Next up is another rose from a Portland Roses Tumblr post, this time outside the huge, ramshackle New Copper Penny bar/nightclub complex in Lents. A 2014 Willamette Week article described the owner's efforts to fight City Hall, particularly PDC officials who wanted, no, needed his land for upscale condos and goat yoga boutiques and so forth. The fight went the way fighting City Hall usually goes, and the land's been sold to an apartment building developer, so say goodbye to another piece of sleazy, disreputable Old Portland. The drawings for the proposed new building look entirely soulless, a carbon copy of every other new apartment building around the city, and I'm sure many other US cities too. At least central Lents may finally get its first Starbucks this way, I guess.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
And here's the rose design I mentioned in the previous post, also by artist Pablo Garcia. Street View says this was still there as of June 2016. Like most other pictures of roses you see here, I ran across this in a Portland Roses Tumblr post.
This mural was on the side of a building at NE 23rd & Alberta just over a year ago. It was created by artist Pablo Garcia, who also did the elephant mural that replaced it, which I don't have photos of, as well as the rose design on the front of the building, which you'll see in the next post.
Friday, November 25, 2016
Next up (and still on NE Alberta), here are a couple of murals on either side of the alley between NE 27th & 28th. I don't know who created these or when, or even whether they're "official" or just sort of appeared overnight. You might think that since Alberta's heavily marketed as an artsy sort of place, someone might be maintaining a map or a list somewhere, so you could go on an art stroll around the neighborhood after your fancy wine and cheese party. As far as I can tell nobody's taken on that project. I mean, I suppose if you needed that you could probably use the "NE Alberta" tag here in lieu of a proper quality list. I tend to say "I don't know" quite a lot, but at least I usually get the locations and photos right.
These panels are, or were, on the side of a building at NE 29th & Alberta. They looked potentially temporary, and I took these photos over a year ago, so it's possible they aren't there anymore. And it's NE Alberta, so it's possible the entire building isn't there anymore.
The ongoing mural tour is back on NE Alberta again, this time at Alberta & 30th. This one was on my todo list thanks to a post on the Portland Roses Tumblr. That's all I know about this one, I'm afraid.
Next mural up is a fading one at SE 30th & Belmont, on the same building as the Peace Mural we visited some months ago. A 1999 issue of CultureWork (a University of Oregon arts publication) mentions it:
One of my favorite murals in Portland is the 1,725 sq.ft. "Rediscovering Belmont" mural on the Futon Factory at SE 30th and Belmont Streets. I'm always engaged by it every time I walk or drive by. It took five months to organize, two weeks to paint, and involved over 100 neighborhood volunteers, including schools, neighbors, and local businesses. If you read the attached plaque you'll see that it was sponsored and supported by the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, AmeriCorps Members for Neighborhood Safety, Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Program, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and supported by the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, Bitar Brothers, Corp. and the city's Graffiti Abatement Project.
Much of the rest of the article is devoted to lamenting the art vs. billboards legal battle that put nearly all murals on hold in Portland in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I've discussed that a few times before, most recently in another post earlier today. So I won't go into that again here.
Next up is another small public space on SE Foster, the Lents Crossroads Plaza at the corner of Foster & 92nd. It was built back in 2001 or so, meant to be a sort of central gathering place for a neighborhood that didn't have one. There wasn't anything going on when I was there, so I had to resort to the intergoogles to figure out what it's for. Which probably gives an entirely random and unrepresentative sense of the place, but here goes.
- The main thing that happens regularly here is the Lents Farmers Market; I haven't been to it and I'm not sure whether it's in the plaza itself or the grassy area next door.
- There was a pop-up coffee shop for a while in summer 2015, since downtown Lents somehow doesn't have a single brick-and-mortar coffee place, which is just uncivilized, if true. How is this even possible, in the year 2016, in Portland? Maybe it's just that there's, like, a Starbucks somewhere nearby, and they have the sense not to count it.
- An East PDX News article mentioned a hopefully-annual "May Day Pig Roast" held on May 1st, but neglected to mention which year it was. A 2009 Willamette Week article wringing its hands about Lents's proposed (but never built) minor league baseball stadium had a puzzling description for the place: "If Portland filmmakers ever needed a street corner that looked like the Eastern Bloc, the Lents Crossroads would be a perfect fit." I have no idea what they meant by that.
