Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Waud Bluff Bridge


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A recent post here covered Portland's new Waud Bluff Trail, at the north end of Swan Island. I mentioned in passing that the trail included a new footbridge over the railroad tracks here, and said something to the effect that I was saving the bridge for a separate post. I think on the theory that I'd done a few other posts about pedestrian bridges over railroads, and from what I could tell there was a manageable number of other such bridges out there, usually rather obscure, and thus a mini-project was born.

As I understand, today's official Waud Bluff Trail is new, but there has been an unofficial trail down the bluff here for a long time. The current trail seems to have incorporated an old service road, which once continued down to track level past the level of the bridge. I gather the route of the unofficial trail involved walking across the railroad tracks the old fashioned way, without a bridge. Turning the trail into something official involved building a bridge, since the railroad was never going to sign off on a new grade-level pedestrian crossing. Railroads apparently take a dim view of the human nature of pedestrians, since they also seem to want any bridges to be entirely enclosed, I suppose so people can't toss rocks onto a passing train, or jump onto the train as part of a daring Old West-style train robbery, or something.

The Waud Bluff Trail opened in spring 2013 after six years of planning and handwringing about funding. The bridge had been installed the previous December. This bridge made the whole trail possible, but it's not universally admired. A Bicycle Transportation Alliance article pointed out the new bridge design is not very bike or wheelchair friendly at all, and expressed hope for for a future retrofit, sooner rather than later.

The trail forms one small segment of the ambitious North Portland Greenway Trail, which would run between downtown Portland and Kelley Point Park. The segment across Swan Island from Waud Bluff to the south end would essentially incorporate existing sidewalks and bike lanes into the project, which is probably all you can do unless you want to build a flat trail halfway up the bluff, skirting Swan Island entirely.

Victor Steinbrueck Park


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Here's a slideshow from downtown Seattle's Victor Steinbrueck Park, a little viewpoint area next to Pike Place Market and perched over the doomed Alaskan Way Viaduct. It seems like this is the edge of a steep bluff, but in fact the park forms the roof of a vast municipal parking garage.

Victor Steinbrueck, the park's namesake, was a local architect who was instrumental in saving Pike Place Market from one of Seattle's many ill-conceived urban renewal schemes. Now it's the park itself that's occasionally threatened by redevelopment schemes.

Unfortunately the park has had a reputation as a dangerous corner of downtown. In recent years there have been shootings and stabbings in the vicinity, and the the park's long been known as an open air drug market at all hours, day and night. Some would see this as a need for more police and harsher laws, but I tend to see it as a sign that prohibition breeds crime. I haven't been back to Seattle since Washington passed Initiative 502, the marijuana legalization measure, and I don't know if anything's changed since then. The "recreational industry" has had supply and price problems and it's probably just too new to have had an impact yet, but it'll be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years.

Gabriel Park expedition


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So here's a photoset from Southwest Portland's Gabriel Park, a place I've been meaning to visit for a while now. At around 90 acres it's one of Portland's largest city parks, and it has a little of everything: Ball fields, tennis courts, a skate park, at least one playground, a community garden, an off-leash dog area, a large indoor rec center with a pool, and a large forested area centered around Vermont Creek, with a network of hiking trails.

The last time I was here was wayyy back in high school, in the mid-1980s. I was on the cross country team, and Gabriel Park was our home course, so I was here all the time. Thinking back, I remembered the park as a place of endless hills, and endless tree roots poking up in paths, ready to grab the ankles of the unwary, and people passing me, and my shins hurting a lot. It's possible my memories of the place are not entirely objective.

I'm still not sure how I ended up on the cross country team. High school gym class began the year with a week or two of running at various distances, which I think was a disguised tryout. The coach asked me to join the team based on my mile time. The only problem is that, looking back, it's possible I may have favorably (and accidentally) misremembered my time. I can't be sure because I have no recollection of what my time actually was. In any case, once I was on the team I wasn't very fast, and I also wasn't very tough, and I tended to either quit or finish in the bottom 25%, and I never quite made it out of "junior varsity" purgatory. But we were a small private school, with a small and barely funded team, and I guess they couldn't afford to cut me entirely. I even scored a letter out of it. I think I still have it somewhere, in fact, but I never ordered a letterman jacket to go with it. I was pretty sure at the time I hadn't earned any sort of athletic recognition, and I'm still pretty sure that's true. I suppose the main value of it to me, at the time, was convincing my parents I wasn't just a basement-dwelling computer dweeb.

