Portland’s Flag Turns 13

Happy Portland Flag Day!  (Not yet an official holiday.)

Ted & Mason Kaye, Fred Paltridge, Doug Lynch, and John Hood
Ted & Mason Kaye, Fred Paltridge, Douglas Lynch, and John Hood with the newly-adopted Portland city flag at city hall, 2002.

On 4 September 2002, after lobbying by flag designer Douglas Lynch (1913-2009) and the Portland Flag Association, the Portland City Council adopted ordinance 176874, revising the flag to its current (and originally intended) design.  (For more on the redesign effort, see our History page.)

A stick flag showing the previous fdesign of Portland's flag, in (very limited) use 1970-2002.  A modification of Lynch's original design.
A stick flag showing the previous design of Portland’s flag, in (very limited) use 1970-2002. Lynch never liked this modification of his original design.

Over the course of its short 13 year existence, the revitalized flag has gone from a seldom-seen accoutrement of city government to a widely embraced symbol of the city, people, and culture of Portland.  Its enthusiastic adoption by the Timbers Army, a zealous group of fans supporting the city’s Major League Soccer team, was important in establishing the flag’s visibility and fashionability, as has the more recent decision by Portland Fire & Rescue to fly the flag along with the US flag from every fire station’s flagpole.

The US and Portland flags fly above Portland Fire & Rescue Station 5.  Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
The US and Portland flags fly above Portland Fire & Rescue Station 5. Photo by Scott Mainwaring.

Though crosses are commonly found on flags, Lynch’s design is unique.  It does however have some resemblance to other crossed flags.  As it is offset towards the left (hoist) side of the flag, it resembles a Nordic Cross, as found on the flags of Denmark, Iceland, etc. And as the arms come together to suggest counter-clockwise rotation, it resembles an ancient Celtic motif known as Brigid’s cross.

Brigid's cross, a pre-Christian symbol associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid.
Brigid’s cross, a pre-Christian symbol associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid.

However, Lynch did not intend either of these associations. Here is the official symbolism of the design:

The background shall be green, symbolizing the forests and our green City.  The design includes a four-pointed directional star, formed by the vertical and horizontal intersection of counterchanged light blue stripes, symbolizing our rivers.  The blue stripes are paralleled with yellow stripes, symbolizing agriculture and commerce. The yellow stripes are separated from the green background and the blue river stripes by white lines called fimbriations.

The flag of Portland, Oregon.  Designed by Doug Lynch.
The flag of Portland, Oregon. Designed by Douglas Lynch.

The Portland flag is inspirational in its strong design.  In a recent example, our friends at Vexillology Ireland have launched a campaign, citing the Portland flag as inspiration, to encourage the use of Brigid’s cross on flags.  They have a short video providing an excellent overview on the use of crosses on all sorts of flags.

Flags of the Rose Festival Fleet

by Scott Mainwaring, Vexilloid Tabloid #53

Every June, Portland’s Rose Festival welcomes “the fleet” from the US and Canada.  Moored along the Willamette river, the ships display a colorful range of flags to see—ensigns, jacks, signal flags, and courtesy flags.

A large Maple Leaf Flag, along with many smaller flags, flies from the sailing ketch HMCS Oriole, a Canadian Navy sail training vessel (launched in 1921, she is the oldest commissioned ship in the Royal Canadian Navy).
A large Maple Leaf Flag, along with many smaller flags, flies from the sailing ketch HMCS Oriole, a Canadian Navy sail training vessel (launched in 1921, she is the oldest commissioned ship in the Royal Canadian Navy).
The maritime signal flag “K”, the POW-MIA flag, and the Portland city flag fly on the USCGC Waesche.
The maritime signal flag “K”, the POW-MIA flag, and the Portland city flag fly on the USCGC Waesche.
The Canadian Naval Ensign flies from the frigate HMCS Calgary (FFH 335).
The Canadian Naval Ensign flies from the frigate HMCS Calgary (FFH 335).
The Union Jack of the United States flies from the bow of USCGC Waesche (WMSL-751), a National Security   Cutter.  She flies the traditional U.S. jack—only US Navy ships are flying the so-called First Navy Jack with the  rattlesnake.
The Union Jack of the United States flies from the bow of USCGC Waesche (WMSL-751), a National Security Cutter. She flies the traditional U.S. jack—only US Navy ships are flying the so-called First Navy Jack with the rattlesnake.

