When legendary rock club Satyricon was slated for demolition in 2011 after 27 years, Wendell Cunningham wasn't going to let all that history go without a fight.
"As far as I was concerned, there was CBGB and there was Satyricon," says Cunningham. "Every band that came through Portland came through there." And so when word came that the building was going to be demolished to make way for the low-income Macdonald Center apartments, he got an idea.
"We were on our way to church," says Cunningham of himself and Jocelyn Kazebier, his partner and band member in punk band the Quits. "And I said, 'We should go take the Satyricon sign on the way to church.' All you have to do is look professional and act like you know what you're doing. You know, I had a hard hat, and I had a white pickup truck. What looks more professional than that?"
And so before the building could be demolished, taking all the history and artifacts with it, Cunningham and Kazebier drove down to the closed rock club, and Cunningham got up on the ladder. The original plan was to take the entire marquee lightbox, but it was too well fastened. So instead, he just pulled out the signboard—complete with the lettering SATYRICON RIP 1983-2010.
"We threw the sign into the back of the pickup, and then we went to church with the stolen sign still in the back of the pickup," Cunningham says, laughing.
For a while he just kept the sign at his family's home, but he started thinking that was unfair—so he got the idea he and other musicians who remembered Satyricon's glory days should take turns holding the sign.
"That's when Tres [Shannon, of Voodoo Doughnut] called me up saying he was interested. And you know, his house is like a museum of Northwest rock already. I said, 'You know what? Give me free doughnuts for life and you have a deal!'" (Cunningham showed us his golden Voodoo Doughnut ticket, as proof—one of about 30 in existence.)
The Satyricon marquee is now mounted inside Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor's Slabtown wine bar Old Portland, an entirely different museum of Northwest rock. Like a stolen antiquity from the ancient Greek bars of Portland, Taylor-Taylor swears it just showed up one day. Shannon isn't talking either.
"As to how it got there," says Cunningham, "I can't help you. That's where my story stops."