Best of Portland 2014: Best Looks

YOUR HOPE HERE: The wishing tree.


In Northeast Portland, on the border of the Irvington and King neighborhoods, where 7th Avenue and Morris Street form a T, there stands a tree. It's a horse chestnut, with a thick trunk and a leafy canopy, and from it hang hundreds of paper tags. This is a wishing tree, so designated last November by Nicole Helprin, who lives on the street. For those who come here and grab paper and pen from a plastic bag pinned to the trunk, it's a place of dramatically varied aspirations. 

Some wishes are acquisitive: There are lots of requests for kittens and puppies and ponies, as well as for a new keyboard or a rocket ship or legal pot. Some are precise: "I wish to pay off all my debt by June 1st 2014!" "I wish for Uncle Barry to survive pancreatic cancer." A 5-year-old named Moses wishes to be a ninja. A girl named Frances has drawn a horse: "I wish my life was more adventureous." In thick black ink, from a visitor from Lafayette, La.: "I wish Marcus proper in life and his trucking business."

There are wishes about overcoming bulimia and maintaining sobriety. There are pleas about Disneyland. "I wish that my life wasn't so complicated," reads one. Another: "I wish me and my brother would get along better."

Some are irreconcilable. One tag yearns Portland were more like Austin, while another wishes Portland were in Canada. And some are blindly, adorably hopeful: "I wish that the Blazers win next year's NBA title!"

The wishes have been here since last fall, and some are so weathered they're illegible. Others have fallen to the ground like dead leaves. But they also seem to bring out the best in people. On one tag, written in a child's clumsy hand, there’s a scribbled-out, aborted wish: “I wish that my brother—” 

And on the other side of the same tag: "I wish for love." REBECCA JACOBSON.


The Gus J. Solomon Federal Courthouse was a beast. The 1933 Renaissance revival building, which sits next to the dome-topped Ban Roll-On building on Broadway, isn't the most elaborate structure in downtown Portland, but it proved to be the hardest for Brian D'Agostine to re-create in Lego bricks.

"I had to build that building sideways since it's an older building with narrow windows and other elements," he says. "Then, I had to connect the sideways pieces to the rest of the structure, which was tough."

D'Agostine, 38, spent at least five hours just on that one building, part of his quest to build a replica of downtown Portland in Lego bricks, a project that's taken more hours and money than he can count. His eventual goal is to construct everything south of West Burnside Street, east of I-405 and west of the Willamette River. So far he's finished 36 city blocks (track his progress at

Building at 1/1,000 scale would be easy enough with glue, stickers or an X-Acto knife. D'Agostine shuns them all, refusing to use even non-Lego bricks, instead purchasing aftermarket bricks from websites like and

"If I was to use glue or stickers or cut pieces it would be pretty doggone easy," he says. "Where's the challenge in that?"

The pieces cost 10 cents each on average—some colors are cheap, others are pricey—meaning a large building can cost up to $50 to build. All are created as faithfully as possible from Google Maps and Google Earth.

"Sometimes when I'm looking at downtown buildings all I see is the Lego pieces," he says.

As you might expect, such a detail-obsessed project may be born, in part, out of frustration with the restraints of the full-scale, non-plastic world.

D'Agostine is a home designer by trade, working in the Craftsman aesthetic, "not this kind of new 'we're trying to be Craftsman' look."

Once he's done designing a home, though, it's out of his hands. "I really prefer real Craftsman aesthetic, with true wood trim," he says. "I like things done right. The way I think things should be done. But with the houses—I just have to let that go because I can't control it, and if I tried to control it I'd lose my clients." MARTIN CIZMAR.


The first thing you notice when you walk into Monteaux's Public House in Beaverton (16165 SW Regatta Lane, No. 1000, Beaverton, 439-9942, is a large painting along the wall. It depicts Beaverton from 1800 up until 1999. From the well-dressed, well-to-do family hopping off a trolley straight out of San Francisco to the tractor driving right alongside a MAX line, it's all here.

Well, except that there was no Monteaux's in 1930; the restaurant opened in 2000.

I also cannot find any records for downtown Beaverton's apparent transformation from urban to agrarian between 1930 and 1980. And where did those tall buildings come from? Is that the view of Portland that Beavertonians would have if the West Hills didn't exist?

Beaverton does have a well-maintained downtown, it just happens to look exactly nothing like this. It's also nowhere near Monteaux's. But when you're waiting for your significant other to finish shopping at Fred Meyer across the street or on the waiting list at Great Clips, this public house gives you the opportunity to have a beer and wax nostalgic about that which never was. JOHN LOCANTHI.


About nine minutes before the summer sun sinks beneath the West Hills, it sends a shaft of blazing light into the windows of houses and apartments on Mount Scott, eight miles to the southeast. For those nine mystical minutes, the myriad windows light up en masse and turn the exact hue of gold bullion. If you're in a Southwest Waterfront high-rise, riding the aerial tram or hiking up Lair or Marquam hills, you'll be treated to a sight as improbable as it is unforgettable: the thoroughly unglamorous dwellings of the restive Clackistani territory to our south transubstantiated into El Dorado, the fabled lost city of gold. RICHARD SPEER.


