Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Tour of Pittock Mansion

Exploring Portland

After finishing an Amazon streaming binge of Downton Abbey, I couldn't wait to prolong my dream state with a tour of our very own aristocratic mansion in Portland, Oregon.  It didn't take me long to realize the humor in such a comparison.  What was Henry Pittock thinking?

I can only speculate, which is part of the fun.  This rags to riches man who made his fortune in publishing the Oregonian newspaper, was a well-traveled man for the time.  He had been to Europe.  Maybe he had even been to Highclere Castle in England.  Maybe he wanted to compete with William Randolph Hearst and his magnificent folly down south.

But 100 years later, we can thank the man.   Or better yet, thank the City of Portland for purchasing the estate in 1964 and opening its doors and surrounding grounds to the public.

Henry Pittock rolled into this muddy frontier town by wagon train and found work as a typesetter for the weekly newspaper.  By 1861, he had become the owner and publisher and transformed the Oregonian into a successful daily.  He was a pillar of the community.  He needed a trophy house.  To reward his hard work.  To stroke his ego.  And . . .oh yeah . . . provide shelter for his large family.

At any rate, I got a kick out of reading the documentation during the self-guided tour.  For one thing, he had a very hard time finding "servants" to maintain his castle.  After all, Oregon was the Wild West.  There was no Downstairs, Upstairs class mentality.  The women who came here on the Oregon Trail were tough and independent.  They wanted to work in offices, factories or shops.  Not mop some rich guy's floors!

But the Pittocks were Oregonians and Oregonians, no mattter how rich, climb mountains, hike trails and love the outdoors.   Henry helped found the Mazamas climbing club.  His daughters spent every free moment in the woods behind this grand house.  I doubt whether a uniformed footman was waiting for them with lemonade on a silver tray. 

And that's why a comparison to Downton Abbey made me laugh.  The Crawleys were witnessing the end of an era in the 1920's--one that the Pittocks tried to emulate but couldn't quite grasp.

By 1958, the mansion overlooking the now booming city of Portland, was in a state of neglect and near ruin.  The remaining family moved out.

Most of the Pittock possessions and furniture had been removed so what we see now is a museum of the decorative arts with fine examples of Federalist, Classical Revival, Rococo Revival and Louis XVI on display.  The mansion creates a mood and makes us long for a life of privilege and wealth, even if a delusion.  From original photographs scattered throughout the house, the rooms never reached a level of fine art that we see today. 

The views from the back of the house are spectacular.  There are many walking trails open to the public that lead down to Washington Park.  This is urban hiking at its best.  I wasn't dressed for a three-mile hike down a muddy trail that day.  I was dressed like Mary Crawley.  Or Lucy Pittock.

And dreaming . . .dreaming . . .dreaming.  Of a time and a place long gone.

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