In any case, a few months ago I was in the area and had a camera with me, and I thought I'd take a look around. Not because I was feeling sentimental or nostalgic or anything, but just to see what it looked like without anyone yelling at me to hurry up and run faster, dammit. Parts of the forest looked sort of familiar, and I think the usual finish line was somewhere around where the skate park is now. Contrary to what I remembered, the trails were actually quite nice, and I'm not sure where that memory about tree roots came from. The more I think about it, it's possible there may have been one single tree root that I tangled with on every lap through the forest. That sounds like something awkward teenage me would have managed to do.

A few things have changed since those days. The pool and skate park both arrived some time after 1985, and there are now substantial areas of the forest fenced off in the name of water quality and environmental restoration. The fencing is a fairly recent development. Vermont Creek has the same water quality issues as other urban streams around the area, and it's part of the Fanno Creek watershed, which gets it an additional degree of attention from the city. As a result, Gabriel Park has had a riparian zone protection project beginning in 2004 (that's the fencing-stuff-off project) and ongoing stormwater retrofitting efforts. And because this is an earnest do-gooding SW Portland neighborhood, there's a Friends of Vermont Creek connected to the local neighborhood association, with all sorts of volunteer opportunities etc.

One might expect that a city park this big would date back to the pioneer era, back before big parcels of land were subdivided and broken up. Gabriel Park is relatively new, though. It's far enough from the city center that the area was still semi-rural when the land was acquired in October 1950. The land wasn't actually within city limits at the time, but the city was planning to expand westward anyway, saw a large undeveloped parcel for sale, and jumped at the chance, so for a while the city owned a park outside city limits (similar to Elk Rock Island & the Kerr Property today). The city paid $120,000 for the land, which is about $1.1M in today's dollars, which seems like a very reasonable price for 87 acres this close to downtown Portland. As for the name, part of the site was then known as "Gabriel Acres" and owned by Margaret Gabriel. I was kind of hoping there would be an interesting story behind the name, but that doesn't seem to have been the case here.

In 1952, the city was looking around for a new location to replace the original city zoo, which was located near the reservoirs in lower Washington Park. Gabriel Park was a leading candidate to host the new zoo. The eventual winner, of course, was a location elsewhere in Washington Park, a location then known as the "West Slope golf course site". Other proposed locations included the wetlands at Oaks Bottom; a portion of the old Vanport City site; and "Camp's Butte", the old name of today's Powell Butte. At the time, Gabriel Park would have been a reasonable site for a new zoo, although the visitor traffic would have required a very different street network than what the area has today.

Anyway, here's an assortment of other links about the park from around the interwebs.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Denver Ave. Bridge


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The next Columbia Slough bridge on our little tour is the one that carries N. Denver Ave. over the slough. Like the MLK and N. Portland Road bridges, this is an ODOT-owned bridge, since this stretch of Denver Ave. doubles as a chunk of highway OR 99W. At one time, 99W (a.k.a. the "West Side Highway") continued through downtown Portland, from SW Barbur to Front Avenue, then along Harbor Drive to the Steel Bridge, then up Interstate Avenue to Kenton, where it jogged over to become Denver Avenue, and then headed across the Columbia Slough north to the Interstate Bridge. Most of that stretch is no longer a state highway, but the stretch of Denver Ave. north of Argyle St. still is for some reason.

The Portland stretch of 99W was a late addition to the state highway system. At the time the Interstate Bridge went in, there was a great deal of infighting about which street would be the main approach to the bridge: Union Avenue (now MLK) or Vancouver Avenue, which Union Ave. finally won after a few years of rival booster clubs duking it out. Interstate (then known as Patton Avenue) wasn't in the running, because a steep bluff at the south end meant it didn't actually connect directly to downtown back then. It was a major local street, and was platted out as a wide street in case it became a major arterial later (which was a huge help when the MAX Yellow Line went in), but in 1916 it dead ended somewhere around today's Overlook Park. So a small wooden bridge was built, giving local traffic access to the Interstate Bridge.

A decade later, a major roadcut project finally connected Patton Avenue to the Steel Bridge and downtown Portland, and the widened street was rededicated as Interstate Avenue in September 1928, though a lot of references I've seen give 1929 as the actual project completion date. The bridge over the Columbia Slough was reconstructed at that point to handle the additional traffic. The Oregonian's "Year in Review" article on Jan 1. 1930 portrayed the Interstate Ave. project as one of the year's major news stories. A 1947 aerial photo shows the bridge here, along with an area of commercial development along the Kenton stretch of Interstate, but you can see that parts of the surrounding area were still semi-rural even then. A couple of interesting Cafe Unknown posts have more about the history of Interstate Avenue, with all its ups and downs, from potholed neighborhood street to neon wonderland, to blighted backwater after I-5 opened, and now to a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood with its own MAX line.

ODOT's 2012 bridge condition report says the slough bridge dates to 1916, while the adjacent viaduct over Columbia Blvd and the Union Pacific railroad is circa 1929. So it's possible there was a surface level intersection and railroad crossing here until the bridge upgrade project, in which case the original slough bridge was probably lower than the current one. That's my guess, anyway.

