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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 24, 2011 8:44 AM. The previous post in this blog was Tweaking the City of Portland debt clock. The next post in this blog is Be thankful I don't take it all. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.



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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Portland's new scarlet letter

The Portland fire bureau has been putting red signs with the letter "U" over the front doors of buildings that it believes are unsafe. Supposedly this is to alert firefighters who might respond to a fire in these buildings, but the signs have got to be darn unnerving for everybody else who might walk through those portals.

If the buildings are so hazardous as to merit these signs, should they be inhabited at all? And if they aren't that bad, couldn't the firefighters be alerted some other way -- such as, oh I don't know, by the new $15 million 911 dispatch computer?

Here are the addresses that have picked up the signs, according to the DJC, and apparently there are more to come:

221 NW Third; 421 NW Third; 510 NW Third; 930 SW Third; 205 NW Fourth; 403 NW Fifth; 1100 NE 21st; 938 E. Burnside; 510 NW Glisan; 7400 SW Macadam; 7410 SW Macadam; 4122 NE MLK; 1362 NW Naito; 303 NW Park; 7525 SE Powell; 12415 SE Powell; 733 N. Russell; 3041 N. Williams; 9236 SE Woodstock; 915 SW Second – Rodeo Building; 105 NW Third – Sinnott Building; 228 NE Broadway – Broadway Furniture; 88 NW Davis – Globe Hotel; 6615 SE Foster – Phoenix Building; 726 NW Glisan – Harlow Building; 218 SW Jefferson – Pendleton Building; 1117 SW Jefferson – Jefferson West Apartments; 2037 SW Morrison – Kingston Building; 521 SW Park – Cornelius Hotel; 1300 N. River St. – River Street Storage Building; 8333 NE Russell – USA Athletic and Sports Center; 418 SW Washington St. – Oregon Pacific Building

Wow, the Kingston and the Lotus both made the list. You wonder whether Jeld-Wen Field will eventually get one.

Anyway, if you ask us, those signs are a little Kafka-creepy. This city's government, it seems, never misses a chance to remind you who is in charge.

Comments (29)

I bet every one of those building owners had and "opportunity" to contribute to Randy's campaign, but never cut a check ...

A red U over the second floor boy's potty?

I thought it was a rendering of Sam Adams tongue.

Garage wine, that's one sin that's not on Commissioner Leonard's doorstep. I know the owners of four of the buildings on the list, and he hasn't asked them to contribute to his campaign, nor has anyone in the City implied to any of them that there's any political favoritism involved in the "U" signs. I wish there were: it would make it much easier for them to become non-U again.

This city's government, it seems, never misses a chance to remind you who is in charge.

Then the sign should say Me, not U

Firemen are the most overpaid people on most city payrolls. They are not even in the top 10 for most dangerous occupations - and haven't been for some time. It isn't like they are running into buildings on fire very often; and it's CRAP programs like this that are often hatched just to raise revenues or attempt to keep these people busy. The current "annual" fire inspections of commercial buildings in Portland - that didn't start until the mid-1990s - is another example of "busy work" for these people.
The simple fact that whenever there is a test opening for firefighting jobs it brings out hundreds of applicants; shows what overpaid plum jobs these are..

Neat way to get a property's market value to crash even lower. I'm sure there's a subsidized developer somewhere waiting in the shadows!

Don't worry, Randy has his HIT squad working overtime to post these signs on owners who don't see things CoP's way.

"developer somewhere waiting in the shadows!" Mr. Grumpy, you are such a realist.

Prepare, the Manhattanites are coming to New Amsterdam!

"developer somewhere waiting in the shadows!"

Like with that big empty lot next to the Chinatown gateway? Good thing that Randy tore that down. Much better to have a weed-strewn, graffiti covered lot than an old Portland building with businesses inside it.

The first time I saw one of these, I thought "Oh, it looks like Umbra is putting in a warehouse.

They should sue.

"Don't worry, Randy has his HIT squad working overtime to post these signs on owners who don't see things CoP's way."

Exactly what I was thinking.

Don't the Manhattanites already have their own New Amsterdam, aka New York?

