Beacons for the Brave

Beacons for the Brave

A new memorial for Portland’s fallen firefighters has an open design, creating a space for contemplation.
Courtesy Whelton Architecture

June 26, 2011 will mark 100 years to the day when Portland Fire Chief David Campbell perished while battling the infamous Union Oil Fire. It will also be the day, if everything is on schedule, for the inauguration of a memorial to Campbell and the 35 other Portland fire fighters who have died in the line of duty. The memorial, which will overlook the Willamette River at the eastern end of the Hawthorne Bridge, was designed by local firm Whelton Architecture.

The firm’s design consists of 36 tall, thin metal lanterns arranged in parallel lines. One for each of the firefighters who have died protecting the city since 1881. Principal Aaron Whelton said he steered away from contemplative elements like water or stone, focusing instead on interactivity.

The memorial is near the base of the Hawthorne Bridge, where its 36 "lanterns" come to resemble a single plane of light. (Click to zoom)

“You can read the lanterns individually,” Whelton said. “As you move further out into the city, they will merge into a line of light, and may come together to symbolize a collective identity.” Throughout the year, each memorial lantern will dim or brighten to correspond to the month when each fire fighter died.

Stainless steel, aluminum and bronze are being considered for the final cladding of the 50-foot-tall, sleek lanterns. The light source is still being determined, though Whelton said LEDs are a strong option. The ground cover will have varying textures of stone. Lines of light granite will be set in and polished to read as an extension of the benches in the landscape. Willow trees already on the site will create a western enclosure.

The memorial is tucked in between the highway and a glade of willow trees, a new addition to Portland’s Easbank Esplanade.

Placing the memorial elements overhead, Whelton will create an open field. He said his initial inspiration was the Camposanto Monumental, a holy field next to the leaning tower of Pisa. Keeping the site open, he noted, will allow room for contemplative and reflective spaces.

The Campbell Memorial Association, a non-profit named for chief Campbell, and the Portland State University School of Architecture organized the competition. The estimated construction budget is $2.4 million, which will be raised through private donations.