TRAVEL THERE: PORTLAND’S PITTOCK MANSION
Welcome to Oregon! Well, sort of. In June my husband and I spent twelve days traveling the state and now I’m sharing the experience with you. I’ll tell you about the attractions we visited, the meals we ate and where we stayed. Maybe you’ll decide you want to visit Oregon, too. Today’s focus is is the Pittock Mansion in Portland.
Visiting the Pittock Mansion
It was raining as we pulled into the mansion’s parking lot and we didn’t want to lug around our new SLR camera, so I reached into my backpack and pulled out my old point and shoot. That’s when I discovered I didn’t pack any batteries for it. (So much for good intentions.)
I think Oregon needs to invest in some good PR. Pittock Mansion is every bit as grand and glorious as the other grand and glorious mansions I’ve seen around the nation, but figuring this out without a lot of research is almost impossible. On Portland’s own tourism site, it takes several clicks to get to the top attractions and Pittock Mansion is seventh on the list below a book store and a coffee shop. There is something wrong with this picture. And speaking of pictures, the photograph on the Portland site wouldn’t excite me to visit the mansion and the other travel guides I read didn’t do much better.
However, historic homes rate right up there with gardens for me, so I wasn’t satisfied with the information I was being fed. I kept digging. Still, even after I decided to make visiting the home a high priority, I really didn’t get impressed until I was inside the mansion. There is no grand entrance as you climb the hill approaching the home. After buying our tickets in what seemed to be a gatehouse, we were directed to a porte cochere where a nondescript side door provides access. After a modest entry hall, we wandered into the grand Stair Hall. Finally, I felt like I was in a mansion.
We were lucky enough to hook up with a tour which was only a couple of rooms ahead of us. Maybe one of the reasons Portland doesn’t take this grand old lady of architecture as seriously as they should is because the owners didn’t take it very seriously, either. According to our guide, this lovely Stair Hall was used by the Pittock children as a skating rink.
Another reason for the house’s less than spectacular reputation might be that the architect hadn’t quite figured out how to do homes when he designed the Pittock Mansion in the early 1900’s. The guide told us the architect had only designed office buildings prior to his commission for the Pittock home. The way the Stair Hall dominates the house on all three of the main floors demonstrates a similarity to commercial spaces.
Also very commercial is the way the house was set up in suites, instead of having a floor or wing of the house devoted to sleeping spaces. Since Mr. Pittock was already seventy-five when he started planning the mansion, his girls were married and the children who skated in the Stair Hall were actually grandchildren. Mr. & Mr. Pittock had one suite and then each of their daughter’s had separate suites which held their immediate families.
In spite of it’s odd configuration, this is a home you should see. Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Pittock only lived in the house for a few years after it was finished. She died four years after the home’s completion and he passed away a year later. One of their grandsons, Peter, lived in the mansion until 1958, but by 1962 the house had fallen on hard times – or you might say suffered a hard fall. The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 had hurricane force winds which knocked down trees, which in turn fell on the home, threatening the integrity of its structure. Had it not been for devoted Portlanders, the home would have been razed. It took several years to gather the funds they needed, but restoration began in earnest in 1968.
Even if architecture and history isn’t exactly your thing, you still might enjoy the mansion. Henry was an innovator and a forward thinker. His bathroom rivals anything HGTV designers dream up. The views of Portland from the lawn are spectacular. And it’s only $8. A ticket to the Biltmore Mansion can set you back $59.
You’ll learn more about the Pittocks as I share more information with you about Portland, but I’ll stop here for today. Next week I’ll tell you about the Portland Museum of Art.