The 2013 state historic bridge inventory describes the bridge and viaduct:

In the late 1920s, increased traffic on the West Side Highway led to a major revision in how the highway approached the Interstate Bridge, then the only Portland area crossing into Washington State. Prior to this redesignation, the West Side Highway ended at downtown Portland, with only the Pacific Highway continuing over the bridge. These new bridges were designed to match those on the Pacific Highway, and continued to be a major part of the approach until the construction of I-5. They both feature a unique baluster railing, which is now mostly hidden behind protective wooden paneling.

Unfortunately I don't think you can see the unique bridge railing very well in any of these photos. The inventory PDF has a better photo, showing it really doesn't look all that different from other ODOT bridges of that era. The inventory goes on to mention that the slough bridge consists of "Three 78-ft steel girder and floorbeam system spans with reinforced concrete deck girder approach spans", while the viaduct is "Thirteen 71-ft reinforced concrete girder and floorbeam system spans with curved haunches.. ODOT researched the history of the Denver Ave viaduct over the railroad for the MAX Yellow Line project. The study determined it was ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and mentioned the slough bridge as similarly utilitarian & ineligible. The city's historical research for the Vancouver Ave. bridge replacement also mentions the Denver Ave. bridge briefly, but doesn't have much to say about it.

No discussion I've seen of the bridge mentions who designed it, and they usually do if a bridge is by someone well-known or historically important. The Union Ave./MLK, N. Portland Road, BNSF railroad, and (original) Vancouver Ave. bridges turned out to be minor designs by rather famous bridge engineers, but as far as I can tell that's not the case here. Perhaps as a result, it doesn't have a BridgeHunter or Structurae page of its own, but it does at least have an UglyBriges.com entry. That page tells us the bridge has an ODOT sufficiency rating of 51.7 out of 100 (as of April 2013), and it's described as being in "fair" condition and "functionally obsolete". It received an underwater inspection in 2011, which noted that the underwater portion of the bridge pilings are not entirely steel and concrete, which is a little surprising: "The part of this structure across the slough consists of 3 steel girder spans of 78 ft. each. Each pier is supported on two concrete columns with a webwall in between, that are supported by two individual concrete footings founded on untreated timber piling."

An upcoming ODOT project will redesign the intersection of Denver Ave. & Schmeer Road, directly north of the bridge. At present the north end of the bridge crosses an underpass that routes southbound traffic onto Schmeer Rd. The redesign will move the intersection north, and turn the underpass into a stretch of the Columbia Slough Trail instead. In Spring 2015 they'll also start work on the bridge and viaduct, resurfacing them and replacing the current bridge railings and adding crash barriers. Schematics of the new design indicate there will be a crash barrier separating the sidewalk from street traffic, and the redesigned bridge will include separate bike lanes, which it doesn't currently have. It will still only have a sidewalk on one side of the bridge, I suppose because extending the bridge out to add one on the other side would be too expensive. Still, it seems like a positive step, in an area that's only going to have more bike and pedestrian traffic as the Columbia Slough Trail keeps being extended.

Telegraph Hill


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Ok, here's another set of early 90's tourist photos, this time from the little park on top of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, home of the famous Coit Tower. Because I was new to traveling solo, I had the idea that I would just walk everywhere, instead of trying to figure out the local mass transit system. I did not realize at the time that San Francisco city blocks are substantially larger than Portland city blocks, so there was a bit more walking than I expected. I was also coming down with a major head cold at the time but didn't quite realize it yet. So I basically just sat resting my feet and spacing out while I was here.

I do recall overhearing a couple of random tour guide anecdotes from passing tour groups. First, in the first photo of the slideshow, there's a building on the right, with a big flag on top. The story is that this building was controversial when it went in; people thought it was too tall, and protruded into the view. So in a burst of early Tea Party-ness, the builder/owner put a giant flag on top, protruding even more into the view, but in a way that marked you as a commie sympathizer if you objected. This tactic probably wouldn't work in SF anymore, but at this point the flag is an expected part of the view.

