The Basement

Somewhere in Portland, there’s a very old building, and that very old building has a very, very old basement. An incredible basement, a video-game-level basement, a set-decorator’s dream basement.

And when you walk past the janitors office, with the wonderfully decked halls…

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And tromp down a sunken hallway…

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You find a old room. Mostly empty, dusty, and dead quiet.

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And then you start to look closer at the walls.

And you start to see things.

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(You see that Brown didn’t often pay his dime for coffee.)

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(You see that a lot of calculation was done right on the wall.)

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(You see that World War I was front and center on everyone’s mind.)

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(You wonder what was being tallied, and if it was better to win or lose.)

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(And you learn the tongue-in-check “rules” of the room.)

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And eventually, you crawl behind a corner, and discover a bundle of conduit.

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Conduit for every major internet carrier you’ve ever heard of.

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Oh, right. You had almost forgotten.

This building, this basement, is the major internet hub for the entire region.

And a wall, where all this data enters the basement just as you did, you see them.

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Somehow, still surrounding these cutting-edge, fiber-optic links that burst through the wall, they’re frozen in time, looking at you.

How are they still there? My god, 2012. Could they even imagine?

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On the way out, you chat up a worker in the building.

And his story clicks it all into place.

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Turns out, he claims, “they used to print The Oregonian down here, way back.”

The pressmen, one imagines, worked day and night down here, working the lumbering machines, spitting out another edition of the day’s business.

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And when something caught their eye? Out came the scissors and the paste.

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It’s almost too perfect.

The roar of the presses that ruled these rooms has been replaced, just as we all suspected, with the calculated silence of the conduit that carries our data. This data, in fact. These very photos.

100 years from now, when another one of you goes spelunking around this basement, that data, those bits, today’s moments, will likely be long, long gone.

But the women on the wall might still be waiting.

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351 thoughts on “The Basement

  1. I love every person who went to that basement and DIDN’T tear down the papers or “clean” the walls outside of what was necessary. Thanks for sharing the sort of treasure I’ve always dreamed of finding.

  2. someone please, please tell the Leverage crew about this. what an amazing episode it could make!

  3. Ah, so those rules would be the “press room rules” then? Cool. Fan of architecture, hidden spaces, paste-ups of ladies in old-fashioned bathing costumes and the good, old press. Thanks for this!

  4. It looks like an Art Director’s photographic set for the textures used in Fallout 3. I still can’t believe that place exists by chance!

  5. reminds you of a sebment in the “Dead Poets Society” where an old picture of a class of schoolmates, long dead, are described by Robin Williams as once being young as we are, with dreams and hopes for the future, the same as we do. Essentially we all live our lives the same, and the people in those pictures are us, just earlier in time. and where we are now , they once were. Where they are, we will be. Puts perspective. Incredibly good post and pictures that makes you stop and think.

  6. Lovely. Thank you! (I seem to be stuck in WW1 right now, between Downton Abbey, and most of the fiction I’ve been picking up at random. And now this. Cheers!)

  7. This posting of print media was done across America at the time, probably socioecomomic. We documented an old Appalachian mountain home in western NC where you could discern where the children stayed, where the wife/mother spent most of her time, etc. In this case, newspapers, magazines, and fliers were used, whatever caught their eye. After awhile, the walls were nearly covered, like a type of personalized wall-paper that profiled the personality of everyone living there. Neat stuff, thanks for posting.

  8. From the Wikipedia article on The Oregonian: “The paper’s offices and presses were originally housed in a two-story building at the intersection of First Street (now [SW] First Avenue) and [SW] Morrison Street, but in 1892 the paper moved into a new nine-story building at [SW] 6th and [SW] Alder streets, not moving again until 1948.”

    Does this mean that The Oregonian presses were in a building across the street from Lipman Wolfe and Meier & Frank? I remember the building across from M&F was a Woolworths in the 1960s…curious minds!

    (PS: Thank you for a wonderful article!)

  9. There is an awesome warehouse in NW PDX that a friend built into his office. And when he was taking down all the walls to get back to the brick and beams he found 100s of old Tobacco baseball trading cards. Similar to these finds but so fragile he had to leave them all in place to become a perm part of the office. Love seeing things like this. Thanks

  10. Cabel… thank you so much for sharing your “find” with us all. It’s beautiful and fascinating.

  11. That is really incredible, I love that the newspaper was where the Internet is now and that there are old-timey pics of women in swimsuits. The world makes sense again.

