'Ghost' building takes shape at the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge

'Ghost' building takes shape at the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge
Inversion: Plus Minus is an art project commissioned by the city as part of the Portland Eastside streetcar expansion. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com Producer/Reporter.

PORTLAND, Ore. - If you've driven, biked or walked across the Hawthorne Bridge in the past several months, you might have noticed some type of iron structure that's being built at the east end.

What is it, you ask?

Well if you think it's a new building going up, you're wrong - at least partially. It's actually the 'ghost' of a building that once stood there.

Say what?

Here's the explanation - the structure, which is made of weathered steel angle iron, is part of a couple of new large-scale art projects commissioned by the city for the expansion of the east side streetcar.

Two towering structures are being built at the east side of both the Hawthorne and Morrison Bridges in a combined project called Inversion: Plus Minus. And coming up next year, an artist will be building an art sculpture shelter at Northeast Broadway and Weidler.

The art work is being funded under an ordinance that requires that 2 percent of the cost of publicly-funded capital construction projects be set aside for public art.

Inversion: Plus Minus was designed by two Seattle artists who have strong connections to the Portland area. Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio have taken up residence here in town while they work on completing the project.

Han is a David Douglas High School graduate and both she and Mihalyo are alumni of the University of Oregon's School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

We talked to Han this past week about the Inversion: Plus Minus project and what it means for the east side of town.

"Daniel and I find this area to be really special," she said. "I think every city has kind of an area that gets debased or it gets developed with something else and it goes away."

That was the inspiration behind the sculpture, which is meant to represent the 'ghost' of an old foundry, Phoenix Iron Works, that used to be there decades ago. The foundry shut down in 1957 and the property was sold to Multnomah County.

The Hawthorne Bridge structure is a matrix of metal that is meant to almost appear as a solid building. The Morrison Bridge site will be constructed differently to represent the negative space of the old foundry.

"It's not just that we want to bring back the nostalgia of the past," Han said. "But it's the fact that the city is constantly changing and there are some things worth keeping - whether it's only in your memory or physically. And so we feel, in a way, like we are bringing back a part of the honesty of this area - the industrial area."

Han said folks have been stopping by and asking about the structure. And while most of the feedback has been positive, Han does realize there will be critics - and she is fine with that.

"It would be strange to make something and either everybody dislikes it or everybody loves it," she said. "It comes with the territory - especially when you are putting your work in a public space."

Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com Producer/Reporter

Throughout the process, the artists have welcomed feedback from the public.

"I love that opportunity," Han said. "Because usually when you have a show in a gallery or museum, you put up your piece and then you never really have that direct conversation with the people who are looking at it. But when you are working outside, people do stop by and you have a very direct conversation about it."

When it's all said and done, Han hopes people will recognize the structures for what they are and hopefully have conversations about what they represent.

"It will be great if people can notice it and think about it and think about the kind of collective history of this area," she said.

As far as a timeline, the Hawthorne Bridge structure is slated to be finished this weekend. Then, once the weather gets better (around late spring or summer), the artists will begin work at the Morrison Bridge site.

Work will begin on the art shelter project, which is being done by artist Jorge Pardo, late next year.

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