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The Purple Octopus

April 28, 2014

In the 1990s I decided my fledgling illustration business had progressed to the point where I needed a permanent, full-time work space. Mrs. Chatterbox was growing disenchanted with art supplies cluttering her dining room. I’d managed to acquire enough regular customers to feel comfortable with the expense of a studio space, and downtown Portland was rich with old buildings capable of providing cheap work square footage. Besides, most of the publications, advertising agencies and professional organizations purchasing my work were located downtown and it seemed logical I should locate there.


Finding a suitable space proved harder than I’d imagined, but I finally happened across a suite with big windows facing north, and as you might know this exposure is ideal for painting because northern light is the most consistent. The Oregon Pacific Building had seen better days, and Athens Cusina, the Greek restaurant on the ground floor, exuded smells that were less than ideal. Still, this was the best place I could find so I signed a one year lease at $375 a month.


During the seven years Stephen Hayes Illustration was located in the Oregon Pacific building I never ate at Athens Cusina. I had good reason, aside from a faded sticker on their door stating that the restaurant had failed several health code inspections. The restaurant leased a storage room several doors down from me. One day several weeks after I moved in I heard a ruckus in the hallway. With brushes in hand I opened my door and peered out. One of the restaurant’s waiters was exiting the storage room with a baseball bat clenched in his hand.


“What’s going on?” I asked.


“We’ve finally got it cornered in the kitchen and it’s as big as a cat!” he said excitedly. He was gone before I could inquire what it was, not that there was an answer capable of convincing me to eat at Athens Cusina.


Life in the Oregon Pacific building was always interesting, like the rainy winter I was struggling with a deadline and the nearby Willamette River had flooded its banks sending water surging into downtown Portland. I had to drop my brushes and help sandbag the building. But the memory that lingers most came during my final year there, several weeks after the owner of Athens Cusina purchased the building and began making alterations to the exterior.


I didn’t notice anything unusual as I entered the building and climbed the stairs to my studio. I was consumed with a proposal I was about to deliver to a nearby advertising agency as I entered and flipped on the lights, but I wasn’t too distracted to notice a purple hue flooding my space. My primary window was blocked by a strange apparition. I raced down the stairs, crossed the street and turned to look at the building.


A giant purple octopus had taken up residence on the ledge outside my window. I was horrified that this ridiculous creature was blocking my view and compromising the light so necessary for my work. The owner had created the octopus to publicize his restaurant, hoping it would attract business. For months I fought unsuccessfully with him to remove or relocate it, but the brightly colored mollusk was still there when I finally moved my studio back home. In 2008 the octopus came down when the health department shut down Athens Cusina.


On a recent stroll downtown I experienced a pang of sadness at seeing The Oregon Pacific Building completely shuttered. Plywood panels were nailed over the windows of the place where I’d created hundreds of illustrations and paintings. With the purple octopus gone, I reflected on the beautiful northern light that once flooded my studio and inspired my best work. Hopefully, it wouldn’t take long for the entombed building to shake off the plywood shutters, fill with light and provide inspiration for future artists.



