and the Secret
of Starry Ridge
by Tony “glamortramp” LeTigre
One day in summer of 2015, in a characteristic mood of wanderlust, I decided to go exploring in the southwest hills of Portland, Oregon, my past, present, and probably future abode. Although I’m something of an inveterate “puddletown clown”—first moved here in 1995, frequented the city as far back as the late ’80s—it’s only recently that I discovered the joy of urban exploring, during a six-year stint in San Francisco during which I became homeless for the first time, and simultaneously discovered the Situationist concept of psychogeography. Hence in all my previous PDXperience I had never more than dabbled on the fringes of exploring the hallowed hillsides, held back I suppose by the psychological barrier of believing that the hills are the rich peoples’ territory. Though often when meandering through downtown in the vicinity of Portland State University, I found my eyes drawn magnetically heavenward, transfixed by the wonder of the fabulous mansions on stilts and architectural oddities adorning the lush green slopes, perched smugly, supervisorially, above our plebeian existences.
One place was a miniature castle. I read about it in a local history book—I think it was Portland: People, Politics and Power, by Jewel Lansing—and learned that it was built by a man named Piggott, who lost his fortune shortly after its construction, and so it became known as “Piggott’s Folly.”
Directly below Piggott’s Castle on the same slope was the building I found most fascinating, the one I could never take my eyes off of; partly for its sheer size that dominated everything around it, but also for its futuristic design, which made me think of the space-age cartoon houses I saw on The Jetsons as a kid. I’m not generally a condominium enthusiast, especially the way they’re popping up like metastatic tumors courtesy of the gentrification wave currently strangling this city (insert sound of me retching), but for this place I make an exception. It used to be a light gray/silver/cinderblock color, but during my SF sojourn it was repainted a tasty chocolate brown. It’s been there for a long time. Recently I did some online research and discovered its name (Starridge) and date of construction (1981). But I had never seen it up close and in person, until that day last June when I broke the glass forcefield of class and decided to sneak a peak at the view those well-heeled hilldwellers had monopolized all this time.
Figuring out how to get up there was an empirical, protracted process. The undulating and curvaceous streets follow no logical pattern, narrow and inaccessible to outsiders, by design as well as topography. At a certain point and elevation, the sidewalk disappeared entirely and I was confronted by a sign warning that I was entering PRIVATE PROPERTY and should PROCEED AT MY OWN RISK.
“What a bunch of fucking snobs!” I believe I exclaimed aloud. The hill belongs to no one. Don’t be ridiculous! Even in San Francisco I can’t remember ever running into a sign like that, categorically threatening people just for walking through. Not in all my countless guerrilla reconnaissance missions through that city’s myriad and magical hills and valleys. Not in Seacliff, where a house I once considered attempting to squat was rumored to have been purchased by Tom Cruise. Not even in the “Gold Coast” section of Pacific Heights, where a stupendous edifice built of french limestone, boasting a private subway which according to the SF Property Info Map cost $3 million to construct that connected it with its guesthouse on the other side of the block, waved a cool $46 million pricetag at the real estate market, the last time I checked. There was a 24-hour security guard stationed at one point near the Arguello Gate of the Presidio—outside “the world’s only four-story thatched cottage,” in the words of a friend—but I learned that was because the house in question was owned by one Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose daughter reportedly lives there now, while Feinstein herself occupies another nearby palace.
The anti-pedestrian sign in the Portland hills backfired. With a shudder of revulsion at the nastiness and exclusivity of my “fellow” humans, and a burst of intrepid anger, I tramped on up the hill, IN FEAR OF MY LIFE AT THE HANDS OF RUTHLESS RICH PEOPLE. (In all seriousness, though—those streets are super narrow, full of blind curves and heedless traffic, and often there’s no walkway or even shoulder—BE CAREFUL, friends.) Along the way, various cowards allowed their leashed canines to bark at & threaten me from beneath their partially open garage doors. If I’d had a rifle, I would’ve cocked it for firing. SELF-DEFENSE. Try to sue me.
At one point I passed a tall tan girl with a fancy shawl draped upon her shoulders, standing at the foot of a hillock, pointing up at a fabulous storybook house and telling her friends, “That’s the house I grew up in.” I briefly tried to imagine what her life was like, in comparison with my own. She reminded me of Donatella Versace. I pictured them going home to dine on fine cheese and sip expensive wine and gaze out on the city—perhaps from the balcony of one of the units in the Starridge complex?
Continuing upward, I passed a condo development where I was keenly aware of a young man sitting on his porch staring at me. I was sweaty with exertion by that point, all too aware of my status as an outsider in this snobby community, and this awareness intensified when the road I was exploring became literally impassable on foot. After several close brushes with traffic that could quite easily have been lethal, I turned back and had to walk by the same complex a second time, with the same guy watching me, his eyes boring into the back of my sweaty, unauthorized back. I decided to veer into the woods for a snack break and to catch my breath free of what I felt to be hostile surveillance.
I was down there for no more than ten minutes when I heard the sounds of someone following. To my none-too-pleased amazement, I saw that it was the guy who’d been watching me from his porch, coming down the trail with his dog in tow! When he saw me, he stopped and froze. I stood up and gave him a very pissed-off look. What was he gonna do, call the cops? For a tense moment we stared at one another; then he turned back and retreated up the path the way he’d come.
Afterwards, I wondered if I’d misread his intentions. Was he possibly pursuing me for prurient reasons rather than confrontational ones? Had I been cruised and reacted mistakenly? Suddenly I had to laugh at what may have gotten me “hot under the collar” in the wrong way!
At last I found what I was looking for. When I first rounded a corner and caught sight of the Starridge complex straight ahead of me—bigger than I’d ever seen it, bigger than the moon, and so close it seemed I could reach out and touch it—my heartbeat got stronger and faster. There is something majestic about that place, the way it sits on the hill and its solarized window panels angle straight up to the firmament. I suspect any of my PDX friends who know the building I’m talking about it despise it, though, L o L. It’s a condominium complex, after all, & in a way it’s a very arrogant structure, the way it sits commandingly on the hill like it’s in charge of everything else. What can I say, I have weird anomalies in my taste sometimes.f you want to check it out yourself and see what I’m on about, the address is 2200 – 2222 SW Hoffman Ave, in a neighborhood called Lair Hill.
I took out some paper & a drawing board & started drawing the courtyard sign. No more than five minutes passed before a darkhaired white woman came out & started raking leaves nearby. She “good morning”ed me in kind of a “why are you standing in our parking lot?” way; but saw that I was merely a harmless art student making some architectural sketches, & didn’t press the issue.
There was a FOR SALE sign, so at least one of the units is on the market. I looked online and got the asking price: if I can just come up with about $600,000, I can leave the tent where I’ve spent the last six months and move into the house of my dreams!
I’m sure the rich folk will welcome me among them with open arms.