Oregon City sits on a dramatic bluff adjacent to Willamette Falls, near Portland, Oregon. Its location was selected due to the presence of the falls, but the steep bluff (722 stairs) was a huge impediment to the growing city. How to solve such an issue? In 1912 Oregon City voters decided the solution was a municipal elevator. And so, a century ago Oregon City became home to what is today the only outdoor municipal elevator in the United States, and one of just four in the world.
The original elevator was wood and used hydraulic power. In 1955 it was replaced by this midcentury modern marvel: a sleek, concrete, futuristic construction featuring a viewing platform at the top that echoes a flying saucer.
The Oregon City Municipal Elevator continues to be open to the public, carrying pedestrians from the waterfront neighborhood to the rest of Oregon City on the bluff above. Our visit to the McLaughlin House over Thanksgiving Break became a visit to Oregon City through the ages when we strolled over to the bluff and found this flying saucer awaiting us, complete with elevator operator. It seems bizarre at the very least, but Oregon City’s outdoor elevator provides a unique but practical answer to Oregon City’s topographical challenges with midcentury modern flare… and an eye-catching architectural feature for visitors.
Missed my visit to the McLaughlin House? A peek here:
Oregon City’s Municipal Elevator website.
The National Park Service on the Municipal Elevator.
The National Register Nomination for the elevator.