1849 – Elijah Hill, a shoemaker, purchased the block for $24 and a pair of  high boots.

1856 – School Board purchased the block from James Field for $1,000.

1858 – Central School opened (construction cost $6,000) with 280 pupils and three teachers, a year before Oregon became a star in the flag.

1875 – Pioneer Courthouse, second oldest federal courthouse in the West opens.

1883 – Block sold to Northern Pacific Terminal Company (Henry Villard) for $75,000, as the site for a new hotel.

1883 – P.A. Marquam purchased the school building and moved it a block to the north (American Bank Building.)

1888-90  – Portland Hotel constructed, only after a group of businessmen raised $750,000 in subscriptions.

 1890 – Portland Hotel opened (construction cost $1,000,000). The Portland Hotel was eight stories high, contained 326 sleeping rooms, a restaurant, ballroom, billiard room, bar, sitting rooms, dining rooms, sewing rooms, a reception room, ladies parlors, public restrooms, public telephones, a news and cigar stand, Western Union telegraph office, quarters for live-in staff, and elevators. The price tag was over $1,000,000 and 4,000,000 bricks were used in its construction. Local investors included George Markle, William Ladd, Henry Corbett, Henry Failing and many others.

 1951 –  Meier & Frank purchased the block, razed the hotel, and built a two-level parking structure. Much  of the original stone foundation for the Portland Hotel remains under the sidewalks.

Late 1960s  – Meier & Frank proposed an 11-story parking garage on the block, which was denied by the City after a series of heated public hearings. This proposal, perhaps more than any other event, prompted both the downtown business community and the City to undertake a comprehensive downtown planning program.

1972 – 1974: Portland’s Downtown Plan proposed open space development of the current Pioneer Courthouse Squareblock. This plan set in motion the lengthy administrative and political negotiations that resulted in the purchase of the block by the City, the international design competition, and the choice of the Will Martin design scheme.

April 6, 1984– A Square is Born! Pioneer Courthouse Square opens.

1984– TriMet opens its Customer Assistance Center.

1989 – Starbucks opens its flagship store.

2000– Portland celebrates the Millennium with 50,000 attendees.

2001 – Travel Portland opens its Visitor Information Center at the Square.

2004 – Pioneer Square achieves 300 annual programmed event days!

2007 – Pioneer Courthouse Square goes Smoke-free.

2008- Pioneer Courthouse Square is selected as one of the Great Public Spaces in America by the American Planning Association.

2009 – KGW Newschannel 8’s HD Studio on the Square opens.

March 30, 2013 – First Annual Singin’ in the Square community sing-a-long presented by ShedRain.

April 6, 2014  – 30th Anniversary of Pioneer Courthouse Square.


In honor of the Square’s 25th Anniversary in 2009 Randy Gragg and Audrey Alverson curated “Pioneering the Square,” a historical exhibit at the American Institute of Architects. The exhibit covered the history of the space, the design competition and the development of the Square. This is the story of how the Square came to be.



A year after Pioneer Courthouse Square opened, nearly 50 items were buried in a time capsule located near the southeast corner of the Square. In 2014 for the Square’s 30th anniversary we unearthed the original time capsule, with the help of The Oregon Historical Society, and set out to build a new time capsule that would capture quintessential Portland today.

After soliciting suggestions from Portlanders over the course of a year, we assembled a jury of esteemed Portlanders to select the final contents for the 2015 time capsule.  In all, more than 200 items were generously donated from local organizations and businesses that were determined to best exemplify Portland today.

The 2015 Portland Time Capsule was sealed on April 19, 2015, and will be opened at the Square’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 2034. To view some of the 2015 Portland Time Capsule items see below.

Looking Back: Oregon Architect Will Martin’s Sketchbook on an American Square

Step Back in Time with Will Martin

Listen to an audio tour of Will Martin, the original architect of the Square, leading a tour of Pioneer Courthouse Square.

To view a transcript of Will Martin’s tour of Pioneer Courthouse Square, please click the link below: