Love conquers all, including a fairly sturdy chain-link fence.

Portland’s famed Love Locks fence on Commercial Street, sagging under the weight of hundreds of padlocks meant to symbolize everlasting affection, has been deemed a public safety risk by city officials and will be taken down within the next two weeks.

Most of the 30-foot-long fence, with its locks in place, will be eventually be displayed publicly in the nearby parking lot of DiMillo’s floating restaurant. The rest of the fence will be put in storage, its future unclear, said Jessica Grondin, a city spokeswoman. Grondin said the fence will be replaced with one that won’t allow locks to be attached to it, so that it won’t sag under the strain of love again. She did not know what the fence will be made of.

The city-owned fence separates the busy sidewalk along Commercial Street from the waters of Portland Harbor. It started to fail about two weeks ago when a portion of chain link snapped loose from its frame, Grondin said, and city officials decided the safest thing to do was to take it down.

The fence had become completely covered by padlocks over the past three years, by people following a century-old European tradition of expressing one’s love with a padlock affixed to something, often a bridge or a fence. It’s a way to publicly declare to your sweetie “you stole the key to my heart, and now I’m your prisoner” or something like that.

The fence is a rare organic attraction on the city’s waterfront, where chic gift shops and upscale restaurants draw thousands of tourists daily. But while many locals view the fence as something fun and hopeful, many who see it daily agree that it’s a safety issue that needs to be addressed.


“It’s one of those great things that Portland does, that just sort of happens. It’s a great thing in this world where so many bad things are happening, to see this expression of love and goodwill,” said Suzie Rephan, general manager of LeRoux Kitchen, across Commercial Street from the fence. “But I’m glad it’s being moved, for safety. As it gets heavier you can see it leaning and you’d hate to see somebody get hurt.”


The fence is located on the water’s edge of the sidewalk between Long Wharf and Portland Lobster Co. Below the fence is a storm water runoff valve used by the Portland Water District. The fence helps keep people away from the valve.

The chain-link portion of the fence came loose from its metal frame sometime in the past two weeks, Grondin said. City staff reattached it with heavy-duty clamps, as a temporary fix, and placed two orange-and-white-striped wooden barricades in front of it. They also covered the fence with yellow police “caution” tape. Grondin did not know how much of the fence will be preserved at DiMillo’s, but said it will probably be “the majority” of it along with its locks.

Steve DiMillo Jr., the restaurant’s banquet manager, confirmed Tuesday that his father, Steve DiMillo Sr., had offered to have the fence installed on the restaurant property. The younger DiMillo said the fence would likely be located in the area known as “the promenade on Long Wharf” where people stroll along the water and sit on benches. He said it would probably be near a section of the Berlin Wall that is permanently displayed on the property. But he wasn’t sure how much of the fence would be displayed, or whether it would be installed in such a way that it can accept more locks without toppling.

“If there’s room on there, we wouldn’t be surprised if people add more to it,” DiMillo Jr. said.



Though no one has kept track of how many locks are on the Love Locks fence, people looking at it can easily believe there could be a thousand or more. On Tuesday, tourists streamed by the fence while others stood nearby waiting for one of several tour buses that leave from the area. Every few minutes somebody would stop and read the sentiments on the locks, sometimes engraved, sometimes scribbled in pen or marker. Some are simple, like “Doug (heart) Alex, 2015.” Others are in foreign languages, including one that is inscribed with “Vous et nul autre,” French for “you and no other.” Many of the locks are like the ones kids use on their bikes or school lockers. Others are big and bulky, covered with rust, like something out of an Old West jail.

“Every time we come to Portland we check it out, and there certainly are a lot more on here than the last time (two years ago),” said Tava Cotter, 34, a nurse from Sandwich, Massachusetts. “I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. It would be a shame to take it down.”


The idea of displaying padlocks as a symbol of love has been traced to Serbia during World War I. Local legend has it that after a Serbian woman’s soldier sweetheart jilted her, other women in her town wanted to protect their own loves. So they started writing their names, and the names of their loved ones, on padlocks and attaching them to a single bridge.

The tradition has resurfaced in a big way in the past 10 or 15 years, especially in Europe. In Paris, the Pont des Arts became covered with hundreds of thousands locks by 2015. In June of that year the city took the wire-mesh panels, full of locks, off the bridge and replaced them with Plexiglas. In recent years, locks have appeared in public spaces in cities and towns in Wisconsin, Ohio, Rhode Island, Nevada, Georgia and dozens of other places.


People who work near the waterfront say the locks began to show up on the Portland fence around Valentine’s Day in 2013. Three women who were having drinks at Gritty McDuff’s say they left the first locks, and within a month, there were some 50 more. The fence has been touted for its inspiring and creative nature by individuals and groups, including the Maine Center for Creativity. It also has its own Facebook page, Love Locks Portland, Maine. People from around the country post pictures of the locks they’ve left. As of Tuesday the page had 301 likes and had been visited 1,222 times.

Downtown merchants have been working with the city to plan for the Love Locks’ future in Portland, said Casey Gilbert, executive director of Portland Downtown, a nonprofit business improvement group. Gilbert said her group wants to be able to “honor” the fence as a public art piece, while working to protect public safety.

“It’s seen as beloved by a lot of people, but when something becomes a safety issue, there needs to be a plan to correct it,” Gilbert said.

As people streamed by the fence on Tuesday, Peter Crawford sat on the pavement in front of it, holding a cardboard sign that read “Homeless Vet, Can U Help?” Crawford, 53, says the fence is his preferred spot to ask for financial help from passing pedestrians. He says he likes watching people come to the fence. Some put their love on display. Others are visibly inspired by such an unexpected display of permanent commitment.

“People come here to lock in their love, to say it’s forever,” Crawford said.

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