The rise and fall of Portland’s “Elk”: 1900 – 2020

Published by Village Portland on July 7, 2020
Edited by Andrew Wilkins
By ROSIE RIDDLE

In 1900, the 3,000-pound bronze “Elk” statue was erected between the Plaza Blocks in downtown Portland.

On July 2nd, after standing for 120 years, the elk was removed.

The elk was erected atop a fountain, with the intent of providing a watering hole and gathering place by the former mayor David P. Thompson. Serving from 1879 – 1882, Thompson commissioned the fountain and statue for the city in 1900.

“Yesterday’s Tomorrow – A Portland Journey” by Uncage the Soul Productions

Located in what used to be a feeding ground for elk, it has served its intended purpose, being a focal point and gathering spot at several times during the last month as the Black Lives Matter movement has held demonstrations at the nearby Multnomah County Justice Center.

However, during the last week, Portlanders have gathered more and more around the statue. On July 1st a fire was set around the base of the fountain and was kept burning for hours, a welcome heat on that chilly night.

The elk was featured in a number of images and live streams over the course of the night.

The Elk of Chapman Square on its final night atop its fountain, surrounded by fire and smoke.

The elk of downtown between Portland’s Plaza Blocks on its final night atop its fountain, surrounded by fire and smoke.
Photo by Donovan Farley, @DonovanFarley

As a result of the fire, the Portland Police Bureau launched an investigation, calling the damage left by the fire vandalism.

The Regional Arts and Culture Council, at the request of the City, also launched an investigation. After inspecting the fountain and the base upon which the statue sits, they decided that the damage to the stone fountain was severe enough that the statue could potentially topple and harm Portlanders in the process. 

So on July 2nd, after one hundred twenty years, the proud bronze elk statue was removed.

The City has stated that the elk is now in storage, with no plans so far for what will come next for the shiny four-legged icon.

Not to be deterred from their gathering, Portlanders have replaced the bronze elk statue with what is being called the tiny elk, pictured below, on the 4th of July. But protesters have refrained from lighting any more large fires at the base of the fountain.

A tiny elk placed atop a bundle of sticks taped together. There is a small fire nearby as a flag burns on what was the statues base. Photo by: @45thabsurdist

A tiny elk placed atop a bundle of sticks taped together. There is a small fire nearby as a flag burns on what was the statues base.
Photo by @45thabsurdist

The tiny elk has been present at the demonstrations every night since it was first placed, as a tribute to our fallen friend.