A Sign for All Times

Pat Mobley has his Master degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor's degree from Portland State University. He currently works for a local, economic development non-profit. He is also the Vice Chair of the Housing and Community Development Commission for Multnomah County.

2006-08-13MadeInOregon0178

The state budget is so bad, on Friday, the State Board of Higher Education granted the University of Oregon an emergency spring term tuition increase. Instead of tending to the needs of those students and keeping tuition increases down, the University would apparently prefer to spend its money trying to eliminate a historical landmark in Portland by altering the Made in Oregon Sign. 

The University of Oregon would like to repeatedly remind you that since the Made in Oregon sign has changed in the past one more change should be simple. In fact, the University of Oregon refers to it on their website shamefully as “a neon plug for a chain of retail stores.” The website goes on to threaten that if this change does not go through, the sign could “go dark,” and further that UO simply “is in no position to offer up free advertising to a retailer.”

The Made in Oregon Sign transcended simple advertisement status long ago and has become an icon for Oregon and her products and services. From movies to magazines and coffee table books to tourism brochures, in it’s 12 year existence this sign as become as iconic for Portland – and indeed Oregon, as the Golden Gate Bridge is for San Francisco and the Space Needle is for Seattle. If you look at the Mayor’s website, it is even prominently displayed there.

Yes, it has been changed before, but the White Satin sign never achieved icon status, nor did White Stag. Changing the sign for exploitation by one university with its headquarters over one hundred miles away over the top. To their credit, the University did a wonderful renovation of the historical building underneath the sign – the White Stag Building – where is partial resident now. There are in fact at least a dozen entire colleges in Oregon, consisting of hundreds of thousands of students, faculty and alumni, whose primary facilities are closer to the Made in Oregon sign than the University of Oregon. The sign as it exists is a representation of all of those colleges including UO, not just one.

Barely two weeks ago, I set up a Facebook Cause to help raise awareness of the need to save the Made in Oregon sign. I have been pleasantly surprised that over 8000 others have signed up to join this cause and hope you will to. But the sign needs more than that from you. Here’s how you can help:

Submit written testimony: Please take a moment to express your opposition for the public record. You may send your comments by email to Mark Walhood. We need messages of support to be submitted in advance of Monday’s public hearing (see below).

Show up and testify: The Historic Landmark Commission will be holding a public hearing on the request of Ramsay Signs, Incorporated, at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, March 9, in Portland at 1900 SW 4th Ave., Room 2500A. A strong showing of opposition in this public forum is very important to the preservation of this icon. If you can possibly spare the time to attend the hearing and testify in person, it would be very much appreciated.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Thanks Pat. Yes, "Made in Oregon" is a commercial entity - but it's also a proud cultural statement.

    Changing it would be akin to Chicago renaming Wrigley Field. Not many folks realize that it was one of the first corporate branded stadiums (think chewing gum), but they'd scream bloody hell if it was renamed.

  • Dylan Amo (unverified)
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    Can we make it "White Stag" again?

  • SCB (unverified)
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    "12 year existence"?

    It's been there over 50 years.

    As far as changing the sign, so what? It's been changed lots of times. I remember when the stag got the red nose for the first time at a Christmas in the 1950's.

    What's wrong with UO changing a sign on top of a building they are using? It won't cost that much, and somehow linking that small amount to the UO fee increase just doesn't make sense.

  • (Show?)

    they own the sign, the current version and previous versions were ADS, for heaven's sake--and you object to a nonprofit organization that's done more for the state than either White Stag or Made in Oregon ever did.

    My understanding is that the proposal has been rejected--but modifications are possible that would not run afoul of the landmark designation. This strongly suggests the value is in the sign's architecture and design--not what it says.

    When I left Oregon it said White Stag. When I returned it said something else. Did that change my enjoyment of the sign as Portland icon? Not a bit. I suspect that will remain true if it says UO instead.

  • (Show?)

    There is another issue: the U of O is in Eugene.

    Putting that name so prominently in the skyline of Portland is at best false advertising, at least confusing, and at worst an insult to Portland State.

    I know there's a sattelite campus there, but the main campus is in Eugene.

  • (Show?)

    A 12-year old ad message on a 50-year old sign is to Portland as the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Francisco?

    Good grief!

    I admire your passion, Mr Mobley. And I think you have important contributions to make to the dialogue on politically-oriented web sites. Nevertheless, I find myself troubled that given today's economic climate that THIS is the issue you've chosen to address on this particular web site.