Second overheard tour guide anecdote: The Coit Tower was built with with a bequest from Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a local socialite and patron of the city fire department. A widely-told apocryphal story suggests the tower is designed to look like a fire hose nozzle. The tour guide let his charges in on a "little secret", namely that the tower was actually a memorial to Coit's late husband, as the design reminded her of him. (This story is almost certainly untrue, since the tower was designed after her death and she only left vague instructions on what to do with the money.) Still, a knowing look was given, and the tourists snickered on cue. I probably just rolled my eyes, as it reminded me of a certain classic Monty Python sketch. Undoubtedly the tourists would relay this entendre to their friends back home in Peoria, after showing their blurry slides of driving down Lombard St., and before the story about how amazing it was to eat clam chowder out of a loaf of sourdough bread, and how the whole city looks just like the Rice-a-Roni commercials. Honestly, the entire SF tourist industry is just the worst. In 2014, SF locals go on about how the city is being ruined by gazillionaire tech bros, and I'm sure that's true, but bottom-feeding, mouth-breathing slackjawed tourists were ruining it for decades before that, with the help of an entire industry built up to cater to them. At least they finally banned the organ grinder monkeys that were at Fisherman's Wharf when I was a kid. That was creepy as hell, and the tourists loved it.

Of course now those tourists can't afford to visit SF at all, and I'm afraid they're coming to Portland instead. In place of the sourdough chowder thing, they want entendre-laden donuts from the novelty donut shop that shall not be named, and a photo of the Keep Portland Weird sign across the street, and Mill Ends Park, and the rest of some "Top 10 Portland's Weirdest" list from the Travel Channel or Food Network or whatever, and pestering locals to say or do something weird so they can tell folks back home in Peoria all about it. Perhaps what we need to do is fund some cable shows explaining that Boise is the new Portland. Or maybe Anchorage, or Oklahoma City, or Des Moines, or some other midsized city that could use the extra tourist dollars. Just don't tell people we funded the shows with a Kickstarter, since that would look hip and weird and bring in even more tourists.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Agua Prieta, Sonora


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Here are a few old photos from the town of Agua Prieta, Sonora, a Mexican border town across the fence from Douglas, Arizona. This was a brief stopover on an early 1990s tour bus trip around Arizona & the California desert. Many of the other people on the bus were British, German, or Australian and doing the youth hostel thing across the US. So a side trip a few blocks into Mexico was an exotic side trip for them. Wandering around a Mexican border town with a bunch of English people was... unusual. They seemed to think I ought to be an expert about Mexico, due to being from the same hemisphere and all. Technically I'd had a year and a half of high school Spanish, and could translate signs some of the time, and I could explain the food to people who didn't know what a taco was, and some cultural bits and pieces to people who didn't know anything about fotonovelas or luchadores. I may not have been history's greatest cultural ambassador, but I'm pretty sure they were lucky to have me. They could have gone with one of the other Americans instead, like the dreadlocked trustafarian dude from Napa Valley wine country, who made sure everyone knew how rich his parents were. He seemed to think he was quite the roguish adventurer, and went off by himself in search of the town's red light district, only to discover there wasn't one. He was actually pretty upset about that, which was kind of hilarious and pathetic at the same time.

One key thing I had no clue about (this being the pre-Wikipedia era) was the history of the town we were visiting. It turns out that a century ago this little town had a significant role in the Mexican Revolution. Two battles were fought here (the second of which helped to trigger Pancho Villa's infamous raid on Columbus, NM), and in 1920 the Plan of Agua Prieta was drafted here, the spark for a rebellion that drove Mexico's first postwar president from office.

I also didn't have much of a clue at the time about key tourist sights, so I'm not sure which church is pictured here. It was somewhere near the border crossing, I think, but I wandered around the area in Google Street View and didn't see anything that looked quite like it. So it's possible we were more lost than we realized at the time. I also took a few photos around the border crossing area, I suppose because the US side of every border crossing I've been through has always creeped me out. They're designed to look all high tech and hostile and intimidating and all-powerful, but they do it in a sort of petty ham-fisted way; imagine the Galactic Empire from Star Wars, but administered by the DMV, with taser-crazed mall cops for Stormtroopers. (Note to self: I should probably delete these few sentences before the next time I travel internationally. Apparently they like to Google people at the border now, and speaking ill of border enforcers can lead to all sorts of fun complications, First Amendment or no.)

Sadly there's a US State Department travel advisory for the Agua Prieta area right now, due to the ongoing drug cartel wars. Coworkers at an office elsewhere in Mexico have explained to me that it's a manageable problem so long as one cartel "owns" your city. It's only when cartels fight over territory that things get really ugly.

Columbia Slough Trail


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Here's a slideshow from Portland's Columbia Slough Trail, which runs along the north shore levee of the Columbia Slough between N. Portland Road and Vancouver Avenue. I walked the length of the trail (minus a bit at the west end) one summer day, primarily as a way to get photos of a lot of the bridges over the slough, as well as the two islands in the middle of the slough that are technically Portland city parks (albeit inaccessible ones). After taking the trail I figured it merited a post of its own too. It's not precisely a nature trail, though; as it follows along the slough the trail passes the Heron Lakes golf course, Portland International Raceway, Portland Meadows (Oregon's sole surviving horse racing venue), and assorted industrial stuff. I dunno, I thought that was kind of interesting, or at least unusual. Your mileage may vary, obviously. (For what it's worth, it turns out that it's considered bad form to heckle the golfers, no matter how terrible they are, or how ugly their golf clothes look. You learn something every day, I guess.)