A couple of recent posts have looked at elements of the city's ongoing "redevelopment" (i.e. gentrification) effort in Portland's Lents neighborhood, centered on SE Foster just west of I-205. So far they haven't had a lot of success attracting actual new construction to the area, but they've spent a fair bit of PDC development money creating plazas and monuments and whatnot, in the hope that a new Pearl District might someday arise way out here. You might have inferred from my tone that I'm not entirely convinced this is either likely or desirable. But in all the time I've had this humble blog, the city has never once asked my opinion (or the opinion of any other random pseudonymous internet person, for that matter) before building something, and I doubt they're going to start now.
Anyway, after the initial phase of the project, the city ended up owning various bits and pieces of vacant land around central Lents, to be sold off to developers at whatever point developers take an interest in the area. Leaving them as empty lots for now wouldn't really create a sense of impending prosperity, so it was time to get creative. In August 2014, this parcel at SE 88th & Foster became Lents Grown Story Yard, a temporary art installation featuring odd wire-and-rocks outdoor furniture and large photos of local business owners. The PDC press release for the grand opening explains this is a temporary use of the land, paid for with rather small PDC and Arts Tax grants. This is basically the same model they used successfully with the former Block 47 mini-park at NE Holladay & MLK, across from the Convention Center. I've forgotten exactly what replaced the old mini-park, but the whole area north of the Convention Center has sprouted swanky new apartment buildings in the last couple of years, so it's probably part of one of those now.
Sorry about the picture quality, by the way. Everything I know about this place came from googling it after the fact; I didn't know it was there before going, and didn't realize what it was when I was visiting. While tracking down the weird "Retail Birthplace of U-Haul" marker across the street, I saw what looked like weird boxes of rocks across the street and took a couple of photos out of curiosity. If I'd known it was Art, I would have crossed the street for a better look.
Next mural up is this design outside the Mirador Community Store on SE Division, created in 2002 by artist Gwyllm Llywdd. You don't see a lot of circa-2002 murals as this was right in the middle of the city's mural wars. The semi-short version: City sorta-welcomes murals, but frowns on billboards. Malevolent out-of-town billboard conglomerate sues, arguing that treating the two differently violates the state constitution's free speech provisions, which are even more generous than the federal First Amendment. Billboard company wins. City decides it's better to regulate murals like billboards than vice versa. New rules are very strict, with the city fining violators and sometimes sending crews to paint over unauthorized murals, for fear of being hauled back into court for selective nonenforcement. Artists hate this. Everyone hates this. Eventually the city finds better lawyers, who come up with some creative legal dodges, and a permit system that theoretically allows advertising too, if it has enough artistic merit, though off the top of my head I can't think of any examples of this actually happening.
The mural you see here was rather controversial back then. Not because of the subject matter, but because it was just too big. City rules specified the maximum size for a sign in this area was 50 square feet, and murals were now considered signs, and this one was at least 3x that large. So the city ordered the store to paint over it or be fined $50/day. After some wrangling the store gave in, sort of, and nailed plywood over parts of the mural, just enough to get it down to the allowed 50 square feet. It stayed that way for another five years, until the new city mural program kicked in, and it was finally safe to take the plywood down.
(As a small counterpoint, the anonymous "Art Wall of Shame" Tumblr really hated this mural, with a tiny bit of semi-praise: "It’s very Portland. The greenery, the essence of Hippie-ism, the rolling hills." before diving into the full rant.)
Various groovy murals outside the Third Eye head shop on SE Hawthorne. One of them's signed "vicky" with an email address I didn't quite catch, but that's all the info I've got. If you search the intergoogles for "Third Eye", "hawthorne", and "mural", the top hit is the photoset you're looking at here. That basically always means the thing you're really looking for does not exist online. Oh well. I mean, I suppose I could have gone in and, y'know, asked, but that's never really been my style.
Next mural on our ongoing adventure is at NW Park & Davis, where a mural of Steve Prefontaine (the late distance runner and local mythological figure) graces the Portland office of the marketing firm IDL Worldwide (the building's also home to the "Working/Playing" neon sign you might have noticed.). The mural's labeled with the office's official hashtag, which is a thing that would of course exist, and it bears an illegible signature.
This post initially had a whole additional paragraph going on about the Prefontaine myth slash marketing phenomenon, but I read over it and concluded that as a rather, um, occasional runner, it's not my mythology, I don't get it, and honestly I don't care all that much. I will grant, however, that this Prefontaine is better than the one at the Cheerful Tortoise near PSU. So there's that.
