Every year during the holidays Portland’s famous neon “White Stag” sign transforms from the prancing deer we love into Santa’s famous red-nosed reindeer, Rudolf. It’s a festive change that many Portlanders look for during the Christmas season, but it’s not the first time the iconic sign has been adapted to fit the times.
When the 50-by-51 3/4 sign was first erected in 1940 for the White Satin Sugar Company it sported 1,100 feet of neon tubing and 500 incandescent lamps that illuminated the company’s logo against the outline of the state of Oregon. Created and owned by local business Ramsay Signs, it was later changed into an animated sign, with white lights mimicking grains of sugar filling up the interior space of the state’s outline.
In 1957, clothing manufacturer and owner of the building on which the Ramsey sign sits removed the sugar logo and added their own label, White Stag Sportswear, to the sign. Two years later the addition of a red light at the tip of the stag’s nose celebrated the holidays for the very first time.
It was 1978 when the sign was declared a historical landmark and eleven years after that the lettering was changed to “Made in Oregon—Old Town” to represent the Oregon themed retail chain that had moved into the building.
After that tenant gave up on their lease on the sign its future was in limbo. In 2009 the sign was permanently turned off, except for a brief period at the end of that year between Thanksgiving and January when it was lit for the holiday season.
The final decision about the White Stag’s fate was made in September of that year, passing ownership of the sign from Ramsey Signs to the Portland City Council. Along with that decision came the last change to the sign, replacing the business logo with a simple nod to the city and district it presides over, “Portland Oregon-Old Town.”
Look for the White Stag with his signature red nose the next time you drive across the Burnside Bridge into Old Town Portland.