In a small North Portland building, there exists a strange little world that looks like a mirror image of our own—only way, way smaller. As you enter, you look straight into a cavernous ravine, a sleek silver Amtrak train rolling over a thin rock bridge just above the rift's lip. It looks majestic, but it's an impossible sight. "They would never really run a train over a stone arch in real life," says Steve Watkins as he peers into the canyon. 

For Watkins and the rest of the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club (2505 N Vancouver Ave., 288-7246,, defying the laws of nature is part of the fun: They've also got a partially cloaked Klingon battle cruiser floating over a 1950s-style Portland. With a 4,200-square-foot layout representing the entirety of the Gorge, the club boasts the largest model railroad in town. And it's getting national recognition as the best, too, playing host to the National Model Railroad Association Convention next August. For the club's members, though, being on top hardly matters—as long as they get to play with their trains. "We've had guys working the graveyard shift who come in here at all sorts of hours," Watkins says. "It's a real labor of love." TREE PALMEDO.


It started with Judy Landers. Her sister Audrey was next. Suzanne Sommers got it the worst, while Brigitte Bardot lasted the longest. But within about a month, the same thing happened to all of them. In the men's restroom of Kerns bar The Standard (14 NE 22nd Ave., 233-4181), the drunken patrons couldn't be trusted to leave the ladies alone—at least not in pin-up form. Suzanne sprouted a beard and horns, and lost a tooth to black pen. Within weeks, the men made each sex symbol into a symbol of something else entirely. It was a disturbing parade. And so bar owner Reed Lamb tried an experiment. He put up a poster of a long-bearded, half-toothless Appalachian man drinking Blitz. This, finally, was something the men recognized as their own: The old man's still there, almost a year later. Apparently in a bar's restroom, men want only good-natured failure. The women, however, see things differently—which may explain some things. In the other restroom, Butch and Sundance have been allowed to live untouched forever, in their final blazing moment of glory. May they ever. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.


Phil Sylvester is the freedom fighter of the Portland art world. For more than 30 years, Sylvester has taken people who believe they are imprisoned by their utter lack of artistic talent and showed them how to smash their chains. Sylvester—who studied math at Reed College and architecture at Princeton University—discovered early in his own art career the need to subvert the logic of formal drawing techniques. At his school, The Drawing Studio (3614 SE Division St.,, Sylvester teaches his students to reject the preciousness of a finished work and instead savor the joy of the act of drawing. The student works that do emerge from the two-hour intro sessions are not mere sketches by artists in training. They are bold and whimsical, risky and searching—proof of the creative vigor within all of us, and of Sylvester's gift for letting it run free. BRENT WALTH.


The ruins of Southeast Portland's Rexel/Taylor Electric Supply building (1709 SE 3rd Ave.), which burned down in an electrical wire-fueled blaze in 2006, have long been a magnet for taggers and opportunistic photographers looking for an "urban" setting. But the roofless shell got extra attention this year from Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre (, a site-specific Los Angeles dance troupe that regularly performs at Portland locales. On a mild weekend in February, barrels of fire illuminated the building's graffiti-covered walls as dancers performed Ragnarok, a show inspired by Norse mythology. The dancers, some clomping around in brightly colored wigs and rain boots, were somewhat lackluster, but the building never looked better. AARON SPENCER.


LaVonne Sallee ( has a twisted mind. Walk around her Silverton home as two petite dogs yap at your feet, and you'll find all sorts of fiendish, fetishistic and hilarious creations, all made with upcycled Barbie dolls.

In one scene, created the year the brand turned 50, Barbie receives a colonoscopy; in another, she appears on all fours with crisped, browned skin on a serving platter carried by a pig in a chef's uniform. In yet another, she receives cunnilingus from an oversized Beelzebub head. Invariably, the creations burn holes in your mind.

"I like the idea of shopping at thrift stores and garage sales, buying garbage and remaking it," Sallee said.

And so she does, turning the cherished beacons of womanhood into something else entirely. Between fulfilling orders for debased wedding-cake decorations and sculpting painted button-and-bead mosaics on her van, Sallee competes for attention with openly transgender Silverton Mayor Stu Rasmussen, the nation's first.

"Some people are outraged and disgusted," Sallee says of her work. But despite the perceived gravity of some pieces—visitors are greeted by Barbie heads dangling from the tendrils of a large tree branch on her front porch—she insists they're all in good taste: "I want to make people laugh." ALEX MIERJESKI.


There's a desolate graveyard lurking in the Central Eastside—but you wouldn't know it by name. Climb the Stairway to Savings to the third floor of City Liquidators (823 SE 3rd Ave., 230-7716). Go around the corner, and through the door. Catch your breath as it closes with an echo and you realize you're alone in a sea of faded, forgotten office chairs stretching as far as the eye can see. A leg sticks out here, an armrest there, jagged protrusions like gravestones themselves. There are no epitaphs here—just abandoned office furniture that loyally put in 40 hours a week for years until being unceremoniously dismissed in favor of a springier new model. Walk the perimeter of the floor. Light streams through dusty windows that look out on the Morrison Bridge ramps. The floor creaks as you step. A hooting owl wouldn't seem so out of place. You are at peace and yet deeply unsettled. ALEX MIERJESKI.

Best of Portland 2014 

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WWeek 2015

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