Portland's bronze elk's stakes raised: $1.3M and counting
The downtown Thompson Elk Fountain will cost between $1.2 and $1.3 million to restore, according to the Portland Parks Foundation's preliminary cost estimate.
The executive director of PPF, Randy Gragg, said street improvements would add another approximately $670,000.
"We anxiously await what the city's insurance settlement will yield and what the City Council determines the city can afford," Gragg said in a statement Tuesday.
The Foundation raises private money to cover the shortfall in the Portland Parks and Recreation's budget. "We at PPF believe there is wide community support to pitch in if the final gap is not too large," Gragg said.
Situated for 120 years on Southwest Main Street between Lownsdale and Chapman Squares, the Thompson Elk Fountain was damaged during the civil unrest of 2020 that followed the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man by Minneapolis police. Extensive damage was caused by a mixture of black clad protesters and campers living outside the Justice Center, where Portlanders marched and sometimes did battle with city, county and federal law enforcement officers, as well as right wing protestors, for over 100 nights. Protesters swung from the elk's antlers and climbed its back, while others set fires in the empty concrete fountain.
In July 2020, the city moved the nine-feet tall, bronze, bull elk and the fountain pieces into storage. Gragg said some of the stone is lost but more is available from the same quarry.
The Portland Parks Foundation study was overseen by a seven-member Project Advisory Committee of preservation and street design experts and informed by a technical advisory committee of city bureau representatives with oversight of the parks, street, and infrastructure, along with the Regional Arts & Culture Council who oversees the bronze elk.
Public can contribute
PPF and its consultants, Architectural Resources Group (ARG) and the landscape/urban design firm MIG have submitted its restoration plan to the Portland's Office of Management and Finance (OMF).
In turn, OMF has submitted it to the Bureau of Development Services for an anticipated November "Design Advice Request" with the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission. That hearing, in which the team will get feedback from the Landmarks Commissioners, is open to the public for listening and testimony.
"We are honored to present to the city this restoration design, which restores and returns the elk and fountain to their original location," said Randy Gragg, executive director of PPF. "We've also developed potential street improvements to make the fountain a safer, universally accessible, and more welcoming place to visit."
Stones need to be replaced
The study determined that 18 of the fountain's 50 pieces will have to be remade. They include some of the most complex. All four of the fountain's five-foot-long troughs and some of the most intricately carved ornaments will have to be refabricated. The statue was insured for $900,000.
"But the good news," according to ARG project lead Maya Foty, "stone from the original stone quarry is still available."
As well as a new fountain pump there will be more space for pedestrians to view the fountain and elk, which used to be hemmed in by traffic. Autos will pass only on the north side of Main Street in future, and bikes and pedestrians on the south.
ARG and MIG's design provides two wheelchair accessible access points to a viewing area protected from passing traffic by elegant granite domed bollards.
"The design provides a refuge for people and it better protects the fountain from vehicles," said Rachel Edmonds of MIG, "and also creates a sense of place around the fountain using historically compatible materials."
Sculpture honors Humane Society
PPF hired two historians — Keith Eggener, a professor at the University of Oregon's School of Architecture and Milo Reed, a freelance historian who works with Oregon Black Pioneers and Vanport Mosaic and currently chairs the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries — to research the elk fountain and surrounding parks since its installation in 1900.
Former Portland Mayor David P. Thompson (1879—1882) commissioned the sculpture to honor the Humane Society which he cofounded. In the decades since, the historians found, the elk has stood at the center of protests over such perennial issues as free speech, workers' rights, deportation of immigrants, and police shootings.
"For 120 years, people have gathered at the fountain to enjoy it as a thing of beauty and a symbol of nature, but also to give voice to their convictions," noted Gragg. "Our goal is to renew it, reinstall it, and make it a safer, more inviting public space."
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