Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 11, 2017

Oregon: Mountains, Coast and Forests. Also … Architecture

The northwestern U.S. state of Oregon is a big tourist destination.

There are so many attractive and appealing things about Oregon that the most difficult part of planning a trip to Oregon is deciding what not to see.

Here’s a map of Oregon. Much of its northern boundary with Washington is defined by the Columbia River, and a bit hard to follow at this resolution:

Map of Oregon - Google

The iconic Pacific coastline should be on everyone’s list. You can drive the entire 340 miles along U.S. Route 101 and, unless you stop at every gift shop, you’ll never tire of the panoply of vistas: forests, dunes, rocky crags and windswept beaches.

Oregon coast Brad Nixon 0235 (640x480)

Or, pick a town — Gold Beach, Florence, Newport, Cannon Beach — settle in and explore the area, dig for razor clams and roam the beaches to your heart’s content.

Oregon dunes Brad Nixon 1946 (640x480)

There are towering mountains, wild rivers, dense forests, a vast eastern desert, waterfalls and the deepest lake in the U.S., Crater Lake, the dramatic remains of a volcanic eruption (map, blue star):

Crater Lake Brad Nixon 1666

There are cities large (Portland, Eugene) and small, like Hood River (map, red star), along the incomparable Columbia River Gorge.

Hood River OR Brad Nixon 0051 (640x469)

TIP: Do not plan a visit to Portland without allowing at least half a day to drive eastward along some portion of the Columbia River Gorge. See my post here for more.

But Wait, There’s More

Architecture buffs will find interesting structures — historic and recent — everywhere in Oregon.

Here are just a few highlights from a recent trip along Interstate 5 that crosses Oregon south to north, for those days when you’re not out exploring the mountains, forests and beaches.

Eugene (map, red oval)

The state’s second largest city, Eugene (pop. 156,000), is a university town (University of Oregon) that offers dining and shopping opportunities downtown and pleasant neighborhoods scattered across the city. If you’re a fan of railroads, it also has its original 1908 Southern Pacific Railway depot on the northern edge of downtown, still providing Amtrak passenger service.

Eugene Oregon train station Brad Nixon 7506 (640x464)

The depot’s waiting area is a classic, preserving much of the character found in other depots of the era.

Eugene Oregon train depot interior Brad Nixon 7453 (640x468)

On the platform side, the projecting bay of the stationmaster’s office allows a view of incoming and outgoing traffic, and a look at progress on loading and unloading trains.

Eugene Oregon train depot Brad Nixon 7508 (640x480)

Salem (map, blue oval)

Just over an hour’s drive north of Eugene is Salem, the state capitol and Oregon’s 3rd-largest city (pop. 154,600). Salem has a lively downtown, where we enjoyed a tasty lunch at Wild Pear. On the western edge of downtown, in Riverfront City Park along the Willamette River, the Riverfront Carousel is a delightful attraction.

Riverfront Carousel Salem OR Brad Nixon 7625 (640x476)

While it recalls merry-go-rounds from another era, the carousel is new, installed in 2001. That doesn’t matter to the kids (and adults) whirling around. There are horses galore, a mule, a unicorn and a deer, but here’s my favorite carousel beast:

Riverfront Carousel Salem OR Brad Nixon 7634 (640x530)

Perhaps a carousel isn’t technically “architecture.” But this is my article and I define the terms.

Downtown Salem has its share of interesting and historic buildings and some picturesque residential sections. A block from the carousel, at the corner of Commercial and State, this Italianate beauty, from 1868, housed Salem’s first bank, Ladd & Bush.

Ladd and Bush building Salem OR Brad Nixon 7622 (640x401)

The interior’s been remodeled, with some elements preserved, but the exterior harkens to a day when a bank building’s solidity stated clearly, “We’re here to stay. Trust your money with us!”

In subsequent posts, I’ll report on a number of historic Carnegie Library buildings we saw on this trip. While we’re in Salem, I’ll cover theirs, at 790 State Street, immediately across the street from south side of the state capitol building:

Carnegie Library Salem OR Carnegie Brad Nixon 7638 (640x449)

Constructed in Beaux Arts style in 1912, the building served as a library until 1972. It’s now the Oregon Civic Justice Center, part of Willamette University’s College of Law. According to the Wikpedia entry, the interior has been significantly remodeled from the original.

For reasons I can’t readily explain, I’ve always been curious to see Oregon’s capitol building. Dating from 1938, it’s the 4th-newest capitol building in the U.S., and its mix of Greek and Egyptian elements in Art Deco style, surmounted by a rotunda rather than a dome, was a controversial departure from the norm (although my home state, Ohio, also has a statehouse with a rotunda).

Oregon State Capitol south side Salem Brad Nixon 7646 (640x474)

That’s the south side, not the entrance. The main facade fronts an extensively landscaped mall worth a visit in its own right, but was in shadow against a brilliantly lighted sky, and wasn’t at its best for photography. Here’s the rotunda topped by the golden figure of the Oregon Pioneer with his axe:

Oregon Capitol front Brad Nixon 7658 (531x640)

Portland (map, gold oval, top)

Oregon’s largest city (pop. 640,000) would require thousands of photos and tens of thousands of words to cover even a fraction of its extremely diverse architecture. While you’re in town, stop into Powell’s City of Books and ask them for books about Portland architecture. I’m certain they have a large selection among their 2 million books.

I’ll limit myself to one Portland building, a former Masonic temple I saw on this trip. I’m fascinated by the Masonic buildings one sees all across America, and, if life were longer, I might devote more time to photographing them. Downtown Portland’s former temple has everything one could expect from the genre, including fortress-like walls and few windows (those are secret rites, after all).

Portland Art Museum Brad Nixon 7811 (640x480)

Since 1992, the ex-temple has housed a wing of the Portland Art Museum (PAM), and I spent much more time inside it viewing art than studying the exterior. I was pleased that our guides pointed out its Masonic origin. PAM’s adaptation does an admirable job of minimizing the Krak des Chevaliers aspect of the big pile.

There’s more Oregon architecture scattered through other articles I’ve written. Click on “Travel – Oregon” in the Categories widget in the right-hand column.

What’s your favorite Oregon building? Leave a comment.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2017


  1. Great info / pics as usual; very interesting! Also I’m so pleased that you chose a FROG as your favorite carousel animal!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marvelous pix of nature’s bounty. But that capitol building — um, well, certainly a dramatic contrast to your other pix.

    Before I read your description, it reminded me of some rather uninspiring soviet-era buildings I saw in Budapest a few years ago. Hungary has still not rid itself of soviet architecture; but it’s making a lot of steady progress.


    • Don’t blame me if a horde of angry beavers carrying axes show up at your door.


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