If Pioneer Courthouse Square is “Portland’s living room,” the old Pioneer Courthouse itself seems more like the dark, scary attic that no one ever goes into. It’s a striking building, but what the hell goes on in there?
Like all dark, scary attics, it’s a place to keep our most embarrassing relatives chained up, far from public view. It’s said that on certain nights, passersby can hear Bob Packwood rattling his chains, Tonya Harding weeping softly, and Neil Goldschmidt scrabbling at the floorboards with many cries of “Here! Here is the beating of his hideous heart!”
All cheesy potshots aside, Pioneer Courthouse is actually—brace yourself—a courthouse. It’s one of the four courthouses used by U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to house judges’ chambers, oral arguments and, possibly, given the 9th Circuit’s groovy reputation, a grow room.
Until recently, the building also held a popular downtown post office, the fate of which was the subject of a 2003 dust-up pitting then-Congressman David Wu against still-Congressman Earl Blumenauer.
In a microcosm of all Portland planning battles, Wu wanted to rip out the historic post office and put in five basement parking spaces, while Blumenauer hoped to have an endless series of community visioning sessions to determine the most architecturally sensitive use of the space.
Ultimately, the feds sided with Wu (the federal judges who wanted those parking spaces were also on his side), and the post office was axed in 2005. Of course, Blumenauer had the last laugh, since Wu is now chained up next to Tonya in the scary people’s attic.
Finally, I must mention that one of the judges housed in this building is named Diarmuid Fionntain O’Scannlain (of Mordor), which probably gives him the right to park wherever he wants.