The next mural we're visiting is outside Burnside Brewing, on the NE 7th side of the building. Apparently the mural predates the brewery; it's signed by Brazilian artist Herbert Baglione, & dated 2006, while Burnside Brewing was founded in 2010. It featured in a 2009 Mercury story about edgy local murals, again before the brewery started up. A web address on the mural mentions hipster retail chain Upper Playground, so maybe they used to have a store here (that was a decade ago & I honestly don't recall), or maybe it was just an ad for a store elsewhere, I dunno.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Ok, I accidentally deleted a blog post just now, for the first time ever. I posted it, then it looked like I had a copy in Drafts as well as a published one (which is a bug I've seen a lot lately with Blogger), so I deleted the "Draft" one, and the published one vanished too. Luckily it wasn't a very long blog post, and I think I can recreate it, more or less.
So the post was about Stoll Plaza, a sorta-park in the Hollywood District. The park was created out of a former stretch of NE 41st between Broadway & Sandy, just west of the historic Hollywood Theater; when the adjacent blocks were redeveloped, it was convenient to close the very short bit of 41st here, as the city didn't think it was needed for traffic purposes. But there was a utility easement down the middle, so it couldn't be built upon, so a shiny new public plaza was born. It's named after local boosters (and dance studio owners) Norm & Helen Stoll, & was dedicated in 2013 (gaining the inevitable skateboard stops in 2014). This is the latest in a number of odd public spaces caused by diagonal NE Sandy cutting through the Portland street grid, resulting in too-small city blocks here, and too-short city streets there. Harold Kelley Plaza (a former too-short street, named for another local booster), and Vernon Ross Veterans Memorial (the city's smallest legal city block, supposedly) are two examples just within the Hollywood District.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Next up we're visiting Alberta Street Crossing, a pair of murals on NE Alberta Ct. on either side of 42nd Avenue. These were created in 2011 by artist Loey Hargrove, with a grant from the RACC (the local public arts agency). I was going to snark and be pedantic about the title saying "Alberta Street" when it's really on Alberta Ct. But I noticed my original notes from whenever I saved this draft post said "Note ct. not st., to be pedantic about it.", and I'm kind of inclined to play against type for once. So really, who cares? It still says "Alberta", after all. Close enough.
The next mural we're visiting is on NE Alberta, facing the alley between 29th & 30th avenues. An old Neighborhood Notes post calls it "Alberta Who's Who" (or I think it does, or did; the site seems to be down at the moment). The mural doesn't list any names, but I gather this is a diverse assortment of prominent people from around the neighborhood. Call me a non-Alberta resident if you like -- and you'd be correct -- but I have no idea who any of these people are.
Next up, we're visiting the animal & nature mosaics outside Richmond Elementary in SE Portland, at 41st & Grant Ct. These were created in 2008-09 by artist Lynn Takata, along with students from the school's Japanese language immersion program.
At one entrance to the main OHSU hospital building is this bust of Oregon's late Senator Mark Hatfield, who represented the state in Congress from 1967-1997. He was possibly one of the last decent and humane Republicans around, although I voted against him the one time he was on the ballot & I was old enough to vote, because he was still a Republican. As a senator with a great deal of seniority, he was also quite generous with those old-style earmarks, and OHSU was one of his favorite beneficiaries over the years, and a great many places and things around the campus are named in his honor. An old Portland Public Art post says this is one of at least two depictions of the august senator, and the frieze somewhere near the main lobby is a better likeness, but I don't know where that one is & have no photos of it, so this one will have to do.
I don't know who created this bust; it's bound to have been someone very well reputed, as Hatfield's wife owned an art gallery for many years, and knew absolutely everyone. I didn't see a signature on the front, and its shrine-like niche sort of discourages one from looking at the back of it for a signature, as if from that angle you'd discover he was a mostly-benevolent space alien the whole time, and then the guards would have to dispose of you. Possibly that's not exactly what would happen, but that's the general sense I got.
[View Larger Map]
The next sorta-park we're visiting is on SE 19th Ave. where it dead ends just south of SE Division. The city acquired the land for the street back in 1909 but never quite got around to completing it, so it just sort of sat vacant for a century or so. The local neighborhood association got the idea that it might be a good place for a small park, so they worked things out with the city and "Avalon Sanctuary" was born. The name sounds like some sort of crystals-and-dolphins thing, and it's certainly the sort of neighborhood where that might happen, but it turns out this bit of 19th Ave. was originally called Avalon St. until the Great Street Renaming of 1933. The renaming fixed the previous bizarre and chaotic address system, and created a lot of temporary jobs in the middle of the Depression, but we did lose a few pleasant street names in the process.
Ok, in the previous post I mentioned something about having another public stairs post floating around in Drafts. So this is that other post, and the stairs we're visiting connect NE Wistaria Drive on the lower end, and Alameda St. on the upper end, 3 fancy rich-person houses east of where it becomes Beaumont St. I put "Beaumont" in the title because there's another set of stairs between Wistaria & Alameda a couple of blocks east of here, and in theory they might show up here someday, and if that ever happens I'll need a way to disambiguate the two.
Embedded maps usually aren't very useful on stairs posts, since you can't really see them very well. I put one here since you can sort of make out where the stairs are, thanks to the hedges that run alongside it.
One of the ongoing projects I haven't revisited in a while involves tracking down public stairs here and there around the city. In fact the last stairs post was back in January 2010, though this post and another one have been floating around in Drafts for a good while, so it's not like I've been completely neglecting this particular project. So the stairs we're looking at this time are in NW Portland, connecting NW 25th Place on the lower side & NW Barker Ave. on the upper side. The stairs are weirdly grandiose for something that connects two quiet dead-end residential streets, and I wish I knew why. These stairs are in a weird corner of NW Portland and aren't among the city's better-known stairs (I seem to recall I just stumbled across them without knowing they were there), and I don't see many other mentions of it across the interwebs. It does show up on one tour of stairways in the area, weirdly enough on a cycling website. Maybe it's there for the hardcore cyclocross nuts, people who want to run up & down all these stairways while lugging a bike, while it's raining or (hopefully) hailing, and maybe wolves or velociraptors are chasing you or something.
Here are a few photos of the mural outside Base Camp Brewing, on SE Oak between 9th & 10th. I don't know who created this one, which is the big reason this post's been sitting around in Drafts for a long time. The top Google hit for "base camp brewing" + mural is one of my photos in the Flickr photoset above, which is usually a big clue there's nothing out there on the interwebs about it. About the only other mention I see of it is in a very enthusiastic beer blog post about the brewery. Which is convenient since I'm not really in the beer blogging business (despite being a bit of an enthusiast), and you can read alllll about the brewery that way. But since you asked (and you totally did), Base Camp isn't bad, though I usually end up at Hair of the Dog instead if I'm in the area.
The next mural we're peeking at is up in Vancouver (the midsized Washington one, not the big Canada one), on 25th Ave & the alley between Main St. & Broadway. I don't know anything about it, but I see it now & then during allergy season, since the 'Couve is the land of non-prescripton Sudafed, and the Walgreens across the street is the closest pharmacy to the Interstate Bridge. Note for non-Oregonians: Our local state legislature has determined that we're uniquely unable to handle our Sudafed, and requires us to get a non-renewable prescription from a doctor for something you can buy at a pharmacy counter everywhere else, to keep us all from turning into depraved meth fiends. They haven't yet figured out how to prevent you from just crossing the river and buying it there like normal human beings do. And while you're over there, you can go for the 'Couve trifecta and buy some tequila at a grocery store and then pump your own gas, a couple of other things the State of Oregon feels its citizenry can't handle. Granted, on your way back home you can wave at all the 'Couve residents coming home from a day of sales tax-free shopping on the Oregon side of the river. So, potato, potahto, I guess.
The usual practice when I do a Portland city park post involves visiting, taking a few photos, and trying to find something to write about the place. This particular time, we're going to settle for a few photos from a distance; the euphemistically-named Harbor View Property is a chunk of abandoned industrial land next to the 5.1 railroad bridge, just downstream from the McCormick & Baxter Creosote Superfund site. Apparently the city's owned it since 1970, and hasn't figured out anything useful to do with the place all this time. If you look closely, you might see an intersection where Van Houten Ave. crosses the railroad tracks; the city-owned parcel is to the left of the tracks, and this side of the intersection. I understand there are ways to get in if you're really determined, but to be honest I really just didn't want to. The abandoned buildings in the background weren't a big draw for me either, and I understand they've been demolished & replaced by a parking lot since I took these photos. Besides, I draw a firm line at "Superfund", and I'm not even sorry.
In a recent post I mentioned something about the big new monument doodads the city installed along SE Foster to let visitors know they'd arrived at the fabled Lents Town Center, with upscale housing and amenities to be built Real Soon Now. So here's one of the two monuments in all its glory, in case anyone was curious.