The stretch of trail between Portland Road & Denver Ave. is the original stretch of the trail, completed back in 2001, and planned back in the late 1990s. It connects with the north-south Peninsula Crossing Trail at the Inverness Force Main Bridge, the pedestrian bridge that's actually a bridge for a cleverly concealed giant sewer main. The original stretch of trail hasn't gotten proper upkeep in recent years and has developed potholes, which is probably not something you want on the top of your levee. More recently, the mile-long stretch between Denver & Vancouver Avenues just opened in January 2014, so it's in great shape, and the shiny new Vancouver Ave. bridge is designed to be bike friendly, for a change. Maybe the rest of the trail will get more attention now that it's becoming a through bike route and not just a weird disconnected stretch of trail in the middle of nowhere.

The bit between the old and new segments at Denver Ave. isn't so great right now. It's a busy street and your best bet is to take the Schmeer Rd. underpass under the street, and even then there isn't a sidewalk or bike lane, and you have to walk on the shoulder and look around for trouble. The city and ODOT want to redesign the intersection in the near-ish future, since the current intersection isn't great for cars and trucks either. The plan is to move the Schmeer Rd. intersection further north, with the current underpass becoming part of the trail.

The long term plan (or sorta-plan) is to eventually have a trail along the entire length of the slough, from Kelley Point Park all the way out to roughly Troutdale. I'm not sure about the eastern portion, but the stretch between the Willamette and the Peninsula Drainage Canal (near NE 33rd) should be doable, since it would involve building on top of existing levees, which are already publicly owned. Publicly owned & operated by the county's four obscure and seriously underfunded drainage districts, to be exact. But that's a whole other story.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Alaskan Way Viaduct


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Here are a couple of photos of Seattle's fugly Alaskan Way Viaduct, which carries Alaskan Way (State Route 99) right along the downtown waterfront. This structure is not long for the world; the viaduct is of the same basic design as the Cypress Street Viaduct that collapsed during San Francisco's Loma Prieta quake in 1989, which was a clue that the Seattle edition wouldn't do well in a quake either. When it sustained damage in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, the city finally decided they maybe ought to do something or other about it.

Even after realizing the viaduct needed to be replaced, Seattle spent close to a decade agonizing about what to do. For much of the time, the city and state wanted to replace it with a new viaduct, in the same place but even bigger and uglier than the current one. A more expensive proposal suggested building a tunnel. There was a precedent for this with the city's 1980s-era bus tunnel through downtown. A third suggestion, favored by some activists, would have torn it down and replaced it with nothing, the idea being that the downtown core would adapt to become less car-oriented than it is now.

They eventually settled on the tunnel option, in part because the lure of all that freed-up real estate along the waterfront was too shiny to ignore. That and the fact that the thing's incredibly ugly, and mars any photo you take of the city from a boat, and the proposed new viaduct would've been even worse. So at long last they planned it out, and contracted for the world's largest tunnel boring machine to dig it. Unfortunately, "Big Bertha" (as it was named) stalled out not long after construction began, and tunneling has yet to resume. The viaduct here will still go the way of the Embarcadero Freeway at some point, but exactly when is anyone's guess. So I still get to make fun of Seattle's transportation woes for a few more years.

The sole saving grace of the viaduct is that it does a decent job of keeping rain off the parking spaces beneath it, which is nice if you're playing tourist and going to the Seattle Aquarium, or having lunch at the original Ivar's on the waterfront (instead of an unscenic one in the 'burbs).

Frank Slide


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Here's another set of old Canada photos, this time from the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, at Crowsnest Pass in the Canadian Rockies. This spot was the site of the Frank Slide, an enormous 1903 landslide that buried parts of the coal mining town of Frank, including an estimated 70-90 residents.

I have to admit I was really creeped out by this place. I think in large part because the enormous rocky debris field is basically unchanged since that day in 1903. No moss grows on the rocks, no trees grow up in between them, no birds, no animals, nothing. It looks like it could have just happened days ago. History or no, I was happy to leave, and would've left even sooner if I'd been the one driving.

Grant Park


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Here are a couple of photos from NE Portland's Grant Park, which sort of wraps around the sides of Grant High School. I stopped by there a while ago to track down a fountain & statues based on Beverly Cleary's Ramona books. The statues are actually kind of creepy, which is a near-universal problem when people try to do sculptures of kids. I can't put my finger on why, exactly, but I call it the "Chucky Effect". Anyway, since I was at the park already, I took a couple of photos of the general vicinity too, on the theory that there might be a city park post in it. I'm not going to claim that these photos are particularly attractive, or representative of the park as a whole. The city parks page for the place has a brief history section:

The park is named after Ulysses S. Grant who visited Portland three times, a rare thing for a president to do in the days before air travel - or even before standardized rail travel! Grant was first assigned to Fort Vancouver where he made friends with many of Portland's politicians.

