Pacific Northwest

Cool Stuff Series: Pittock Mansion

Since its centennial year coming to a close, I figured I’d give a shout-out to Portland’s Big House on a Hill. I’m referring, of course, to Pittock Mansion.

You can’t get much more Portland than the Pittock Mansion. Paid for with profits from The Oregonian newspaper, built by Oregon craftsmen out of Northwest-sourced materials. Its original owners, Henry and Georgiana Pittock, were pillars of the community, active in charity work and in the early years of the Rose Festival.

Members of the Pittock family occupied the iconic French-influenced chateau with its brick-red roof through the late 1950’s. Then this gorgeous historic building fell into peril. The owner at the time had put it up for sale and didn’t want to pay for expensive repairs necessitated by storm damage. Developers with no interest in either history of craftsmanship eyed the valuable land it stood on. For a while, it looked like this beloved edifice would be torn down.

But with true Northwest spirit, Portlanders rallied with fundraisers, and the City of Portland, driven by public outcry over the threatened destruction of this landmark, purchased the house, repaired it, and opened it for public tours.

The Pittock Mansion truly belongs now to the people of Portland.

If you want to visit, drive up Burnside toward the Skyline District and follow the signs. You can park there and walk around the surrounding woods and gardens for free. (For best results, go on a sunny day and pack a picnic lunch that you can eat while enjoying the spectacular views from the lawn.)

I highly recommend forking over the $10.50 for the self-guided tour, especially if you love well-crafted old houses and/or are working on a steampunk novel and need some inspiration. (Yes, it’s a bit late-period for steampunk, but the overall feel and many of the details are the same.) The grand staircase is heart-stopping, the moldings on the ceilings are works of art. And then there’s The Bathtub. It’s a steampunk dream, or maybe something out of Hogwarts. Faucets not only for hot and cold running water, but also for a selection of liquid soap. It actually inspired a scene in that steampunk Victorian detective novel I’m still shopping around, a scene I’ve mentally subtitled Inspector Royston Jones v. The Tub.

I could go on about the chandeliers, the period furnishings, but really. Just go see it. (And, OK, I find conspicuous consumption more palatable in a historic setting. I don’t pretend to defend the logic of this position.)

Of course, no self-respecting historic house is complete without its ghosts. Rumor has it that visitors have sensed and heard, perhaps even seen Georgiana and Henry. If they happen to be about, don’t worry. They’re just being good hosts and making sure that you are enjoying their lovely home.