Where We Live: ‘Portland’s Postcard,’ the White Stag Sign

The sign is 50-by-52 feet and is in its 77th year

'Portland's Postcard,' the famous White Stag sign. (File)
'Portland's Postcard,' the famous White Stag sign. (File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland sign is a National Historic Landmark and a symbol of the Rose City. But the sign at the west end of the Burnside Bridge hasn’t always had Portland’s name in lights.

The sign has a storied history in this place where we live.

Joe Gibson is the owner of Ramsay signs, which operates Portland's famous White Stag sign. (KOIN)
Joe Gibson is the owner of Ramsay signs, which operates Portland’s famous White Stag sign. (KOIN)

In 1940, Ramsay Signs in Southeast Portland built the Portland sign. They donated to to the city in 2010 and still maintain it. Joe Gibson, the owner of Ramsay Signs, said the Portland sign brings so much pride to his company that he can’t even describe it.

“It’s Portland’s Postcard … I can’t even describe it,” Ramsay said.

“Everybody really embraces that as the icon of the city.”

The 50-by-52-foot sign has changed names and ownership over the years, from “White Satin” sugar, to “White Stag” sportswear company that added the deer silhouette in the 1950s. In 1987 it became the “Made in Oregon” sign, for the local stores owned by the Naito family.

The annual lighting of the stag’s nose, which started in 1959, is a Portland Holiday tradition

A 2008 rendering of changes considered to Portland's White Stag sign. (File)
A 2008 rendering of changes considered to Portland’s White Stag sign. (File)

Before Ramsay Signs donated the sign to the city in 2010, the company was looking for someone to buy it or lease it. In 2008, the University of Oregon put a Portland campus into the White Stag building. They wanted to change the Portland sign’s lettering to say “University of Oregon.” People were not OK with it.

“That was the No. 1 hit topic on Twitter the city of Portlad had ever seen,” Gibson said. “You’re branding Portland as the home to the University of Oregon, but it’s not.”

Then the city, led by then city commissioner Randy Leonard, took ownership of the sign. Building owner Venerable Properties paid $200,000 to have the wording changed to say “Portland, Oregon.”

Portland pays Ramsay Signs to maintain its landmark. Because of energy efficiency efforts, the cost is minimal. But Gibson said it really doesn’t matter: the sign is his company’s baby.

Below is a courtesy video of the holiday sign lighting with former Portland Mayor Sam Adams