    Your time is your own, and I greatly respect your contributions to the city, but with due respect, I would much prefer to see the vice-chair of the HCDC weigh in on affordable housing, foreclosures, and how the city is dealing with homelessness, not whether a 12-year old advertising slogan qualifies as a cultural landmark.

    Kari, seriously man. This is a reach -- even for an SC alum.

  • torridjoe (unverified)
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    "Putting that name so prominently in the skyline of Portland is at best false advertising, at least confusing, and at worst an insult to Portland State."

    Based on what, for heaven's sake?

  • (Show?)

    I always loved the old White Stag sign, and consider the current "Made in Oregon" incarnation something akin to the Michael Bolton version of the Otis Redding original.

  • (Show?)

    I didn't even realize that "Made in Oregon" was the name of a store before this post. I could have guessed, I suppose, but I never really realized what the sign was advertising. It seemed like more of a cultural statement, as Kari suggests, than anything else.

  • (Show?)

    I'm sympathetic to the objections to the UO plan. My own take is akin to Charlie Burr's. But the reality is that the sign has been changed a number of times and those changes set precedence. And Portland has a track record of allowing potential historic neon signs be modified, such as what used to be the iconic 7-UP sign there in the Hollywood district which is now a Budweiser sign.

    I don't know what guidelines the Portland Historic Landmark Commission operates under but 50 years is generally considered the minimum for historic designation. The version of that sign which I first remember seeing was the White Stag version. I didn't realize there was a White Satin version before that. I thought it had been created as a White Stag ad.

    As a member of a Historic Landmarks Board for a much smaller burg... my own feelings are that if this issue was before our Board I would want to either see all advertising stripped from it or it restored to it's original state. Lacking either of those, I wouldn't consider it legitimately historic.

    Iconic, yes. Without a doubt! But historic? No.

    It's current state is what we in the Historic Landmarks field would describe, if it were an old building in a district vying for national register status, as "non-contributing". Meaning that it's old but has been too heavily modified to be considered a legit representative of it's original date of creation. And thus wouldn't count towards gaining national recognition.

  • J. Smalls (unverified)
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    Sal: are you always an asshole? You should learn to disagree with people in a respectful fashion and I think you owe this first time guest poster an apology.

    Pat: kudos for having the bandwidth to advocate for more than one thing at a time. I think that's called leadership.

  • Kari Chisholm (unverified)
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    Or at least, it's called having diverse interests.

    Why do some commenters around here insist that every person (or Congressman) must only workbon one issue at a time - and that issue must be something of extraordinary import?

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    This posting is absurd. It's a advertisement you're gnashing your teeth over, for gawd's sakes! No, the UO should not be spending money on the damn thing, but "iconic"? Give me a break. What's next? Are you going to lobby for a revival of the Coon Chicken Inn on Sandy Blvd.? Hey, that place was popular for decades on account of its advertising, too.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    And Portland has a track record of allowing potential historic neon signs be modified, such as what used to be the iconic 7-UP sign there in the Hollywood district which is now a Budweiser sign.

    Yep, I live in Hollywood. The 7up sign was there for ages after the bottling plant had relocated, and the Bud sign is ugly, but...hey, was the 7up sign a work of art? Are we in such a state of cultural impoverishment that we start attaching such importance to advertisements?

  • kill 2 birds... (unverified)
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    I got it! Why not plant the name 'Cesar Chavez' on the sign?

  • Jiang (unverified)
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    The sad fact is that we are the only "progressive" democracy that allows private land owners total say over final use of sites, vis a vis their historic status. That's why the Sierra Club is right about buying up tracts of land. Our law is crude. You own it, you dictate whatever. That's why the environmental protection land use property rights initiatives area are so controversial. They were the first chink in the armor. It's time we had some kind of balance.

    Institutional philosophy and land use committees have little to do with each other; nothing, if you ignore the name. Just ask anyone that dealt with trying to save the historic Trolley Barns on the Spring Creek Trail, dealing with the Reed College admin.

  • (Show?)

    J. Smalls - Indeed, you are most persuasive. Next time I'll be sure to avoid honest praise, and will instead stick to epithets. Thanks for pseudonymously sharing your insights. That must have taken real courage.

  • (Show?)

    Incidentally,the SC crack was directed at Kari. False advertising? An insult to PSU?

    I would think that people would be happy that a leading not-for-profit Oregon institution -- one with more than 130 years of tradition and contribution to this state -- is retaining the sign basically in the same form and for the same purpose that it has been used for a half century.