As a side note, one of this humble blog's more esoteric projects involves tracking down some obscure places from an old Parks Bureau list from the early 90s, places they'd had something to do with in the last couple of decades but generally didn't own. One of the items on the list was "Foster Woodstock Couplets", which is here, or technically was a previous incarnation of here, prior to the big monuments and so forth. I think the earlier effort was strictly for traffic flow, making Foster & Woodstock a pair of one way streets through central downtown Lents, such as it was/is. Still, I'm going to check that item off the list now, since I don't see how else it gets checked off, and checking it off is important because of reasons.
The next mural we're visiting is an Ashley Montague one at NE 15th & Burnside, dated 2014. I don't know much about this one; the mural guy on Flickr who I find a lot of these things through calls it "Beastmaster". That may be its actual name, or it may just be a series of cheesy sword & sorcery movies starring Marc Singer and a bunch of ferrets:
Meanwhile, our ongoing mural project is visiting this design in an alley next to the long-defunct Bob White Theater, on SE Foster just west of 65th. I don't really know anything about the mural, unfortunately; the theater itself was the subject of an attempted revival a couple of years ago, but that stalled out, & the theater was sold to a mysterious LLC in September 2015, with rumors the space might become mini-storage or something mundane like that, just based on the name of the LLC. I have a thing for old movie theaters and I'd hate to see that happen. There's always room in this city for another neighborhood beer-n-pizza theater, or another fancy art house cinema if the gentrification gods really smile on the area. Surely that would be worthy of a chunk of PDC development money, assuming you know the right people and so forth.
Next up on the VanWa art tour is the Rocket Bike thingy in Heritage Square, the city's temporary park on Washington St. between 8th & 9th. There wasn't a sign next to it & I haven't been able to figure out who created it or anything. Maybe it's technically considered a glorified bike rack (note the racks at the base) rather than capital-A Art, per se. I am not sure how that works. In any case, the city put this city block back on the market earlier this year, so the park and its flying rocket bike may not be around for much longer.
The next stop in our downtown VanWa art tour is Winged Woman, a 1997 sculpture by Elizabeth Heron in the city's Broadway sculpture garden. We've already visited the other 3 denizens of the garden on our tour: Spike Flower, Glyph Singer No. 3, & Wheel Series I.
Next up in downtown VanWa art is The Phoenix, near 8th & Main, a kinetic sculpture by artist Andrew Carson that was installed in 2010. I seem to recall it wasn't being very kinetic at the time, so I don't have a video of it doing its thing, whatever it does.
I am in a distinct minority of Pacific Northwest residents in being pro-umbrella. Certain people loudly insist that true Portlanders are forbidden to ever use or even own umbrellas, under the mistaken impression that points are somehow awarded for getting rained on when you don't have to. I have no idea who would award points for that, or why, and I'd rather be dry than collect their stupid points anyway.
Tuesday, November 01, 2016
Next up, we have another bit of art at OHSU. This time it's a really odd statue of an anthropomorphic female rabbit holding a dog. The late, lamented Portland Public Art blog did two posts about OHSU art, back when the Kohler Pavilion and the aerial tram were new, and one post included a short blurb about this statue:
There are outdoor sculpture areas on both floors with fantastic views of the city and the tram, showing artwork like the kitschy Sophie Ryder Standing Lady Hare with Dog – which she’s remade and sold many times. But it really works here, strong arms and strong backside gently holding the sick dog.
That last bit is glowing praise, by Portland Public Art standards. I'm unsure that this is my cup of tea, though, possibly because I've seen too many monster movies involving rabbits. Ok, one. Two, if Donnie Darko counts. Still, the artist's Wikipedia bio includes this fabulous line: In 1994 a sculpture of five minotaurs was banned from an exhibition at Winchester Cathedral because of the prominence of their genitalia., with a link to this Independent story. So that's a big mark in her favor, I'd say.