  12. Reblogged this on The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things and commented:
    This incredible post on cabel.me documents the remnants of an old newspaper printing room, complete with scraps of vintage newspaper photographs pasted onto the walls, hidden within what is now a major internet cable hub. Such an interesting contrast, which really makes me think about the hidden histories of spaces that exist all around us.

  13. There are two types of people in the world. those who find this unspeakably beautiful, and those who answered in the negative to Robert Plant’s query regarding if anyone remembered laughter.

  14. I use to work in the Pittock Building, ground level on Stark St. between 9th and 10th., just as they were beginning to tear out the basement to make room for fiber optics and all their equipment, we became very friendly with some of the workers who work down there from start to finish, there were lots of interesting stories that were told to us, one being of a water run off river from the west hills and emptying in the Willamette river….fish use to swim up stream under Portland as far as they could go…maintenance workers use to catch fish and take home…Several of the workers involved in the remodel took out old scraps of wood, hinges etc., made birdhouses, I am proud to say that I still have a hand made bird house from the old wood that was removed from the basement. The copper boilers that were in one of the sub levels of the basement that used to supply heat to most of downtown was scrapped by Mr. Sam Schnitzer….creating Schnitzer Steel.

  15. For a moment i really felt like i was admiring all these details while starting a newt chapter of Half Life 3 and trying to make sense of these!

    Thanx for this inspiring post

  16. The Pittock Block, right? I was an engineer at the local Verio office from 2001-2002, during which time another department built the data center upstairs, there. (We had a POP/escorted colo facility on the ground floor, before then, but shut ours down.) The bubble burst right around the time the new center opened, so it never had much in it. I got laid off and moved back to Texas, and I’ve often wondered what happened to that space since then, but I never even thought about the basement, before…

  17. Nice. I used to work down the streeet at the Bank of California (now Union Bank). I loved going down into the basement and finding all the old bank ledgers, an abstract of title, and bits and pieces of history from by gone years. Wish I had thought to photograph it. Wonderful that you did.

  18. Awesome post! I have worked at this building for 7+ years now and have had the benefit of walking the basement several times for infrastructure tours with its 40 feet ceilings and technology relics, like the 60+ year old retired electrical switches decommissioned and laying against the wall right around the corner from the top of the line power conditioning rooms and diesel generators. Its an amazing place where a century of history meets the most modern of technology and infrastructure. Love the pics and detail, thanks for sharing.

  19. I loved this. It’s right up my alley. I’ve advanced a few decades & am now deciphering the diaries & letters my dad saved beginning in 1934. This after producing a book about my great-grandfather, based on all the letters & documents he saved from 1857-1900.
    Thanks.

  20. I loved the newspaper artlcle and your tour here on this site. I used to work at the old US National Bank of Oregon 321 SW 6th Ave, and used to love to explore the basement there and see the relics of by-gone banking days. When US Bank sold the building and the new owners sealed that part of the basement off which ran under the old Wells Fargo Bank building adjoining it.

  21. What a terrific post. Thanks for sharing your adventure. Any chance you have or will post hi-res versions of the pics? I’m a map and history geek and would love to zoom in to details on that World War I map.

  22. I loved this. It is so interesting and I am so sure that there are many other treasures under some of the other old buildings in downtown Portland. Will you consider spelunking any other buildings?

  23. Cabel, thanks for the great post and wonderful photos. It’s too bad that these types of histories aren’t kept more often.
    Also, I found this via MinimalMac.

  24. Let us know when the tours start. Very cool pictures and commentary. Are there any rats………..?

  25. Very cool that whoever installed the new conduit didn’t just tear everything else down, simply because they could/it was there.

  26. This is very interesting as are all the posts. I worked in The Pittock Block -seems like a hundred years ago – 1959-1966 for the Union Pacific Railroad up on the 8th floor. Sometimes I had to go to the basement looking for some old file and I hated going down to the dark, cold, dusty, creepy place. Clearly I did not appreciate it nearly enough and do not remember seeing anything pasted on the walls. I just wanted to get my file and get out of there. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

  27. Read the book, “Tubes.” The hardware infrastructure of the Internet is amazing, and lives in amazing places.

  28. This is great! Reminds me of the Janitor’s ( caretaker here in the UK) room in the old National Theatre Studio space on The Cut in London. He was a serious weight-lifter but old school. Working-class and clearly on a low wage, his room was his gym, filled with home-made weights built from various bits of scaffold pole and metal. The walls were pasted thick with pictures of Johnny Weissmuller and soft porn girls. The caretaker was pretty huge, with a barrel chest and wrist cuffs of leather, large belt cinching in his manly waist. Long gone now..