Miscellany (from VexTab #52)

from Vexilloid Tabloid #52

Portland Flag Miscellany

Items about the Portland city flag.

Participants in a recent Reddit “Design your own Portland TriMet MAX train” used the Cascadia and Portland flags as prospective light-rail decoration schemes. [Thanks to Keryn Anchel for spotting this]
Participants in a recent Reddit “Design your own Portland TriMet MAX train” used the Cascadia and Portland flags as prospective light-rail decoration schemes. Here’s the Portland design…
... and here's the Cascadia design. Thanks to Keryn Anchel for spotting these!
… and here’s the Cascadia design. Thanks to Keryn Anchel for spotting these!
smartphone-case-upside-down
Our smartphones can now sport the Portland city flag. Cases like that on the left are available on Zazzle, Etsy, and Amazon. But as this illustration shows, when the phone is held upright, the flag is actually shown upside (hoist side) down. The two designs on the right would remedy this: the middle design is just the front of the flag rotated (the way you would hang most flags vertically), the rightmost design is the back of the flag rotated (hung the way the US flag is supposed to be when displayed vertically, with the “canton” in the upper left).
NW Flag & Banner, at NE 57th Ave and Sandy, occupies a small loft space above Northwest Auto Accessories, a retailer of a broad range of items for cars and trucks. An Annin dealer, it has a very small inventory and focuses on auto dealers (which were, ironically, the initial clientele of Elmer’s Flag & Banner over 50 years ago). It also sells flag poles.
NW Flag & Banner, at NE 57th Ave and Sandy, occupies a small loft space above Northwest Auto Accessories, a retailer of a broad range of items for cars and trucks.
An Annin dealer, it has a very small inventory and focuses on auto dealers (which were, ironically, the initial clientele of Elmer’s Flag & Banner over 50 years ago). It also sells flag poles.
A local website uses the central element from the Portland city flag. invictusdance.com
A local website uses the central element from the Portland city flag. invictusdance.com
The Rogue Distillery and Public House, in the Pearl District at NW 14th and Flanders, flies a plethora of flags—mostly sports-related—as well as the Portland flag (upside-down).
The Rogue Distillery and Public House, in the Pearl District at NW 14th and Flanders, flies a plethora of flags—mostly sports-related—as well as the Portland flag (upside-down).

The Portland Ska Flag

By Casey Sims
From Vexilloid Tabloid #51

About eight years ago a group of friends who attended Willamette University in the late 90s formed our band, Original Middleage Ska Enjoy Club.  Our bandmate, Don Olsen, teaches art at local  colleges—so we always have fun posters and materials.

Our band is influenced by ska music, which originated in Jamaica in the early 1960s.  In subsequent years, ska turned into rocksteady, which turned into reggae, and by the late 1960s reggae had become  a world-wide phenomenon.  The most famous ska band (and our favorite) is The Skatalites, studio musicians in Jamaica playing behind singers such as Bob Marley in his early years.  As cultural ambassadors, The Skatalites used the Jamaican flag to communicate  their identity in their materials.

The Jamaican flag, adopted 1962.
The Jamaican flag, adopted 1962.

On a trip to Chicago several years ago, Don noticed several people with a tattoo of the Chicago city flag.  Don took a closer look at the Portland flag when he returned, and realized that if he turned the Portland flag on an angle, it reminded him of the Jamaican flag.

He combined the designs into a great composite, and I wrote our band “message” to go with it:

Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae originated in Jamaica in the 1960s and spread throughout the world, including the Northwest.  In this tradition we have combined the flags of Portland and    Jamaica into one, to represent the place  we live and the music we love.  Do you like to dance to the offbeat too?  Fly this flag to celebrate Jamaican music, Portland style.  Respect.