  • Douglas K (unverified)
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    This does seem like a pretty trivial issue. That said, I can't see how replacing "Made in" with "University of" would be a significant change. They're keeping the historic "White Stag" type face and not making any other alterations (for example, they aren't replacing the deer with a duck). Even from a historic preservation standpoint, it looks to me like they're keeping the basic integrity of the design itself.

    So not only is the issue a minor one, I don't get why the change is a bad thing at all.

    Oh, also:

    Yes, it has been changed before, but the White Satin sign never achieved icon status, nor did White Stag.

    I grew up with the "White Stag" sign. To me, "Made in Oregon" is the recent change from what it had "always" been, and making a fairly minor change a decade later doesn't mean a thing.

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)
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    When I met with U of O President Dave Frohnmayer last fall on the subject of the Made in Oregon sign, Mr. Frohnmayer said that if the U of O was unsuccessful in changing "Made in Oregon" on the sign to read "University of Oregon" he would not pay to keep the sign lit or maintained.

    On December 12, 2008, on behalf of Mayor Adams and myself, I sent a letter to President Dave Frohnmayer along with a copy to George Pernsteiner, chancellor of the Oregon University System, offering to purchase the Made in Oregon sign at a mutually agreed to price subject to approval by the Portland City Council.

    To date, neither Mr. Frohnmayer nor Mr. Pernsteiner has responded to my offer.

  • (Show?)

    Randy, why is the city so interested in spending money t protect a 12-year old corporate brand?

    Kari's point about walking and chewing gum is well taken, but I question the wisdom in spending even a dime on something that is not a legitimate need in the current economic and budget climate.

  • (Show?)

    Change it to "Welcome to Oregon" and have the U of O name join the Old Town one in the tag-line portion at the bottom (that could even be in the custom U of O typeface and not radically alter the overall sign aesthetics) and the problems are solved now and later.

    It keeps (and improves) the cultural message while not being an obvious ad (most have no clue it that "Made in Oregon" is an ad for a retail chain) and would be apropos going forward even if the U of O presence moves elsewhere (not an unheard of concept).

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)
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    Sal- You assume my goal is to protect a corportate brand.

  • Garrett (unverified)
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    I don't think it's appropriate for U of O to change that sign. Especially when that sign is located in the city that has the state's largest enrollment in Portland State. Keep the giant U of O signs in Eugene.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    Randy, why is the city so interested in spending money to protect a 12-year old corporate brand?

    Because this is the sort of thing that Randy Leonard does: he and the mayor are always leading the charge with some sort of giveaway to corporate interests, cleverly disguised as something else: something "green", say.

    Actually, I'm surprised that Randy Leonard isn't lobbying to have the sign changed to something like "Budweiser" or "Nascar" as a way to promote his faux working-class cred. Maybe he's been cutting deals for long enough that he's finally lost touch with his roots.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    The Oregon higher-ed institution with the largest enrollment is in fact Portland Community College, not PSU.

  • (Show?)

    I have an idea, sorry if someone has already posted something to this effect. How about the sign still says "Made in Oregon", but Oregon is spelled out in the U of O font?

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)
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    UO has become a quasi-public branding entity and is no longer a school. If they are allowed to proceed with their cult like branding spree eventually no place in the state will be without a glaring and insidious O in sight. The bookstore near the university is now a duck store where musical bottle openers with O's are sold for about ten dollars. UO.... Just sue it.

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)
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    Also, Pat I appreciate your work. Here is where much of my work relating to UO is posted: www.youtube.com/luddite333

  • Garrett (unverified)
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    Actually, I'm surprised that Randy Leonard isn't lobbying to have the sign changed to something like "Budweiser" or "Nascar" as a way to promote his faux working-class cred.

    Really Joel? Really? This is a ridiculous assertation. Certainly I've disagreed with Randy before but I'm not questioning his integrity.

    You assume that because Randy is telling U of O to shove it up their stack he's wrong in this? Personally as a non-native Oregonian I think it's ridiculous how much leeway U of O gets because Phil Knight throws his money around. Want to change it to something fair? Slap a big orange and green Oregon University System sign on there. How many U of O peeps are on board with that? OSU, PSU, SOU, OIT, EOU folks into it?

    I've sent postcards to my family with that Made in Oregon sign on it for years. It's iconic and part of the city. If it's going to be changed I definitely don't want it concentrated on U of O. Their fans are obnoxious enough they don't need a giant neon sign in Portland as well(where they don't really exist other than a tiny downtown building).

    The Oregon higher-ed institution with the largest enrollment is in fact Portland Community College, not PSU.

    Potato Potato. It's not U of O.

  • (Show?)

    Iconic must be the most overused word in this city.

