By Saul Schwartz
Oregon’s largest city has the feel of a smaller town. With a population of around 650,000, Portland has plenty of activities for a short vacation experience.
From Washington, D.C., our flight through Seattle on Alaska Airlines took about 7 hours of flying time. My wife Fern and I stayed with our friends at their house in Lake Oswego, just outside of Portland, during a cool and rainy January weekend. Their house has great Willamette river views beyond tall pine trees. Lake Oswego is a Portland suburb about 8 miles from the downtown and this suburb provided a great gateway for our weekend activities.
Portland Art Museum
The Art Museum is housed in two buildings downtown at 1219 SW Park Avenue. Ample street parking is available nearby in the downtown cultural district. These South Park blocks contain leafy city squares. The museum admission cost $20 per adult. The Art Museum was founded in 1892 and is the oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest. Over 350,000 people visit the museum annually.
The museum’s permanent collection is internationally known for its 50,000 objects displayed in 112,000 feet of galleries. The permanent collection includes a fine impressionist gallery, European and American art and contemporary art galleries. The museum’s Native American and Pacific Northwest collections are particularly strong. For us, two works in the permanent collection by American Kehinde Wiley stood out. One oil painting in his world stage series features Brazil (2017). In contrast, his sculpture in the world stage series highlights Israel (2013) and is a bust of an Ethiopian Jew, Likunt Daniel Ailin. Wiley recently achieved fame for his official portrait of Barak Obama, now in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
The thought provoking temporary exhibit “All Things Being Equal” features works in various media by Hank Willis Thomas. The moving entry way piece “14719” (2018) contains sixteen banners, suspended in a double circle, with 14719 stars representing persons shot and killed in 2018. Other works in this exhibit focused on the shooting of his cousin Songha Thomas Willis on February 2, 2000, during a robbery of a gold chain. We thoroughly enjoyed a 45 public minute tour through this intriguing and meaningful traveling exhibition.
Inside the museum, we ate an informal lunch at the Museum Grounds Café. The café offers a limited selection of food and drink options from the nearby Elephant’s Deli.
Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
Located at 724 NW Davis Street, the two floor Portland Jewish Museum has street parking nearby. Admission is $8 per adult. We first enjoyed watching video screens which showed interviews of contemporary Jewish Portland residents, revealing a very progressive community. Various story boards depicted pictures of the older South Portland Jewish community. In the 1950s, as the Jews migrated from South Portland to the suburbs, five of the synagogues were leveled and many Jewish shops closed. The Jewish Community Center also moved.
For us, this museum was most interesting in its exploration of the legacy of the Jewish experience in Oregon. Other exhibits in the museum building focus on lessons of the Holocaust. The current temporary exhibit illustrates, through various media, the life of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). Changing exhibitions from the museum’s collection of documents, photographs and artifacts highlight the rich cultural experiences of Oregon Jews. Within the museum, a cute café called Lefty’s offers a limited menu of drinks and foods with a deli flavor.
Powell’s City of Books
The downtown location of Powell’s is located in Portland’s Pearl District at 1005 W. Burnside Street. Metered street parking is nearby and is readily available. The massive downtown store is on four levels covering an entire city block. This store houses over 1 million new and used books of every possible genre. First opened in 1971, Powell’s is one of the world’s largest independent book stores and has five locations. Color coded maps are strategically placed throughout the store to guide customers around the 3500 different sections. We easily found a book we wanted for our local book club.
This award winning book store was founded by Walter Powell. Then his son Michael Powell turned the store into a powerhouse of new, used, rare and out-of-print books.
World Cup Coffee if located within the book store. Begun in 1993, this coffee shop offers a wide selection of teas and great coffees. World Cup is a perfect setting to browse over potential book purchases!
The Old Spaghetti Factory is located in 13 states, but this restaurant chain originated in Portland. We ate dinner at the 0715 SW Bancroft Street location in Portland, between Lake Oswego and the downtown. The decor is cute, featuring rail trolley cars for possible dining. The first Factory restaurant opened in January 1969 by the Dussin family and the chain remains family owned. Prices are very reasonable and most pasta dinners include warm freshly baked bread and dessert (i.e., ice cream or sherbet or spumoni). The atmosphere is lively and upbeat. During the day, this location has river views.
In Lake Oswego, we ate another dinner at Dang’s Thai Kitchen. This restaurant is located at 670 North State Street. The dinner menu is extensive, prices are reasonable and the server was attentive. My pad thai was tasty and the portion was very large.
Fern and I had previously been to Portland separately when the weather allowed for outdoor activities. We were pleased that Oregon’s largest city had plenty for us to do indoors, as well.