Kelly Butte Was At the Cutting Edge of 911 Computer Sohphistication and Technology in 1977

Following the withdrawal of Portland from the Federal Civil Defense System in 1963,  Portland's Civil Defense Center became vacant.  The City of Portland needed to find a use for the dormant bunker.  From 1974 thru 1994, the Bureau of Emergency Communications for the City of Portland (911 Call Center) operated out of the old Civil Defense Center (bunker).  The call center underwent tremendous growth with the introduction of computers, technology and increased funding.  As the population exploded in the metro area, the need for organization and efficiency dictated a refined 911 system.  All calls for Portland and Gresham police, fire and emergency medical became centralized here.  The creation of dialing "911" was developed.

Working in the bunker turned out to be a dreary existence however.  The "cave" had no windows.  Air circulation was poor.  And workers without sunlight and fresh air complained of feeling ill.  In 1991, an outbreak of sore throats, nausea, headaches, rashes and employees with a metallic taste in their mouths hit.  Months later, more episodes, with ambulances being call 4 different times.  There were indications of hazardous dust and seasonal affective disorder.  It made for bad morale and employees began to dread going into the bunker to work.  Above average sick time was part of working there.  The building got a reputation as having "sick building syndrome".

In 1989, voters approved the building of a new call center on 99th and Powell Blvd.

Lost Public Art

In 1988, an architect for the City of Portland commissioned artist Henk Pander to paint this mural on the front wall of the call center.  It was an attempt to brighten the mood in the building.  The mural was called "Palmrya" and remains on the bunker wall to this day.  If you click on the above image, it will enlarge for more detail. Palmyra was an ancient city in Syria.  It's ruins included columns and a stone wall chamber.   The painting was an attempt to make the bunker "happier" for the workers who were employed "down in the hole".  I recently interviewed the local artist, and he supplied the following information.  The mural was 30 feet high and 90 feet long.  It was done in Acrylic paint with the use of an air brush (for the sky) while the rest was hand brushed. It was painted over a white plaster wall.   He used one assistant to help him paint the entire mural, which was completed in 6 weeks.  A 25-foot scaffolding/work platform was used.  Mr. Pander used the concept of time and space for the mural.  He employed a technique called Trompe-l'ceil or "fool the eye" in which he used realistic imagery to create an optical illusion that depicts objects in 3-dimensions.  With this concept he used a "vanishing point" in the painting.  Vines and roots hang from the arched beams on top of the painting to give it depth and a feel of an underworld.  Fantasy elements were also blended in the creative work.  The painter also employed a multi-colored lighting effect for the mural which simulated day time (yellow lighting) and night time (blue lighting). The 3-D painting along with the lighting effect created a hologram image on the wall for the workers in the bunker. This lighting device was located above on the ceiling behind an acoustic panel.  Mr. Pander stated that while he was completing the work, some of the employees in the 911 bunker viewed the mural as " apocalyptic and threatening".  From it's inception in 1988 thru the closure of the bunker, the mural was controversial to say the least. 

The mural and it's lighting were more complex than most people realized and I think the employees in 911 call center were fortunate to have this to look at everyday.  Portland lost a very unique piece of public art when the bunker was shut down and sealed up.

Note the mural with different comparative "lighting".


In 1973, the Kelly Butte Bunker was Transformed into the Emergency Communications Center

In October 1973, Myers and Kroker, an architectural firm was commissioned to design a city/county communications center at Kelly Butte.  The Cloyd R. Watt Construction Company was awarded the construction contract and began work in June of 1974.

Financial assistance was was provided by grants from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration , Defense Preparedness Agency and Oregon Law Enforcement Council.  The remaining cost was shared by the City of Portland and Multnomah County.

System planning began in 1972 with requirements and conceptual design.  This effort was assisted by City-County Steering Committee representing law enforcement, fire, engineering and other local government agencies.

A new radio system was added in 1974 and dispatch function moved into temporary headquarters at Kelly Butte.  The cost was over $3.5 million dollars.

Work on computer-assisted dispatch began in 1975 and was fully operational by 1977.


Bunker Entrance 1957

Emergency Communications Center in 1975

30 years later, approximately 2005,  access, vandalism and looting are raging out of control.  The transients now occupy the bunker.  Make shift camps are set up inside the belly of the bunker.  The transient force quickly takes all copper wire, aluminum, electronics, food, clothing and other historical items from the bunker.  They impoverish the inside and seal the fate of the structure.

 In 2006, the radio transmission tower was taken down.

Bunker Entrance 2008

Kelly Butte Time Line

911 Communications Center Time Line

1952 Portland voters pass $600,000 Civil Defense Lev
1955 Planning and construction of Defense Center

1956 Sept, 1956, Defense Center Dedication Ceremony, Visitors get first look at Center
1957 Civil Defense movie "A Day Called X" released
1962 Columbus Day Storm
1963 May, 1963, Portland withdraws from the Federal Civil Defense System
1964 Operations decline
1967 Portland Police Bureau utilizes center for academy training
1972 Law Enforcement/Civil Defense agencies conduct a feasibility study for conversion of bunker to a city/county communications center (BOEC)
1973-74 Design and construction (remodel) of communications center
1974  Police move radio dispatch from downtown Portland to Kelly Butte
1974 November, 1974 The Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) occupies the underground complex and begins taking calls for local police agencies.
1981 January, 1981 The BOEC begins taking calls for the Emergency Medical System (EMS) so that police and medical calls are handled at the same bureau.1981 November 1981 Introduction of the 9-1-1 telephone system to Multnomah County
1988 Artist Hank Pander paints a 30' x 75' mural called "Palmyra" on the BOEC main wall

1989 Voters approve 7.5 million dollar bond for new 911 call center
1991 Enhanced 9-1-1 (computer-aided with caller I.D.)
1991  Employees complain of "sick building syndrome"
1992  In March, Halon gas is accidentally released causing fans to stir up toxic dust inside the shelter.
1992 October 1992, Ground-breaking begins on a new 9-1-1 call center location
1992 City attempts to sell/lease the bomb shelter without success 
1994 March 1994, BOEC moves into new building
1995 Activity at the bunker decreases
1999 Underground diesel fuel tanks and contaminated soil removed
Graffiti and vandalism increase
Local transients occupy and loot the bunker
Kelly Butte Complex shut down
2006 Radio Transmission Tower removed
Bunker permanently sealed and back-filling of bunker entrance begins
2008 Back-filling continues

1973 Remodel/Conversion to BOEC

1973 Remodel/Conversion to BOEC
Scaffolding in place to give the underground operations center a "facelift" in '73

The following pictures represent the last days of the underground structure.

You will notice that someone started a fire inside the bunker. Also you will see extensive water damage (from the fire sprinkler system) and the ceiling tiles have fallen from the roof. People ask me all the time, "why did they seal up the bunker"? I think the pictures below answer this question.

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