    How many "years" Garrett? Can't be more than 17 since it hasn't been around longer than that. And you do understand that the sign was changed because the family that owned it has a company called ... wait for it ... Made in Oregon!

    OSU PSU etc don't own that building and don't own the sign, U of O does. Phil Knight's money and the rest of the silliness you post has nothing to do with it.

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)
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    Actually UO leases that building.

  • Michael B (unverified)
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    I love the Made in Oregon sign, it is an important part of Portland's skyline.

    The main problem with changing it to U of O is that the U of O should not be in Portland. The Chancellor's office was too gutless to stop the power grab from Eugene's move into Portland. Money should have never have been spent to establish the U of O in Portland, there is already a state college here. Want to save the Stae some money? Shut down the U of O's offices in Portland.

  • Valerie (unverified)
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    ABSOLUTELY NOT! Since the Made in Oregon store folded, this has not been a billboard. It has been grandfathered in as an iconic landmark, but is 12 times the size allowed for current signage. If U of O gets away with this, we must allow Oregon State to erect a similar sign. And PSU should have a giganto display up there in the Park Blocks, too. Then Powell’s Books, Starbucks, Adult Fantasy Video… And this proposed “compromise” allowing U of O to have a “small graphic”, perhaps replacing the part that presently reads “Old Town” is completely bogus! It is the grandiose size of the entire structure that draws every eye, and it must remain an equal opportunity icon. Portland will not sell out!

  • Frank Carper (unverified)
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    zach: who owns the building then?

  • (Show?)

    " If U of O gets away with this, we must allow Oregon State to erect a similar sign."

    I guess you don't understand the meaning of "grandfathered," then.

  • (Show?)

    My problem with conferring historic status on the "Made in Oregon" sign is that it's not historic.

    Isn't what we're really talking about here the content of what's proposed to replace the sign? It certainly seems like it.

    Take a modified version of Valerie's Fantasy Video example (who've actually had a sign on Burnside longer than the current "Made on Oregon" version). Assume Fantasy Video was attempting a replacement consistent with the grandfathered guidlines (font etc.), but people opposed it because the business offended their sense of Victorian prudence or whatever. If opponents won out by bending the historic elligibility guidelines, wouldn't this run afoul of Oregon's pretty liberal free speech protections around content-based zoning?

    If that's true for Fantasy Video, wouldn't it be true for U of O too?

  • (Show?)

    First, I would like to make clear that my views do not represent the views of the HCDC. Second, I appreciate Sal's comments eventhough I found them offensive. Otherwise, I wouldn't post on Blue Oregon. We should be able to be passionate and true to our convictions. Third, I will seek input from my fellow Commission members on how best and what to share on Blue Oregon. Fourth, I think Charlie makes a great point. Changing the verbiage while keeping the size and primary visual images only supports more exceptions. My hope is that the permit will be denied so we, as an empowered citizenry, can correct a mistake. Fifth, the U o O is a public institution. Implying it is a non-profit deminishes it's enterprise fund status within the entire State run system. Portland State is the largest four-year University within the system. Rebranding our Downtown skyline with one among many quality public higher learning institutions is not equitable nor is it acceptable. This does not exclude every institution we share in common. "Portland, Oregon" is fine, but lacks creativity.

  • Hoopeston Harry (unverified)
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    So, I guess Laurelhurst wouldn't be best pleased to know that we're late into negotiations to put a can of beans in Joan's hand ,?

    I worked at Joan of Arc since 1937 until they were sold in '95. That's a working class brand!

  • (Show?)

    Valerie

    BZZZZZT! WRONG!

    But thanks for playing! The WHITE STAG sign was designated an historic landmark, NOT the "Made in Oregon" sign.

  • (Show?)

    ABSOLUTELY NOT! Since the Made in Oregon store folded, this has not been a billboard.

    Made in Oregon has folded? Strange. They seem to have a website that markets products directly and 8 store locations around the state, including 5 in Portland.

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)
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    Franck, I have not looked into that but I have read in numerous articles-some even put out by UO-that they lease the building. It seems like they(UO) also said in the articles that they have a option to buy in 2012 so I will bet the hit up the legislature for the money then. They do not own the sign either. Not long ago the O had a article with the owner of the sign saying he will do whatever the Duck cult wants(not in those words).

  • (Show?)

    They may not own the sign, but they pay to keep it lit, right? If they turn off the juice, how historic is it then?

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)
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    UO and their fascist branding tactics should be well known around the country. The only way UO will act reasonable is if someone takes them to the supreme court. Just sue it.

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