Next up is another installment in our occasional tour of TriMet MAX art. Art along the westside Blue Line can be sort of hard to figure out sometimes; TriMet's official guide doesn't always mention titles and sometimes doesn't even name the artists, and I don't feel like I can do a proper public art post without knowing those two things. For example, take the group of decorative brick carts (i.e. benches that look like carts) at the Elmonica MAX station at SW 170th. TriMet's description of the station explains that Westside design team artists and Don Merkt echoed the act of transplantation—moving objects, plants and people from their original environment to a new place. Three brick carts symbolize transplanting, transporting, transforming.. At some point I ran across an RACC page that was a bit more specific, saying the group of carts was called Transplant and was created by Merkt. Unfortunately if you follow that link now you'll get an ugly IIS server error; I don't know whether it's a website error or the page has been deleted without redirecting to a nice 404 page, but it's been this way for months now. Anyway, I seem to recall there was a longer description on that missing page, though I feel like I understand the general concept already without a longer description. Still, it's too bad, if only because quoting a extended block of art lingo makes one's blog post look a bit larger and fancier.
In any case, this humble blog has previously visited a few other artworks by Merkt: Driver's Seat on the downtown transit mall near Union Station, Water, Please at the city water pollution lab next to Cathedral Park, and On TV at the cable access studio building on NE MLK. I think there's also something of his along the new MAX Orange Line, but I haven't gotten around to Orange Line art just yet.
Next up on our public art tour is Brick Relief by Jacques Overhoff, just inside the 6th & Harrison entrance to the Portland State University business school building, which is currently undergoing a major remodel and expansion. Its Oregon Arts Commission page includes a brief description: Stylized and patterned alterations to conventional bricks integrate into a wall of otherwise conventional bricks. Although you could probably tell that much just by the photos. (The chair in the photos is not part of the art, though I couldn't blame you for wondering.) PSU's art inventory mentions it & says it dates to 1986-87, which would have to be when the building went in, given that it's part of the building. The state archives website also has a series of photos of the relief being assembled, unless it's a different brick relief in Corvallis by the same artist. That part isn't entirely clear.
Monday, October 31, 2016
The next sorta-park we're visiting is a relatively new one. For years now, the Portland Development Commission has been trying -- fruitlessly so far -- to gentrify the Lents neighborhood, particularly the stretch of Foster Rd. between about SE 88th & I-205. So far they've poured close to $100M into the area, and the fickle condo tower gods have yet to appear & bestow their various blessings, so the struggle continues. A recent PDC effort here was called "Lents Streetscape Improvements", which involved redesigning a few intersections and adding a couple of large gateway monuments to let drivers know that a.) they had arrived at Lents, and b.) this fact was important. One of the intersection tweaks added a bend to SE 91st Ave. at the intersection with Foster, and the original straight bit of street was transmogrified into the semi-shiny new plaza you see here. (Note: in 2016, Google Maps still can't decide whether it wants to show you the old street grid or the new one. If you don't see a bend in the embedded map above, try clicking "View Larger Map", which will take you to a map that's both larger and newer. Don't ask me why; I don't work for Google and am at least as confused as you are.)
The little plaza doesn't seem to have an official name, and a 2014 Willamette Week article dubbed it "Cockroach Plaza", due to the pest control business housed in the building next door. That's a bit unfair, considering the building is a vintage Carnegie library that just happens to house a pest control business right now. I will grant that the plaza won't win any urban design awards. It looks like it could use a weird sculpture in the middle, or a couple of food carts. Possibly they're waiting a few years to do that, so locals can get used to the new bend in the road & won't plow right through the local fruit cart or something.
In the previous post, I mentioned something about one of this humble blog's more esoteric ongoing projects, tracking down a group of obscure places on a list I found in the city archives website years ago. Some of these places are actual city parks (albeit very obscure ones). Others turn out to be bits of city-owned property the parks bureau had a hand in maintaining at one point, and then there are a few cases where I can't figure out why they're on the list at all. This installment actually invents a fourth category, as you'll see in a moment.
My Evernote copy of the esoteric list said there was something at SW Bertha & Donner, a hairpin intersection of winding streets up in the West Hills. Street View wasn't promising; there was nothing obviously park-like or even green to be seen, just a somewhat wider-than-usual intersection. Still, I went and visited and took some photos, because them's the rules, and here they are.
So I checked property records and came up with a theory about the place, for anyone who's still reading & isn't utterly bored to tears by this project. At one point, PortlandMaps showed a tiny bit of the intersection as a parcel of land owned by the city transportation bureau, as opposed to counting it as part of the street right-of-way (which is what normally happens). This later changed, and the website now lists property ID #R178213 as "inactive", and the property description now includes the word "CANCEL". So, theory is that the tiny bit of land may have been a bit of landscaped median or something at one point, and it was paved over later on, and eventually the city decided to abolish it entirely, for mysterious but I'm sure very important bureaucratic reasons.
