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".

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.

About Me

My photo
* Named Portland's Best Web Historian by Willamette Week in 2016 *