Don Olsen’s design for an OMSEC flag combines those of Jamaica and Portland.
Don Olsen’s design for an OMSEC flag combines those of Jamaica and Portland.

We made a 3’ x 5’ version which we hang behind us during concerts, and we made the postcards to send out to our friends.  Our goal is for people who love living in Portland and listening to Jamaican music, as we do, to fly the flag in celebration.  It’s been a lot of fun to share with everyone, and we have gotten quite a positive response from many people, especially as more and more people become familiar with the Portland flag.

Flag of Portland's Original Middleage Ska Enjoy Club.
Flag of Portland’s Original Middleage Ska Enjoy Club.

One fun tidbit—a couple of years ago I invited Mayor Sam Adams to our show by sending him a version of the flag, and he liked it so much he tweeted it to 50,000 people!

Where the Portland Flag Flies

Where the Portland flag flies.  foursquare.com/meisikai/list/the-portland-flag
Where the Portland flag flies. foursquare.com/meisikai/list/the-portland-flag

Over the past few years I have been compiling a list of places in Portland that fly the city’s flag.  When it started in 2011 the flag could be seen only in a handful of places:  city hall, the Portland Building, Pioneer Courthouse Square, the Oregon Convention Center, Jefferson Office Park, and the Portland Timbers’ stadium (only on game days).  It’s grown to 23 entries, greatly helped by a decision by the city government to fly the flag at every Portland Fire and Rescue station across the city.

US and Portland flags flying at Portland Fire and Rescue Station No. 5 in the Hillsdale neighborhood. Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
US and Portland flags flying at Portland Fire and Rescue Station No. 5 in the Hillsdale neighborhood. Photo by Scott Mainwaring.

What’s keeping more hotels, restaurants, and other places that have invested in flag poles from flying the flag?  Perhaps there’s a misunderstanding that the flag represents only the city government, rather than the city and its people as a whole.  It may have started out as the former, but now is certainly the latter, in no small measure due to the fans of the Portland Timbers’ enthusiastic adoption of the flag.

Portland flags waving at a Timbers game in 2011.  Photo by Kristin Wolff, via Foursquare.
Portland flags waving at a Timbers game in 2011. Photo by Kristin Wolff, via Foursquare.

There may also be a misunderstanding that in order to fly the Portland flag, it must be accompanied by the US and Oregon flags.  Flag etiquette does require these “outranking” flags to be given more respect than the city flag, e.g., by literally flying them above it on a shared pole.  But there is no rule of etiquette saying the Portland flag can’t be flown by itself, or only with the US flag (as is the case at most of the Portland Fire and Rescue stations), or only with the Oregon flag for that matter.

Portland flag flying beneath the Oregon flag at the Oregon Convention Center is Portland.  A memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. is in the foreground.  Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
The statue of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Oregon Convention Center.  Nearby the Portland flag flies beneath the Oregon flag.  Photo by Scott Mainwaring.

The biggest factor limiting the public display of the Portland flag is probably not misunderstanding, but simply understanding that Portland has a flag.  Every time the Portland flag is raised in a new locale, used in merchandising or advertising, or spreads through word of mouth, public recognition grows.  This “virtuous cycle” is underway.

An Early Attempt at a Portland Flag

Anyone interested in American city flags should have a copy of the book of that title:  American City Flags: 150 Flags from Akron to Yonkers, by John M. Purcell with James A. Croft and Rich Monahan, published in 2003 as a special issue of Raven: A Journal of Vexillology by the North American Vexillological Association (ISBN 0-9747728-0-1; PDF here).  It contains a wealth of historical material, including this item about the earliest attempt at a flag for Portland, Oregon:

In 1917, Mayor Harry R. Albee appointed a committee to ascertain if Portland needed a flag to accompany its new slogan, “Your Portland and Mine”. The committee examined the flags of 31 other prominent U.S. cities and determined Portland should have a flag, appointing Morris H. Whitehouse to lead a flag design contest. Having published extensive specifications, the committee received several proposals. Design number 8, by H. W. Frederick, won first place and $25. It is a horizontal tribar of equal white, blue, and white stripes, the blue stripe representing the Willamette River. A red circle centered on the blue stripe represents the city of Portland. However, the committee found that the best design did not measure up to the standards outlined in the contest guidelines. The flag did not appear to have “certain important requisites, such as historical association dating back to the earliest periods of the city’s history”, as Whitehouse made clear in the specifications. The flag did not express any apparent “robust civic ideal” or “common aim and purpose”, nor did it convey “civic spirit”. Joining the patriotic fervor of World War I, the committee recommended that Portland instead fly the Stars and Stripes for the time being. The Frederick design was never adopted. (From the chapter on Portland, Oregon by Mason Kaye)

Latest image.
Winning design from a 1917 contest for a city flag for Portland, Oregon. Designed by H. W. Frederick. Although winning the competition, the design was deemed unworthy and never adopted.

Brewvana

By Ted Kaye
Originally published in Vexilloid Tabloid #34, June 2012

Portland’s Rock Bottom Brewery hosted the Portland Belgian Beer Challenge on April 10, 2012.  It featured a taste-off between beers from Amnesia, Rock Bottom, Roots, Lucky Lab, BJ’s, Concordia, Hair of the Dog, McMennamin’s Crystal Ballroom, and New Old Lompoc—ten breweries in all.

Logo of the Portland Belgian Beer Challenge, Rock Bottom Brewery, April 10, 2012.
Logo of the Portland Belgian Beer Challenge, Rock Bottom Brewery, April 10, 2012.

With 46 microbrewers of craft beer, Portland has more breweries per capita than any other city in the world and more than a third of the state’s total.  Many have won nationwide and international acclaim.  The craft beer industry in Oregon dates from a 1985 reform law allowing small-scale brewing in brewpubs.

The logo of the recent event combines the flags of Portland and Belgium, quartered with images of hops and barley, the main ingredients of beer.  However, it uses the narrower blue stripes from the older Portland design, and makes their shade far too dark.  (See Portland Code 1.06.010 for the correct design and colors.)


 

2015 update:

The Cheers to Belgian Beers festival is still going strong, now in its 9th year.  But 2012 appears to be the last time it used this logo, after appearing in 2010 and 2011:

Festival poster, 2010.
Festival poster, 2010.
Festival poster, 2011.

Mayor Hales sails with the Portland flag

From the regular Portland Flag Miscellany section of Vexilloid Tabloid #49:

Portland’s mayor, Charlie Hales, reports to us: “We flew the Portland flag all summer on the s/v Elizabeth, in Puget Sound and Canada’s Gulf Islands. Lots of comments and questions. This image is from our return voyage, nearing the mouth of the Strait of Juan De Fuca.”

Portland’s mayor, Charlie Hales,  reports to us:  “We flew the Portland flag all summer on the s/v Elizabeth,      in Puget Sound and Canada’s Gulf Islands.  Lots of comments and questions.  This image is from our return voyage, nearing the mouth of the Strait of Juan De Fuca.”
The Portland flag flying on the Elizabeth.  Photograph by Charlie Hales.

How did Portland get such a nice flag?

99logoOur very own Ted Kaye sat down with popular design podcaster Roman Mars to talk flag design and tell the story of the Portland flag: how a good design was botched by bureaucrats, and many years later — with some activist vexillology on the part of its designer Douglas Lynch and the PFA — ultimately restored.  For this work, Lynch received the Vexillonnaire Award from the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) in 2003 — and Portland received what has become one of the most loved municipal flags in the country.

Check out Roman Mars’ podcast 99% Invisible, Episode 140: Vexillonaire (also cross-posted on Slate Magazine’s design blog The Eye as Portland’s Quest for a Better City Flag).  And to learn more about vexillonnaires, jump to the last page (p. 16) of NAVA News Issue 179.