  29. In a perfect world this wall could have preserved like historical city’s heritage. The world isn’t perfect… neither my english.
    En un mundo perfecto esa pared debería haber sido preservada como parte del patrimonio histórico de la ciudad.

  30. Somehow, as much magnificent cool as is this photo essay, I think you’ll top it at some point, with something else as completely awe inspiring.
    I suspect you’re that kind of guy. Quietly brilliant.

  31. You used to paste up the over sized mock ups of the newspaper page. This was done by taking images and cutting them up and literally pasting them onto a bigger board.

    That board was then put in front of a camera that’d give you a giant negative and that negative was used on a tin sheet (newspaper sized) and that was put on your printing drums.

    I bet those cut outs were peeled right off the the mock up page and stuck to the wall. They used an adhesive that never really set.

    Some of them do look like newsprint though…anything thicker than newsprint paper and not faded yellow like old newsprint were probably from the paste ups.

    Very cool man.

  32. I’m blown away. Worked in Downtown Portland from 1965 to 2000 in the Willamette building and fell in love with the old buildings. I will be sharing this on Facebook with my friends.

  33. Spectacular work/art, cabel! I have to admit that at first I was a little creeped out, thinking you’d found the lair of some serial killer. But I couldn’t stop scrolling, and found myself almost holding my breath…then the payoff and whew! Outstanding post, and thank you!

  34. Unique post ,l appreciate the efforts you put in .Amazing picture .Have a wonderful New year.jalal

  35. Cabel, Your presentation and gentle fascination make this “storyboard” even better. Love the window on history and the window into our own lives . . . how we got where we are. Lunch?

    Kerry

  36. That’s pretty cool. I bet there are some even more interesting things down there that you have yet to discover, just hidden behind a conduit or shoved between a couple filing cabinets. You just have to look in the right places.

  37. This gets my vote as best FP of 2012.. amazing discovery..thank you so much for sharing

  38. Wow. WWI, a dime for coffee, hand-drawn weather reports, old-fashioned pinups who wore streetwear and socks? Guess times have changed! Thank you so much for posting this. The fictional building in my blog comic strip dates from this era, so this post is really a treasure-trove of inspiration.

  39. Great find! Thanks for sharing it with us. I doubt they did imagine those photos would still be there almost 100 years later, and being shared on this internet thing no less!

  40. You nailed this, in my humble opinion. The past-present contrast gave me chills. Made me wonder about the lives of those pictured (and not pictured)… Thank you so much for sharing, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  41. Hi Cabel,
    Your pictures are almost too poignant to bear. On one hand I love the way you have framed them,those bits of yellowed paper torn and carrying such a deep message, on the other it seems like an invasion of privacy almost voyeuristic. I would love to go there to experience them for myself. Thankyou for showing them to us.

  42. Thank you for posting this. A moving story of personal moments clinging on through time.

  43. Incredibly interesting post. One who loves history can imagine all kinds of questions based on the discovery of such pictures. I am glad you had someone to explain the “bones” you saw. The truth is just as interesting as one could imagine.

  44. The pin-ups are totally cool. But please tell someone to get some fire stop goo into the gap between the large conduit and its (over-)large wall penetration hole. Wouldn’t _ever_ want those ladies to burn!

  45. This is such a wonderful journey. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first but then became fascinated when I started seeing all the old pictures on the walls. Thank you for such an awesome and interesting post!

  46. As both an amateur photographer and a history teacher, I can tell you that this is the coolest blog post I’ve seen…maybe ever. Seriously. Thank you!!!

  47. Magnifique, vraiment magnifique !
    And your minimalist phrasing makes it even better…
    merci Cabel ;-)

  48. Hi, aren’t all these Internet conducts and hubs secret and protected ?
    Anyway, I enjoyed this exploration – archaeology of our industrial civilization…
    Happy New Year!
    Pierre

  49. Being a Portland native + Generations back, I enjoy that our not so old city compared to many has some rich history to share. Being the Executive Director of the Printing Association regionally and involved nationally, I intend to share this piece — the history & beauty that ink on paper has given us for centuries, and will still bring to us all in the future. Thank you for the photos & blog. Thank you for sharing your curiosity – it doesn’t kill the cat, it keeps us going! Cheers :)

  50. Reblogged this on It's A Marathon AND A Sprint and commented:
    I came across this Freshly Pressed blog post today while thawing in front of the fire post run. It’s a beautiful find. Haunting. Two worlds colliding if you will. Print media and all that is the internet. Meet Head to Head. I find it striking that the print images remain, gazing at what they have become. I loved this.