Grant Park was the setting for many scenes in children's books by Beverly Cleary. In 1991, a group of teachers, librarians, and business people formed the Friends of Henry & Ramona, and began to raise funds for the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden for Children. Portland artist Lee Hunt created life-sized bronze statues of three of Cleary's best-loved characters - Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Henry's dog Ribsy. Scattered around the concrete slab are granite plaques engraved with the titles of the Cleary books that take place in Portland - and a map of the neighborhood showing where events in the books "really happened." The Sculpture Garden was dedicated on October 13, 1995.

Other than the Chucky Effect plaza, it's your basic neighborhood park, and it has generally positive Yelp reviews, for whatever that's worth.

It's not entirely clear where the school ends and the park begins, and I'm not sure whether things like the pool and the running track are open to the general public, or are reserved exclusively for school use, or reserved for the school only while school's in session, or exactly what the arrangement is. The library's Oregonian database suggests this has been a source of confusion from the very beginning. The original deal was that the city parks bureau would buy the land and hand a portion over to the school district for a new school, and the two parties would share the park somehow. This quickly became contentious; by November 1922, before either park or school had opened, the parties were already arguing about details, such as who was responsible for heating the park's swimming pool. And when not fighting with the school district, city bureaus fought among themselves. In May 1923, the parks bureau was fighting with the City Engineer over proper grading of streets around the school, the parks bureau wanting a 6% grade and the city engineer wanting only a 5% grade.

Controversies around the park and the school multiplied as planning and construction dragged on. In December 1923, people realized the new school was 11 whole blocks from the nearest streetcar line, as nobody had put any thought into how students would get to the new school. This resulted in calls to put in a new streetcar line to serve the school, as the modern school bus had not yet been invented. In June 1924, as the school was under construction, the contractor in charge of building it was forced to replace 500 window sections in the school after the district accused him of using cheap, shoddy window glass. The article states the original glass "was declared to distort the view and to be hard on the eyes of the children", whatever that means. The city and school district were still fighting over who was responsible for what in July 1924, with the parks commissioner insisting he had no authority to do any grading or improvements around the new school unless the school grounds were included in the city park, under his jurisdiction.

I haven't gone through subsequent decades' newspapers to see whether the bureaucratic infighting continued or not. I would assume it probably did, though, right up to the present day. Contemporary thinking about schools is that they need to be maximum security facilities, full of ID badges and metal detectors and security cameras and all that, and this doesn't mesh well with having an open campus that sort of segues into a regular city park. In other places like SE Portland's Sunnyside School Park, they've resolved this tension by making the park school-use-only during school hours. They haven't taken this step with Grant Park, and there would be a neighborhood uproar if they tried it, but I imagine the school district has at least considered the idea.

NW Luray Circus

One of the many ongoing projects here on this humble blog involves a certain list of obscure places I found on the city archives website a few years ago. It's a list of places the city parks department had some sort of involvement with between about 1970 and the early 1990s, though most of them aren't official city parks. I just can't resist lists of obscure things, and I really can't resist patently absurd blog projects, so I've been tracking these places down now and then. Most of them turn out to be not that interesting, but you never really know ahead of time what you'll end up with.

So the next obscure place in this little project is one that's actually had a cameo here before. NW Luray Circus is a short dead-end street high in the West Hills, and it's also the top end of a flight of public stairs, up from NW Luray Terrace. You can get here from "lowland" NW Portland by taking several flights of stairs, this being the top of the fourth and last flight. I did this a few years ago for this post about stairs, and I did it again recently because of what's at the top. As I said, this street is on the list of obscure places, albeit listed as "Luray Circle" (which doesn't exist.) The list is simply a list of place names or addresses, so on arriving the question was, what exactly am I looking for? The stairs leave you off at a cul-de-sac at the end of the street, the circle/circus of the title. If you look closely at the center of the cul-de-sac, it looks like there used to be something there other than pavement. My guess is that it might have been a landscaped circle at one point, since that would explain why it's on the list. If that's what it was, it would have made for a very tight circle, and it probably would have gotten in the way of residents' ever-larger vehicles. I imagine someone phoned up city hall and called in a favor or something, and it's gone now. Or maybe the list referred to something else entirely, although I don't see anything obvious that it might be, other than the stairs. And if it's the stairs, I've already covered them elsewhere. So it's Mission Accomplished either way.