Are any of the buildings subsidized by the city?

Call me cynical -- but I smell stimulus dollars at work. Meaningless busy work for bureaucrats.


There's a huge difference between a building being structurally unsafe and unsafe for firefighters.

Certain types of construction (balloon framing, aluminum struts, etc) respond to fire in completely different ways and are more likely to collapse onto anyone inside when a fire reaches a certain level.

So, the firefighers just want to know whether they should fight the fire from inside or the perimeter. That's what it's all about.

BTW, if your home was built prior to WW2, it's likely ballo0n framed and therefore fire will spread more quickly thru the structure.

What T said. Remember Taylor Electric or the Lido/Monte Carlo that mostly just had to be left to burn themselves out?

Also, owners and developers have been reaping big bucks over many years owing to building codes calculated more politically than structurally. Our earthquake zone is truly like the last one in Japan. Our building codes barely begin to address it. If you want to know what Portland will look like after the next "big one" , for which it is only a matter of time here, look at pictures of the cities in Haiti.

With the Fire people on this one.

I'm sure there's a subsidized developer somewhere waiting in the shadows!

Mr. Grumpy does seem to been around to know what the score is around here. Would be interesting to research these properties, the value of the land, are they near the proposed "new west couplet" are some on large parcels of land ripe for new condos, noticed one on Macadam - near light rail tracks?

How large are these signs?
3"x3" or 3'x3'??

Yea , I used to frequent the Kingston , and one time I helped move a table upstairs and the entire top of the building had been stripped of wallboard and supports. As a guy who sat thru 3 years of Structural Calcs in Architecture School , I was terrified at how dangerous this made the building. Needless to say I do not go in there for any reason , and I don't expect our Fire Men and Women to do it either. That place should be shut down before it collapses on fifty drunks.

I completely agree with the other posters that Portland charm is largely based on its historical but deadly structures, and firefighters do need to know which ones are more hazardous than others when fighting fires, but whose ideas was it to post that weakness in plain sight for all the speculators of the world to see? It stinks of scarlet letter or Star of David.

I think you're absolutely right about this one Jack. If this program was truly about protecting firefighters there are better ways to notify them than with a sign on one side of a building.

This is about not only shaming property owners but an attempt to impact them financially. I'm sure that having your building labeled as "unsafe" by the fire dept. is going to make it a lot tougher to attract and keep tenants and customers. Also, I would imagine that, since property insurance rates are impacted by proximity to a fire station, having the fire dept. basically say that they're not going to everything in their power to save your building is going to have an impact on property insurance rates.

1362 NW Naito - isn't that the address for the Mounted Patrol Unit?

As with any Randy-led initiative, what might seem reasonable in theory goes overboard with bluntness and heavy-handedness upon execution.

There is more than one way to get land/property in this "City That Works You Over."

One of those locations, 510 NW Third is actually an old firehouse. If I recall correctly, the owner is PDC. What a shame letting that charming building rot for years while waiting for something big to come along. Oopsie. Isn't that what PDC did with the Sizzler on MLK across from the Convention Center? That site is vacant and it has been more than 20 years.

View Larger Map


I have never seen that building before!

What a gem. Really, it's charming.

Down Eugene way there are many beautiful higher priced homes in the south hills which are heavily timbered. A fire at one of those homes could spread to the forest canopy and be major disaster. When a call is dispatched to one of those properties with a south hills address the respondents are put on extra alert. Why can't Portland do that? Marking these "unsafe" buildings reminds me of the "Tin plate" law which if I remember correctly went on the books in Portland in the early 1900's. Many of Portland's brothels and dive bars were housed in buildings owned by fine old Portland families. In an effort to shame said families into evicting these unsavory tenants a law was enacted requiring every Portland commercial building to carry a metal sign with the owners name and address imprinted on it.

And if I recall rightly, some Portland's finest old families promptly obeyed the law by posting the plates with their names -- in Hebrew, Japanese, or other non-Roman characters.

Does anyone want to run the list and see how many U buildings are owned by one of Portland's myriad government entities? Your go-to web site will be


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