An additional fun detail from PortlandMaps is that Bertha Ave. continues west from here in the legal sense, but there's no actual road there; the physical street picks back up a couple of blocks west of here. I suppose at some point the city must've concluded the missing Bertha bit wasn't going to be built anytime soon, and tried to round off the would-be intersection into more of a hairpin corner, and whatever was here before was paved over at that point. A more adventurous and outgoing person than I might have started knocking on doors and asking people strange questions about their weird street. And this more adventurous person might have gotten definitive answers, or (more likely) doors slammed in his or her face, and a nice visit from Officer Friendly and his or her enormous K9 partner.
The exciting twist, now that you've read this far, is that then I went back and looked at the original list, and the original item actually reads "Dosch & Bertha/Beaverton". Which is an entirely different place, albeit not that far from here. So this spot is in category number four, things that seem like they ought to have been in category three (i.e. things on the list where I don't understand why they were listed), but in fact were not on the list at all. Which is a fancy way of saying I completely screwed up this time, beginning with typing the wrong thing into Evernote. With any luck, this post will be the only item in category four. I thought about just deleting this post since it's not even a genuine item from that silly list, but I figured I already had the photos and I'd done the research, and there was (slightly) more of a story to it than most of the stuff on that list, and I seem to be a big believer in chasing sunk costs, so here goes.
If this happens to be your neighborhood, I like to think I'm somehow boosting your property values or raising the tone of your neighborhood by showcasing this little spot. If busloads of foreign tourists start showing up to take photos, though, I assure you I had nothing to do with it; to be honest this whole thing started because most of your neighborhood street names are German words starting with B or D, which is a lousy and confusing sort of naming convention, so frankly you only have yourselves to blame for all of this nonsense.
The anatomy of an ongoing blog project here looks something like this: I find or compile a list of places and things (parks, bridges, statues, murals, etc.), usually around Portland (for convenience), the more esoteric the better. I track them down, take a few photos of widely varying quality, and attempt to write something interesting, often while protesting that the subject isn't very interesting and the entire project is perhaps ill-conceived. There's one project in particular that I grumble about a lot: Many moons ago, I ran across a list of obscure places on the city archives website, all places the parks bureau had spent money on at some point between the 70s and early 90s. I thought it might be interesting to try to track them down. Some turned out to be obscure but real city parks, others random bits of road landscaping, and sometimes they weren't anything at all anymore. The city took the list down at some point, but I had the foresight(?) to include a copy in a post back in 2011, so I've sort of felt obligated to keep going for the sake of completeness, I suppose thanks to our old friend the sunk cost fallacy.
So as you might have guessed, this is another installment in that particular project. The list said there was something at the intersection of SW Fairmount Blvd. & Sherwood Place, two roads that wind around in the West Hills. What turns out to be there is a bit of vacant land, with a small gravel turnaround or parking lot and a sloping bit with some trees and blackberry bushes. PortlandMaps says it's all considered street right-of-way, so it's not really a city park, and I couldn't guess what sort of improvements the parks bureau might have made here a few decades back. Unless it's the gravel lot, maybe. Or maybe there's forgotten art or a disused fountain or rusty 70s playground equipment under the blackberries, although I rather doubt that. That's not how it usually turns out with this project. Usually I'm left scratching my head and wondering why it was included on that dumb list, and I never get a good answer. So it goes.
Another of our ongoing occasional projects here is a public art tour around downtown Vancouver, Washington, Portland's northern suburb across the river. It's not always world-renowned cutting-edge work, exactly, but at least there are different people selecting it, so it's at least different than the usual stuff by the usual Portland suspects. In that spirit, here's A Gift For You, in Esther Short Park, near the fountain & bell tower. This was created by Jim Demetro, who also did the George Vancouver statue at the west end of the park.
Back in 2009, while snarking at an kitschy 9/11 memorial on SE Belmont, I laid out a few semi-ironclad rules for deciding whether a statue is Bad Art. This, sadly, violates three of these rules: The statues are painted, or at least were at one point; it includes multiple people interacting, which usually looks goofy; and it includes at least one child, which always looks creepy. Still, the burbs like what they like, and locals seemed to be rather fond of it in a 2012 Columbian article. So yeah.
We still have a few items left on our tour of public art at OHSU, because doctors really like buying art. This one's actually called Doctors, in fact; it's by Bonnie Bronson, whose work has appeared here a few times before: Nepali Window downtown, and the painted panels on her husband Lee Kelly's Leland One and the untitled sculpture at NE 72nd & Fremont.