  51. Cabel, I was really intrigued. I am 91 years old, born in 1921 and this exloration of yours brought me back to the things I remembered in the 1920′s of the ladies qho loved to dance. The dresses were knee length and were perceived as very revealing. Girls today will raise an eybrow at that! As I was an observer at that time, it was very desirable. My mother and dad would go down town all dressed up in hat, gloves and bag — you wouldn’t be seen without dressing up! Very different and not understandable today. The bathing beauties were not porn. They were the produuction of the entertainment industry who were just starting to burst the bubble. I look back with fondness at the 30′s and 40′s (after WWI) where life was much simpler. I have to admit that I have succumbed to the computer and admire all that technology has accomplished, but — so much is lost.

  52. This is wonderful! I love that data company for NOT painting everything over. Thank you for preserving these unique glimpses into history.

  53. This little walk through history is amazing. In the upstairs of my grandparents’ house, there used to be newspapers all over the wall. I often wonder what history I lost when that old house burned down.

    Tim

  54. nice, you know there arent that many basements here in argentina, i sometimes wonder why americans are so very fond of them and build one every time they get a chance under their houses.

  55. Wow, these photos are eye-opening. The walls definitely possess a surreal, somewhat phantom-like air about them, as if the basement was haunted. It’s crazy to see how lively an abandoned place right under our feet once was…thanks so much for sharing!

    - Jonathan I http://styleoverstress.wordpress.com

  56. Loving your Life Goggles… Great mornings viewing to stimulate the mind and share over a cup of coffee.. appreciate minds eye Cabel. A beautiful find. I ho

  57. Reblogged this on terrymcgarry and commented:
    If you haven’t seen this reblogged somewhere else already, just dive in without reading any summaries or descriptions. The journey’s as cool as the destination.

  58. And when something caught their eye? Out came the scissors and the paste.

    Fascinating…it’s like Tumblr before Tumblr.

    But the women on the wall might still be waiting.

    That could be the tag line of a film noir or psychological thriller.

  59. Very very cool. My father would do his math right on the wall too whenever he was calculating measurements and whatnot while renovating our house (which was often). Amazing that those images are still plastered onto the walls.

  60. Very poignant, as an old ink monkey who is about to lose his job as printing press shutdown. Newspapers going digital, that’s progress, but going to miss those inky fingers & the camaraderie of the press crews.

  61. This is my favorite post on WordPress for a very, very, very long time. Strike WordPress; the entire net, man! What a freaking story to tell . . .

    I love the photos. Absolutely priceless. . .

    The story they tell are incredible. The way you presented them was great too. The pictures say so much in themselves that I appreciated the simplicity of your words. GREAT!

    Your new fan,

    {theEye}

    http://theeyeoffaith.com

  62. Came for the “Basement” post… stayed for the 8-Bit Music! I have also been a Unison user for about 5 or 6 years! Very cool stuff – thanks for sharing!

  63. Some basements are intriguing. During a cleaning job my nephew found old newspapers and old love letters in the basement of an old house in Brooklyn. We read through the papers for hours. We were too young to appreciate the contents. Those love letters would have made a good Nicholas Sparks’ love story. Great find!

  64. Reblogged this on The Eye of Faith and commented:
    I came across the article completely at random.
    With the New Year just in our midst, it has had me reflecting much on life, the passing of time, and the revolution we have been living in and witnessing around us.
    The world has changed profoundly. So profoundly so, that many people are still being left in the dust of our sound barrier breaking world!
    This photo story from cabel.me really illustrates that paper thin barrier between the past, present, and future. I was really impressed with the photographs, and fell in love with the story.

    A story of “An incredible basement, a video-game-level basement, a set-decorator’s dream basement” in Portland, with a beautiful past hidden, yet so completely on the surface of today’s quickly evolving future.
    So please CHECK IT OUT! Enjoy !!

  65. When I was a teenager and into my early 20′s I used to run a small AB Dick printing press. Your pictures and commentary brought back the smell of that time for me – well done. Thank you for a great post

  66. Homage to the past! Well done ..thanks for sharing the history of this building which shows respect to those hard working people from years ago.

  67. Thanks so much for “donning the headlamps” and snapping a photo history. I find it interesting the parallel of an ending and beginning yesterday and today.