Other than real estate ads, Luray Circus only appears in the library's Oregonian database in connection with the lurid 1930 Leone Bowles homicide case, which sounds like something straight out of a film noir. Bowles and her husband Nelson, a prominent local banker, married in 1920 with a big high society wedding, and moved to Luray Circus. By 1930, their marriage had broken down, and Nelson Bowles had moved in with Irma Loucks, his longtime mistress. On November 12th, 1930, Louise Bowles went to Irma Loucks's eastside apartment, and died there of multiple stab wounds. The following day's newspaper account reported it as a suicide, based on the accounts of Nelson Bowles and Irma Loucks, who conveniently were the only two witnesses, as well as that of Dr. Paul B. Cooper, a doctor friend of Mr. Bowles who arrived at the scene shortly thereafter. For some reason Cooper sent the body directly to a mortuary without notifying police or the county coroner. Frankly I don't believe a word of their story, and it's strange that the paper essentially reported their accounts as undisputed facts.

Inconsistencies in the accounts of the stabbing emerged over the next few days, even as the paper went on about how distraught Bowles was, and how his wife had supposedly been suicidal for a long time. Investigators didn't buy that argument, and the inquest became a homicide investigation. Nelson Bowles and Irma Loucks were arrested on December 6th, on suspicion of murder as well as "lewd cohabitation". Meanwhile, the funeral was held in Yakima, WA on December 13th, with a casket covered in flowers sent by Nelson Bowles, even though he was currently sitting in jail awaiting indictment, which is just creepy. On December 31st, a grand jury returned a sternly worded indictment against both Nelson Bowles and Irma Loucks.

So the case went to trial in March 1931, and this is the part of the story where money, privilege, and connections made a world of difference. The same Dr. Cooper who tampered with evidence right after the death was somehow permitted to testify as an expert witness for the defense. Bowles's high-powered legal team won him an acquittal, after putting the victim on trial and selling the jury on the defense's suicide story. Shortly thereafter all charges were dismissed against Dr. Cooper, who'd been investigated for tampering with evidence.

Several months later, the Nelson Bowles and the new Mrs. Irma Bowles appeared in the paper again; in the intervening months the two had married and skipped town to Denver. And this is the last we hear of the pair in the Oregonian, and Google is no help either. I have no idea what became of the pair after that.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Portland Heights Park

Here's a set of photos from Portland Heights Park, up in the West Hills, on Patton Rd. next to the swanky Strohecker's grocery store. (Yes, I know it's technically called "Lamb's at Strohecker's" now. That name's just way too clunky.) The city parks page for the park has a brief history section:

In the 1920s, this property was owned by Mayannah and Boudinot Seeley who allowed neighbors in the area to use it for games and recreation. In 1924, the Portland Heights Club presented a preliminary plan to the City for the development of the site, including a ball field, tennis courts, and restrooms. The City built a playground between 1925-27; it was operated by the Portland Heights Playground Association (PHPA). In 1929, the Seeleys sold the property to the PHPA who raised funds for the purchase by subscription. In 1943, the site was deeded to the City.

An Oregonian article from December 1923 explains that the Portland Heights Club was in the middle of raising $40,000 to buy the land and put in a playground, the idea being that they city would lease it for $1 per year for a while, and then buy it outright at some unspecified future date. This future date ended up being 20 years in the future; I imagine the Great Depression probably delayed the handover for quite a few years.

That's about all I know about the place. The library's Oregonian newspaper database has references to a "Portland Heights Park" as far back as 1891. Apparently it was some sort of outdoor music venue, site of concerts of annoying Victorian-era music, heavy on the Sousa marches. The arrival of jazz a few years later must have been quite a relief for everyone. I don't know whether that original Portland Heights Park was at the same location or not; all of the news items about it that I've seen assumed that contemporary readers already knew where it was, and they don't give an address. A few state it was reachable by streetcar, but don't specify which streetcar line to take, much less which stop to get off at.

A subdivision by the same name was announced in October 1945, as what must have been one of the city's first postwar subdivisions. The entire rest of the page concerns the doings of individual local soldiers and sailors, with hopes expressed that they'd be coming home soon. The subdivision was somewhere around SW Sherwood Drive & Broadway, a bit east and downhill from the city park.