That looks like Al the Octopus the Red Wings playoff mascot, who is back in storage right now.
By: PT Dilloway on April 28, 2014
I think it's wonderful that you look around and see a world filled with things that are interesting and can tell us about them. And always with a view that is upbeat in some "strange" way. The purple tenacled beastie is quite an eye best. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on April 28, 2014
I worked for years not far from that building- and actually attended a pre-wedding party for a co-worker held there- we had very tasty food, Greek dancing complete with plates that we broke with wild abandon! Later on it had a very bad reputation for bad food and hazardous fire conditions. I always thought that purple ocopus made no sense at all and did not make me hunger for Greek food!
By: Kathe W. on April 28, 2014
So how did you manage to paint once you'd lost so much of the natural light? That would have pissed me off!
By: LL Cool Joe on April 28, 2014
How frustrating! That would have made me mad too (to lose all that natural light).
By: Michael Offutt on April 28, 2014
It looks like a grand old building (even with the octopus). Hope it comes back better than ever (and with a good restaurant downstairs).
By: Mitchell is Moving on April 28, 2014
I had always wanted to eat at the place with the purple octopus, but what ever man I was with took my elbow and guided me across the street and away. I mourned when they took him (it) down, the restaurant closed, another experience denied. ,Your piece brought great nostalgia CC.
By: Jo on April 28, 2014
What a monstrosity! Maybe you could have incorporated it into your business logo? *slap* Or just moved. ;)
By: Scott Park on April 28, 2014
You'd think they could have at least let you know in advance that they were covering up your window. Regardless of your occupation, nobody wants their light source covered up.
By: Hilary on April 28, 2014
That creature is hideous and how uncaring of the restaurant/building owner to block your view of the light. I'm glad he went out of business.
By: Catalyst on April 28, 2014
i can imagine your horror at the 'addition' to your view! eek!
By: TexWisGirl on April 28, 2014
It's amazing the crazy lengths people will go to in order to keep a business open!
By: mimi on April 28, 2014
What a horrible thing to do...block the window with that ridiculous octopus. Was the octopus the major reason you gave the space up?
By: Cheryl P. on April 28, 2014
I cannot in my most creative mind think that a plastic purple octopus would be something inviting when one was looking for a place to eat lunch or dinner!!
By: Tabor on April 28, 2014
Isn't it fascinating that it took that long to shut down the restaurant? I imagine "it" was a rat. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on April 28, 2014
Oh my.'d think the state could do something about it! Stephanie
By: Stephanie Faris on April 28, 2014
Nothing makes me want to visit a restaurant like a purple octopus. Blocking your light was just wrong.
By: Cranky Old Man on April 28, 2014
But as an artist, at least you should've been able to appreciate the beauty of Mr Purple Octopus. I think he's totally cool! I want one to stick on the balcony of my apartment! :)
By: Lexa Cain on April 28, 2014
I just read the comments and realized I'm the only one who loves the octopus. Haha! Well, I rarely share the popular view. ;)
By: Lexa Cain on April 28, 2014
And that creature was supposed to draw business to a restaurant?? I kind of liked him but not for what he was designed for and certainly not for what he did to inhibit you. He looks ripe for Disney.
By: Akansas Patti on April 28, 2014
Well, say what you want about the ugly octopus, but at least nobody could get lost finding your studio. "I'm in the building with the giant purple octopus!"
By: Pixel Peeper on April 28, 2014
It's amazing what scum bags can get away with for such a long time.
By: red on April 28, 2014
i think i'd have been purple with rage if i came to my studio and found a giant octopus blocking all the light!
By: lime on April 28, 2014
Oh wow. Yea I couldn't have gotten out of there faster, yikes. On another thought, sometimes I find it a good thing to stroll down memory lane. Even if there is that bit of sadness that comes with it. :)
By: Hey Monkey Butt on April 28, 2014
I would count myself lucky that my light was blocked by a giant purple octopus rather than a rat as big as a cat.
By: Val on April 28, 2014
That is not just a story...that's an adventure! Old buildings throughout downtowns across America each have stories that one can only imagine! I enjoyed this one!!
By: Michael Manning on April 28, 2014
I'm sure a purple octopus never came into the radar as a possible scenario for what could happen!
By: Shelly on April 29, 2014
Heartless landlord... says a lot about their character and the way they conduct their business. No wonder they got shutdown. It could have been a rat, big as a cat. An opossum, or even a small raccoon. You should have used some of your creative license and kicked the SOB in the n#ts.
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 29, 2014
That octopus is obscene. And that was supposed to tempt customers into a restaurant? Great story; it's always sad to return to a place associated with an important part in your life only to find it derelict.
By: Bryan Jones on April 29, 2014
Even though it hindered your art, I think brilliant marketing was at play. A huge purple octopus isn't soon forgotten. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on April 29, 2014
The purple octopus would've been cool somewhere else. What nasty man ruins someone else's workspace? Lucky you're out of there.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on April 30, 2014
Memories....... :)
By: John on April 30, 2014
I might have thought I was drunk if I saw that thing on my building (except I don't drink - ha!).
By: The Bug on May 5, 2014

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