urban ruins Portland graffiti adventure "light painting" "night photography" "art photography" "long exposure photography"

Alleys & Ruins no. 146, Electric (2014, Portland, OR, 11pm)

Alleys & Ruins no. 146, Electric (2014, Portland, OR, 11pm)

 

Portland is a city with some odd contrasts. It is one of the hippest, most artsy cities I’ve visited, and yet it has some of the harshest rules against graffiti. There’s a blanket zero-tolerance policy covering the entire city. It is illegal to create a mural on an outside wall even if you have permission (or a commission) from a property owner.

So while Portland is an awesomely cool and progressive city, it tries to keep its exterior squeaky clean. Huge brick walls begging for murals remain free from paint (and inspiration)

Enter the ruins of the Taylor Electric Supply Warehouse, built in 1936, in the Central Eastside Industrial District. After being destroyed by one of Portland‘s largest ever industrial fires, it has become a mecca for the city’s street art. After the 2006 fire, toxic chemicals started to pour out and a thorough clean-up was required, leaving behind huge bare walls that were quickly painted over by graffiti artists.

Every few months the city will paint over the entire structure to discourage graffiti, but all they do is leave behind a fresh, clean canvas for more art.

There are precious few places in the city to see quality graffiti art (as opposed to quick, ugly tags) and the ruins of the Taylor Electric company have sparked debate over whether the space constitutes an artistic gem or a horrible eyesore.

But the land has been sold and is now slated for re-development. The graffiti walls will be torn down and the street artists will have to look elsewhere for inspiration.

Before the shoot, I shot some video of the location which became this short piece.

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Updates
Since shooting Alley 146, Portland seems to have eased up with mural permits. Since mid 2014, there's been somewhat of a storm brewing with the street art groups and the Portland leaders, creating some anger, but making some headway in allowing public murals.

 

2020 update: it looks like the vacant lot was never developed and instead turned into an open-air street art gallery!

 

From the TAYLOR ELECTRIC PROJECT:

 

The Taylor Electric Project at Clay Creative, is a collaborative, open-air street art gallery that features the work of over 100 artists. For over a decade, the ruins of the Taylor Electrical Supply Company, located on 240 SE Clay St., became a Portland nexus of local, regional, and national graffiti and street art following a fire that left only the burnt-out husk of walls, a perfect canvas for street art within Portland’s ever-changing Central Eastside District. In 2015, what remained of the building was demolished but with the support of Killian Pacific, Portland Street Art Alliance is collectively rebuilding the Taylor Electric Project into a haven for street art once again. Portland Street Art Alliance manages the painting at Taylor Electric and in 2018 co-hosted an all-day all-ages event with the help of For the Love that includes live-paintings, artist commissions, live music, a dance battle, local pop-ups, food carts, local beer, skateboarding ramps, and more. Thousands of people come out to celebrate Portland’s vibrant public art communities. The annual block party is truly a DIY community-centered and driven event, made possible with the support from local sponsors, volunteers, and artists. 

 

HISTORY OF TAYLOR ELECTRIC

 

For over a decade, the burnt-out ruins at SE 2nd and Clay served as Portland's most famous space for graffiti– a free open art gallery that attracted artists and onlooks from near and far.  

Built in 1936 by the Loggers & Lumberman’s Investment Company, the warehouse at 240 SE Clay (previously 352 E Clay St) served as a home to many different businesses through its lifetime at its picturesque location at the east-end of the Central Eastside Industrial District. In the 1990s, the Rexel Taylor Electrical Supply Company purchased the building and used it as a storefront and warehouse for electrical supplies.

On the night of May 17, 2006, a stack of pallets outside the building caught fire. Fueled by the electrical supplies inside, a massive 4-alarm fire broke out. Over 125 fire-fighters from Portland and nearby cities worked around the clock trying to extinguish the blaze and protect nearby buildings. Burning for over 24 hours, the fire sent a river of debris into the nearby Willamette River.

Taylor Electrical Supply had plans to rebuild and sell the property, but that fell through, so the charred skeleton of the warehouse sat abandoned for over a decade. The ruins blossomed into a unique and iconic local landmark - a sanctuary for artists, rebels, and outcasts. When people visited Portland and wanted to see graffiti, Taylor Electric was an obvious and easily accessible destination. Cultural activities from dances, circuses, and bicycle chariot wars used Taylor Electric as a gritty stage and backdrop.

In many booming west coast cities, space for unanticipated interactions and unauthorized art are rapidly diminishing. However, these derelict spaces serve important functions for many creatives. Artists are often some of the first to find, occupy, and re-use dilapidated spaces. These cracks of the urban fabric fall outside the watchful eye of neighbors and police.

Rumors of demolition and redevelopment plans of Taylor Electric had been circulating for years. With Portland’s booming economy and population this change was inevitable. As power and urban space collide, developers inevitably would redevelop this centrally located property. A family-owned local development company, Killian Pacific eventually purchased the property intending to develop it into a new office campus called Clay Creative. Thankfully, Killian Pacific appreciated the cultural history and raw beauty of the space and decided to preserve and reinforce part of the old south-facing retaining wall, incorporating it into the new building.

In the months leading up to its demise, the art at Taylor Electric flourished as the fences went down and security was reduced. More so than ever people of all types, young and old, high heels and rubber boots, descended on this public place to experience a post-apocalyptic scene bursting with color.

On May 10th, 2015 the demolition of Taylor Electric began. Spreading quickly through social media, artists shared images of the first walls to fall. Some onlookers talked with workers, gathering details of the plans. Local media outlets covered the demolition, focusing on the cultural importance and impact of this space.

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