 1980’s, opposition to high construction costs almost derailed Pioneer Courthouse Square from coming into being. Citizens with a strong sense of community and civic pride formed the organization Friends of Pioneer Square and raised $750,000 selling inscribed bricks for $15 each. Lots of people – 50,000 in fact – embraced the idea of honoring a loved one in a way that would literally be a part of the foundation of the city.

Today a brick costs $100, which let’s face it, is still a great deal for owning a piece of Portland’s history, especially because it is guaranteed for perpetuity. Starting in the Fall of 2016, any bricks that have become too weathered throughout the 30 year history of the Square will be replaced as part of a $10 million renovation program.

How does it feel to be a permanent part of the Square? One of our tour guides, a lifelong resident of Portland, can tell you. His children surprised him and his husband with a brick for Christmas in 2013. He says, “We love visiting our brick, realizing we are an official part of maintaining this great gathering place for Portlanders and visitors alike. After all, where else can you claim that you hang out with Elvis, Will Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Bruce Springsteen, and even Frodo and Bilbo Baggins!”

In typical Portland fashion, the Pioneer Courthouse Square bricks have also become a form of creative expression to celebrate favorite entertainers, U.S. presidents, fictional characters, and even television and radio shows. John Lennon, Mr. Bill, Barbara Walters, David Bowie, George Washington, “Wheel of Fortune” . . . they’re all here. Even God has a brick.

If you’d like to buy a brick, it’s easy. Just go to thesquarepdx.org/shop/bricks to fill out a simple form, choosing who you would like to honor in 18 characters or less. You’ll get a Certificate of Brick Ownership signed by the mayor, and when your brick is installed, you will receive a brick map showing you its exact spot. And then you, too, can proudly declare that you’ve become a timeless part of Portland’s Living Room.

Hit the bricks with one of our Resident Experts on the Best of Portland Walking Tour to learn even more about the evolution of Pioneer Courthouse Square, as well as many other things that make our city so unique!

Article by Natasha Kelly

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