So I have to admit that I took these photos while shopping at the swanky grocery store next door. In my defense, it's not my usual grocery store, and I went there in part because I needed better photos of the park, and I figured I might as well get some grocery shopping done while I was at it. If you page through the whole slide show -- and why wouldn't you? -- you'll see it includes a bunch of generic forest photos. Those were my original photos of the park from several years ago, or at least I'd concluded they were of the park, based on when they were taken and when I knew I'd walked past the place. In the last couple of years I've kind of lowered my standards a little regarding photos, such that pseudo-artsy DSLR photos are currently the rare exception to the rule. But the photos I had really gave no sense of the place at all, and I couldn't see building a whole post around a few generic low-quality forest photos. I figured I ought to take at least one photo that's absolutely, positively from Portland Heights Park before I could move forward with a post. I dunno, otherwise it just didn't feel right somehow.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Stephens Creek Nature Park

Here's a slideshow from SW Portland's little Stephens Creek Nature Park. It's basically a few acres of creek bottomland wedged between SW Bertha Blvd & Capitol Hill Road, with a low bridge over the creek and a couple of other trails winding around the park. Since much of the park is in a ravine below street level, the park seems larger than 3-ish acres, but only so long as you're standing still. If you follow any of the trails you'll be up against the edge of the park in no time, and the illusion ends there, as if you've bumped into the wall of the holodeck or something. The vegetation unit survey for the park (a city report on the environmental condition of the place) lists all the units as either "poor" or "severely degraded". Though that seems to be par for the course for city natural areas. The survey also mentions there's an additional unit to the park, downstream of here, east and on the other side of I-5. It doesn't seem to border any roads and might be inaccessible.

A sign in the park includes an old newspaper article from April 1975 explaining the park's origins. It seems the trail through the present-day park began not as a nature trail, but as one elderly gentleman's guerrilla project. Students walking to or from nearby Wilson High School had to walk along the shoulders of busy streets to get there, and he decided to build an off-street trail as a safer way to get to class. Inevitably, wrangling with City Hall ensued, as it does whenever someone in Portland does an unauthorized good deed. The park sign went on to note that the city eventually signed off on the idea and everyone lived happily ever after, although it tries to be very firm and clear that the 70s were basically the Wild West and we no longer do things that way in this civilized age, so don't even think about it, this means you.

More recently, the city developed a "functional plan" for the park in 2005, with a list of things the city wanted to do fix or improve here, but with no immediate dollars attached. In 2007, the current bridge was added, along with trail improvements. A 2010 story explains that the improvements came about thanks to neighborhood volunteers, who did the construction work themselves instead of waiting for the city to find $900k to have the parks bureau do it. Not really a guerrilla effort, but the earlier thing may have helped inspire this. A bit of trail through the east side of the park opened in March 2014, not long before I visited, after another neighborhood fight over making the trail ADA-accessible.

On May 9th, 1920, the stretch of Bertha Blvd. next to the park was the scene of a high-speed streetcar collision. Apparently the engineer on one of the streetcars ignored a signal and his train collided head on with an oncoming train, killing 8 people (including the engineer) and injuring at least 38 others. A Multnomah Historical Association article about the accident includes a few photos (non-gory) of the scene. The photos show that this area was still rural at the time, and the creek was spanned by a rickety wooden bridge.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Inverness Force Main Bridge


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The next Columbia Slough bridge on our mini-tour is the newest, other than the rebuilt Vancouver Ave. bridge. The Peninsula Crossing Trail continues north after the Portsmouth Cut area, and crosses the Columbia Slough on a new-ish bike/pedestrian bridge, just east of the city's ginormous Columbia Wastewater Treatment Plant. Several sources (including the Google map above) insist the bridge and the bit of trail south of it are part of the Columbia Slough Trail, which intersects the Peninsula Crossing Trail just north of the bridge. The Intertwine trail map says it is, a Metro map about the ongoing Columbia Slough Trail project says it isn't. The slough trail is an east-west trail along the north bank of the slough, running a few miles through N/NE Portland, while the crossing trail is a roughly north-south route that vaguely parallels the BNSF railroad across the N. Portland peninsula. The bridge is clearly part of the latter route, not that that's going to stop anyone from making new wrong maps in the future. The map error is out there now, and map errors tend to be strongly self-propagating once they're out in the wild.

Anyway, when I walked across the bridge, I thought it seemed a lot more solid and heavy duty than was strictly needed for a bike and pedestrian bridge. I assumed that was so the occasional maintenance or emergency vehicle could use it too. Then I bumped into an old planning document from 1996 that explained the bridge's hidden secret. It turns out that in the early 90s the city's Bureau of Environmental Services wanted to build a bridge over the slough for the Inverness Force Main, a shiny new sewer pipeline (though maybe "shiny" is the wrong word here), and they figured they might as well put a bike/pedestrian walkway on top, concealing the pipe while they were at it. (Though it seems like they continued calling it the Inverness Force Main bridge instead of naming it after either of the trails.) It's not just any old sewer pipe, either, but a 30 inch main carrying pressurized raw sewage. As you might imagine, it was kind of a bad deal when the pipe under bridge sprang a leak back in February 2014. The public was advised to avoid contact with the slough, which generally speaking is what people do anyway.