  68. Amazing juxtaposition of old and new. Reminds us of the way the world changes, of the way the past can look down on us, and of the way the new seems to intrude with careless abandon through the very walls of the past. A great post – great photos – and a wonderful story that has certainly got me thinking about a lot of things historical, things human, and the way the world changes. Thank you for sharing.

  69. What a great place to find. I find it great that the people took the time to conserve this beautiful peace of history while upgrading to new technologies needed in the building! – very mindful. Beautiful !

  70. WOW! If the walls could talk…and they did. Through you. Fascinating perspective here.

  71. I am confused. I dont want to spoil the party but I am clouded: How come the concrete surface of the walls dont seem that old? Yes the pictures look authentically aged but the walls’ exterior doesnt appear to have been seasoned by time or at least manifest some antiquity.

    My guess is somebody posted all these relics at a time — way way later date — other than the images’ own era. If I am right, somebody has just wasted some real good treasures.

  72. excellent pictures and find thanks so much for sharing this history is not like it use to be i often wonder when we are gone will kids or adults find our old stuff interesting and ty again

  73. I loved the post and realized immediately that it was done in a style I could, and would like to do, and so you creatively inspired me to take my own approach. I know as a writer the steps I must take to keep people turning the pages and these include revealing a mystery with interesting characters. This post had elements of both. Please check out http://purposepages.com/ where I put my own signature on the style. (I’d never written with pictures before so your ideas helped.) Im looking forward to watching both of us evolve and grow.

  74. Wonderful post. History made and history is taking place… A bit of bitter and sweet feeling.
    Thank you for sharing!

  75. What an awesome discovery! The first person to comment took the words out of my mouth. The juxtaposition is fantastic. It’s nice to see that people stop and really look at their surroundings. I hope you discover more!

  76. Remarkable…. too bad we will have nothing of the same sort to leave behind.

  77. That was the coolest basement I’ve ever seen in P-town and I saw plenty while I worked there. Environmental Cleanup and sound promotion got me into a lot of strange places but that was tops!

  78. Delightfully interesting, how history repeats itself in that basement. From the old hand-set type of the newspaper to the latest in high-speed journalism, all in one space. Too bad no one can snip interesting bits from the ‘Net data now flowing through the room and paste them next to the ladies on the wall for that next-century explorer. Thanks for the morning read.

  79. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about string theory — trying to reach the fundamental unit of all totality. Everything, in the end, thought or matter, would be a combination of strings. Memory, for example, is a configuration of countless strings. This would go for all representations, including old photographs. Insofar as their subjects still appear to us, and though two dimensional, at the string level they are snapshots of an original subject — the original living subject, a combination or density of trillions and trillions of strings. I suppose we imagine that cameras, even if they translate a swarm of strings (humans) into a light index (the photograph), do not capture memory, or the path that a particular configuration of strings — a given human — took in this world as life unfolded with its gravitational and directional forces, the person emerging and growing in the universe. I imagine, however, if fundamental physics were more advanced, we may be able to trace a thing’s history from its light signature … for example, a photograph. But this aside, what I find remarkable is the compression of strings that is occurring in fiber optics; because while on the wall may be the light signature of past lives (the women), going through the wall are thousands upon thousands of actual lives, actual decisions, actual turns of fate, shielded by the casing of the heavy cable. As you say, we will disappear and the light signature — the photographs — may remain. Imagine a catastrophic electromagnetic event that took out all electrical devices. We would find a moment in the history of civilization that was popularly unrecorded. Who writes a diary anymore? The popular history of our time is almost entirely dependent on electricity. So much is still physical. But we’re beginning to live in the virtual.

  80. Save All Paperwork: Whatever paperwork arrives with your parts
    or which is provided from the seller should be maintained.

    It’s a good idea to have separate email promotions for prospects and customers, too, because you typically need to send different information to the different groups. If a picture is worth a thousand words then you can just image how much you will absorb by browsing this site.

  81. Wonderful photos.Social history right there on the walls.A kind of poster archaeology,just peel off the layers.

  82. I THANK YOU the journey. Being a native Oregonian as well as a Genealogy buff, I so very much enjoyed the brief trip through your time machine. Then I wonder how hard it would be for me not to have picked at those pictures way back then, or even now…being the tidy-clean freak that I am!!

  83. Absolutely BRILLIANT. Sets the foundation for a story that was so good, I didn’t want the words to end. It read like a great short story, one of the winners in a literary magazine like “Glimmer Train”. If you write fiction, I’d love to read your stuff.

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