If you’re in Portland right now or are familiar with the area, you most likely haven't seen an enormous sign made of bright lights advertising sugar before. But I would bet that you know the sign I’m talking about. Right now it’s an outline of Oregon with a deer jumping over the words, “Portland, Oregon. Old Town.” And before that, from 1997-2010, it had the same deer, but said, “Made in Oregon” under it. And before that, after 17 years of advertising sugar, in 1957 An outdoor and ski clothing company moved their operation into the old town building and changed the sign by adding the outline of a leaping deer with the company’s name, White Stag Sportswear. Harold graduated Dartmouth and headed to Oxford in England to get his graduate work in anthropology completed. But then in 1929, the great depression hit, and to help his family, he went back west. Back to Portland. His Dad owned a Tent and Awning company called the Hirsch-Weis Manufacturing Company and Harold went to go work for his
Dad to help out. But skiing never left Harold’s mind. With no lifts, tows, lodges or really access to skiing anywhere, he put his powder-focused mind on something else. He started making ski jackets and ski pants for the extremely small group of people in Portland and Seattle that painstakingly herringboned themselves up small hills just to get a small rush of riding down for a minute or two. He didn’t make any money…mostly took losses on his creations, but he made damn good clothes for skiing. And just in time too. Business only got better after the economy started rising again and Harold’s new ski clothing company that he called “White Stag Sportswear” was the largest ski clothing company in the world. He even bought himself an enormous bright lit up sign with the outline of Oregon and a deer on it and put his company name on it.For more than 40 years, White Stag were the leaders in ski and outdoor apparel design – that distinctive rust-red waterproof parka for the National Ski Patrol? That was Harold. He helped found the National Ski Equipment and Apparel Association (now SnowSports Industries of America) and, in 1963, established the Hirsch Award, given annually to the United States’ best snow-sports journalist, photographer and broadcaster. Harold also was a pioneer in racially integrating his company during World War II. “There is an element in me, because I am Jewish,” he told an interviewer, “that gave me a sympathy for people who have to bear prejudice.”In 1949, Harold met a lovely, local socialite named Elizabeth. Who has on her list of childhood friends is this guy (Jimmy Stewart) Harold and Elizabeth were married that year and they both went on to enjoy the success of White Stag and the growth of their community. 8 years later, it happened. Elizabeth loved Christmas. She went all out each year, decorations, songs, parties, gifts everything. Harold, however, was jewish. He wasn’t really into the Santa Claus type Christmas or really into at all. On their way to 67 W Burnside street one December night, Elizabeth mentioned to Harold that the sign should be decorated for Christmas. He said he’s consider it, but mostly dismissed it. But Elizabeth persisted. every time they passed the sign, she’;s make a comment on how it needed something for Christmas. For however much Harold didn’t like Christmas, he loved his wife even more and just wanted her to be happy. So in 1959, as a Christmas surprise for his wife, Harold made a subtle festive
change to the sign by adding a bright red light on the top of the deer’s nose to look like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.The city of Portland owns the sign now, and as I mentioned before, it’s gone through some changes since then. But the one thing that stays the same is every year in time for Christmas, a bright red light, goes in the exact same place on that White Stag’s nose. For Elizabeth. For Christmas. From Harold Hirsch.