Oregon City’s 50+ year old municipal elevator is unique in the United States and a visible symbol of the community since the original wooden elevator was built in 1915 to permit mill workers an easy way to return home up the steep basalt cliff. The existing elevator, built in 1954, is the only "vertical street in North America", is a regional landmark, and carries over 120,000 riders each year. It provides a pedestrian link between our historic downtown and the upper level business and residential districts. It also has a well-visited observation deck with awesome vistas.
In early 2006, Oregon City officials recognized that time had left its mark on the Municipal Elevator. Mayor Norris appointed a Municipal Elevator Art Steering Committee to review the challenges and recommend solutions. By May 2007, the Committee secured $27,500 to commission new Elevator art. These funds include a combination of grants from Oregon City’s Civic Improvement Trust, Metro Enhancement, Tourism Development Council and the Oregon Cultural Trust’s Clackamas County Cultural Coalition.
The Committee set three goals for the artwork project:
Reference lesser-known stories about features within sight of the Elevator’s observation deck to explain or interpret both the Elevator and the City’s rich history and unique qualities
Support the Elevator’s civic role as a gathering place for the pleasure of its residents, employees and visitors
Create an inviting, pleasant environment for this public space
In response to its call for proposals, the Steering Committee received responses from thirty-two qualified artists and artist-teams nationwide. Without exception, artists responded with excitement about the possibility of working on this project -- the only municipal elevator in the United States.
Artist Michael Asbill was selected by the Steering Committee to create artwork for the Oregon City Municipal Elevator’s interior walls, floor and tunnel. Hailing from upstate New York, Asbill was unanimously selected because his concept and the quality of his proposal was exceptional and ignited the Committee’s enthusiasm.
Asbill's project was based on Oregon City’s unique history, heritage and physical location including Willamette Falls and the Willamette River. Asbill’s project, titled “Elevations in Transition,” consists of three series of unique and distinctive photographic lenticular prints, installed under the Elevator windows, on the Elevator housing, and in the access tunnel. The unusual print process Asbill used allows a viewer to see multiple pictures in the same image, depending on the viewer’s movement.
The prints depict “then and now” images from downtown Oregon City; people from Oregon City's past and present; and the construction of the elevator from start to finish. Asbill also designed images that were etched in the Elevator’s Deck floor, and complement the prints.
The project was coordinated by the Clackamas County Arts Alliance, led by Executive Director, Cheryl Snow. Steering Committee members are all based in Oregon City and include: Pat Averill, Artist; Chuck Clemans, Arts Advocate; Eli Jimenez, Artist; John Lewis, Public Works Operations Manager; Paula Lewis, Artist; Anne J. Paris, Artist/Writer; Sarrah Torres, Business Owner/Winestock; Nancy Kraushaar, Public Works Director and City Engineer.
To complement the art work and to address growing concerns with safety and to help discourage vandalism, the City initiated additional improvements including repainting the interior walls of the Elevator deck, tunnel and stairs; repainting the Elevator Facade on Railroad Avenue; re-tiling the elevator tunnel; installing security cameras; and installing new lighting.