White Stag sign
|White Stag sign|
The White Stag sign displaying the wording it has carried since November 2010
Location in Portland
|Former names||White Satin Sugar sign (1941–1959)
Made in Oregon sign (1997–2010)
|Alternative names||"Portland Oregon" sign (since 2010)|
|Address||70 NW Couch Street (White Stag Building)|
|Owner||Ramsay Signs (1940–2010);
City of Portland (September 2010 to present)
|Renovating firm||White Stag Sportswear (1959)
Naito Properties (1997)
Venerable Properties (2010)
The White Stag sign, also known as the “Portland Oregon” sign, is a lighted neon-and-incandescent-bulb sign located atop the White Stag Building, at 70 NW Couch Street in downtown Portland, Oregon, United States, facing the Burnside Bridge. The sign faces westbound traffic as it enters downtown Portland coming across the Willamette River. The sign was acquired by the City of Portland in September 2010, and the lettering was changed to read "Portland Oregon" in November 2010.
Due in no small part to a Christmas tradition in which the nose of the stag on the sign glows red in imitation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the sign is an identifying landmark of Portland and was designated a City of Portland Historic Landmark in 1977. In 2014, Willamette Week referred to the "famous White Stag sign" as "one of the most instantly recognizable parts of the Portland skyline".
Since its installation in 1940 the sign has carried various messages and animations, generally advertising Portland companies, the longest-lasting version being for White Stag Sportswear, from 1959 until 1997.
The city permit for the original sign was received on September 19, 1940. The sign was built by Ramsay Signs in 1940–41, and Ramsay also owned it. The sign read "White Satin Sugar" inside an outline of the state of Oregon, advertising a brand of sugar. In 1950, the sign was animated to show the state filling with sugar.
In 1959, the sign was changed to advertise White Stag, an apparel manufacturer that owned the building and had occupied it since 1924. The lettering was changed to "Home of White Stag Sportswear" and a silhouette of a white stag was added to the top of the sign. For the 1959 Christmas season, a red neon "nose" was added to the stag's snout in imitation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a tradition that has been repeated annually ever since.
White Stag was purchased by the Warnaco Group in 1966, and the company left the building in 1973. In 1972, the building was sold to the H. Naito Corporation and occupied by one of its divisions, Norcrest China Company, but Warnaco still paid for the sign's electricity and maintenance. In 1977, the sign, which had come to symbolize Portland, especially at Christmas time, was designated a City of Portland historic landmark. It continued to be owned by Ramsay Signs, who leased it to White Stag/Warnaco.
In 1986, White Stag moved out of Oregon entirely, but Warnaco continued to pay for the sign to be lit until May 1989, when the sign went dark. Bill Naito, president of the H. Naito Corporation, owner of the Norcrest China Company which occupied the building, agreed to pay for the sign's electricity for the Christmas season beginning in October, but trouble with the wiring led to the sign remaining dark until after Thanksgiving. With Naito paying the approximately $200-a-month electric bill and the Ramsay Sign company providing maintenance, the sign remained lit into the mid-1990s.
Made in Oregon lettering
Bill Naito died in 1996; later that year, Ramsay Signs and the H. Naito Corporation, now run by Bill's son Bob, got into a dispute about who would pay for deferred maintenance and repairs on the sign, with both sides threatening to either turn off the sign permanently or move it. Led by mayor Vera Katz, the city mediated the dispute, which resulted in Naito agreeing to continue to pay for the electricity and also pay for a long-term contract for Ramsay to maintain the sign. In exchange, Naito proposed that the sign's lettering be changed to advertise a Naito-owned gift retailing company called Made in Oregon. Asserting that "the sign always has been maintained commercially," Portland's Historical Landmarks Commission approved the proposal by a 5–1 vote in April 1997 and the sign was altered that summer. Along with the change of "White Stag" to "Made in Oregon", the smaller neon lettering along the bottom of the sign was changed from "Sportswear" to "Old Town," indicating the location of the sign. Other elements of the design remained unaltered: the outline of Oregon and the leaping deer at the top.
White Stag Block
In 2004, Naito closed the Norcrest China Company and two years later, sold the building to Venerable Properties, a real estate developer and management company. Venerable renovated the White Stag Building and several other nearby historic buildings to create a development called the White Stag Block.
Controversy over proposed changes (2008–2009)
In 2008, the University of Oregon signed as the development's primary tenant, providing a more centralized home to its multiple Portland-based programs and offices in the state's largest urban center, more than 100 miles (160 km) away from the university's campus in Eugene.
In November 2008, Ramsay Signs proposed altering the display to read "University of Oregon," at the request of the new occupants of the building, whose lease of the property extended to the rooftop sign. The proposed change caused some uproar in the community, including some who viewed the promotion of an out-of-town university as inappropriate, and some who simply preferred to keep the existing lettering. In April 2009, the City of Portland and the University of Oregon reached a compromise wherein the sign's wording would read simply "Oregon." In July, the city's Historic Landmarks Commission approved the change in lettering, but rejected another part of the compromise in which the university planned to place its "O" logo in neon on the water tower adjacent to the sign, in place of the current, painted "Old Town" lettering on the tower. No new compromise was reached, and in late September 2009 the university decided not to renew its lease on the sign, leaving its future unclear.
Acquisition by city of Portland
With the University of Oregon no longer paying for the sign, Ramsay Signs turned off the electricity in October 2009 and indicated that it might dismantle the sign. Led by city commissioner Randy Leonard, the city government began exploring options to save the landmark, including possibly changing the wording to read "Portland Oregon." The sign remained dark until the Friday before Thanksgiving, when it was illuminated to start the Christmas holiday season. It remained lit into January 2010, with electricity expenses paid by Ramsay Signs' then-president Darryl Paulsen.
In September 2010, the Portland City Council approved an agreement in which the city took ownership of the sign. Under the agreement, Ramsay Signs donated the sign to the city, and the city agreed to pay the company a monthly fee of $2,000 for sign maintenance and electricity using funds collected from a city-owned parking lot. Art DeMuro, president of Venerable Properties (which owns the building on which the sign sits), donated $200,000 to the city to have the lettering changed to "Portland Oregon" in time for a re-lighting ceremony on the day after Thanksgiving. The deal also stipulated that the city must keep Ramsay Signs' name on the sign. Work to change the sign began on the Tuesday of the week before Thanksgiving, and the altered sign was ceremonially turned on for the first time 10 days later, on November 26, 2010. At the time of the ceremony, two of the neon tubes in the stag's head had yet to be re-attached, but that work was completed within one week.
In 2011, Ramsay Signs' work on the redesigned sign won the company First Place in the Historic Reproduction category of an annual design competition held by the International Sign Association.
- Skidmore/Old Town Historic District: the 1907 White Stag Building on which the sign is located is a contributing property to the historic district
- Geigerich, Andy (September 10, 2010). "City reaches deal to buy White Stag sign". Portland Business Journal. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
- Hallman Jr., Tom (September 16, 2010). "City owns 'Made in Oregon' sign and hopes to have it ready for holiday season". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 16, 2010.
- "Change Under Way For 'Made In Oregon' Sign". KPTV. November 16, 2010. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
- "Commission designates White Stag sign Portland landmark". The Oregonian, October 13, 1977, p. A17.
- Tripp, Julie (November 4, 1986). "Fate of White Stag sign unclear". The Oregonian, p. D9.
- Locamthi, John (September 10, 2014). "So Sue Us: Why the Portlandia statue failed to become an icon". Willamette Week. p. 17. Retrieved September 12, 2014.
- "History of the White Stag Block". University of Oregon. Archived from the original on February 17, 2012. Retrieved September 13, 2014.
- Foyston, John (December 25, 2004). "Christmas". The Oregonian.
- Bella, Rick (September 26, 1989). "Naito vows to light stag: Rudolph's nose will glow again to delight a zillion Metro-area kids". The Oregonian. p. B3.
- Pickett, Nelson (October 21, 1989). "Reindeer belatedly set to shine". The Oregonian. p. B2.
- McCarthy, Nancy (November 28, 1994). "He's back, he's back". The Oregonian. p. B1.
- Rubenstein, Sura (December 24, 1996). "White Stag sign bounds into a bright future". The Oregonian. p. A1.
- Christ, Janet (April 29, 1997). "White Stag will be Made in Oregon". The Oregonian. p. B2.
- "White Stag Block". Venerable Properties. Retrieved October 24, 2009.
- Larabee, Mark (December 1, 2008). "Oh, deer. 'Made in Oregon' on its way out in Old Town". The Oregonian. Retrieved February 1, 2009.
- KPTV staff (March 9, 2009). "'Made in Oregon' sign change sparks debate". KPTV. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
- KATU staff (April 8, 2009). "Famous sign skirmish ends with compromise". KATU. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
- Mayer, James (July 13, 2009). "Changes to 'Made in Oregon' sign hit snag". The Oregonian. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
- Mayer, James (September 16, 2009). "‘Made in Oregon’ sign may not change after all". The Oregonian. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
- Mayer, James (September 29, 2009). "For sale: ‘Made in Oregon’ sign". The Oregonian. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
- "'Made in Oregon' sign faces dismantling". Portland Business Journal (American City Business Journals). 2009-10-19. Retrieved October 21, 2009.
- Larabee, Mark (October 19, 2009). "City may buy 'Made in Oregon' sign, change it to read 'Portland'". The Oregonian. Retrieved October 21, 2009.
- Adams, Eric (November 19, 2009). ""Made in Oregon" sign lit up for holiday season". NWCN. Retrieved October 20, 2009.
- "New look for an iconic sign retains familiar holiday ‘nose’" (VIDEO). KATU. November 27, 2010. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
- "ISA Sign Design Competition: 2011 Winners". International Sign Association. April 2011. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
- "Skidmore/Old Town Historic District". portlandmaps.com. Retrieved October 21, 2009.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to White Stag sign.|
- Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood Notes, with historical images of the sign (March 2009)
- Simulation of sign's light sequencing when the change to "Portland Oregon" was still just a proposal (Windows Media file, from city commissioner Randy Leonard's blog)
- Battistella, Edwin. "White Stag Manufacturing". The Oregon Encyclopedia.