Ok, time for another blog post. I haven't done a city park post in a while, and honestly this probably won't be among the more memorable of them. A while ago I was out tracking down murals in SE Portland and ran across little Essex Park, on SE Center a few blocks west of 82nd. It's another of those neighborhood parks I keep saying I don't bother with; ballfields and playgrounds are fine, of course, but there's usually nothing distinctive there to justify a blog post. I took a couple of photos since I was there anyway, and eventually it occurred to me that there might be something interesting about the place in the old Oregonian newspaper database. That turned out pretty well a few years ago with Irving Park, which was previously a horse & auto racetrack where a world land speed record was set in the early 1900s.
If Essex Park has ever seen that level of excitement, it somehow didn't make the paper, unfortunately. I did come across one minor mystery, at least: The city parks website says the city acquired it in 1940, but the surrounding neighborhood was developed starting around 1906, and the developers were already calling the neighborhood "Essex Park" at that point. So either the neighborhood predated its namesake park, or someone else owned the park prior to 1940, or the city's records are off. Subsequent news items peak in the 1950s & early 60s, when the neighborhood would have been full of Boomer kids, all wanting to play Little League and enjoy wholesome group activities before heading down to the malt shop. That tapers off in the late 60s & into the 70s when the kids all headed off to college and communes and whatever, and then it's mostly crime news until the current century, when hip young couples began to realize the distant lands beyond Mt. Tabor were inhabited and surprisingly affordable. So that's our story, such as it is, and here are the assorted news items I ran across:
- Here's the first reference to "Essex Park" in 1906, which (as I mentioned) refers to an exciting new real estate development, not a city park.
- A 1909 article about the real estate boom in Lents & Mt. Scott mentions Essex Park being near "Firland station", and today's Firland Parkway is a few blocks west and south of today's Essex Park, so that was the first clue the neighborhood and the park were in the same general area.
- A 1920 "City News in Brief" item relates the tale of a couple who agreed to swap their Essex Park lot for 160 acres of Alberta farmland (meaning the Alberta in Canada, not the street in NE Portland), sight unseen, only to discover the land was mostly swamps and ravines. An indignant court case had been filed as the paper went to press.
- The first mention of the park itself in the paper comes in 1954, with a brief item about the parks bureau organizing events for kids in a few parks around the city. An item just below this mentions that OMSI (Portland's science museum) would be hosting a special showing of "Rhythm of Africa", a Jean Cocteau short documentary with a screenplay by Langston Hughes. I really wonder how that was received in the white-bread Republican Portland of 1954.
- Through the rest of the 1950s into the early 60s, the park gets mentioned a lot in connection with Little League games and wholesome organized kids activities, including one mention of the long-forgotten sport of "wicket-croquet-bowling", described as a cross between lawn bowling and cricket, played with a croquet ball.
- These news items sort of petered out in the mid-60s, I suppose as a generation of Boomer kids grew up and headed off to Woodstock or 'Nam. The annual Essex Park Pet Show was still going as of 1975, though, according to an item with photos of a cute fuzzy dog sliding down a playground slide.
- After that it's mostly real estate ads, with an occasional crime item, like a 1976 police chase ending at the park, and a 1980 clinic on avoiding bike theft. The clinic involved engraving a driver's license number (yours, or a parent's) on the frame of the bike for identification, which I suppose was reasonable back in the innocent days before modern identity theft was invented.
- The city renovated the park in 1982, replacing play equipment and benches, adding lights to the tennis courts, and adding basketball courts and an irrigation system. A beloved ex-Trailblazer was on hand as the guest of honor for the park's big re-dedication celebration.
- Less than a year later, a story in June 1983 discusses major budget cuts across the parks bureau, as Oregon's deep early-1980s recession took hold. The story mentions that the recent park improvements had come from a one-time federal grant, and at present the city couldn't afford to mow the grass in the park regularly.
- The paper starts mentioning kids activities again in the mid-90s and early 2000s, though there are still the occasional crime items, like a 2012 carjacking, and a June 2016 multiple assault
- The local neighborhood association runs a summer movies-in-the-park series, including a 2014 showing of The Goonies
- The park was a test site for a Water Bureau soil moisture sensor project in 2014, I suppose because it has an underground irrigation system (thanks to the 1982 federal grant) and a lot of city parks don't. The idea is that moisture sensors can reduce water use, instead of watering automatically at a set time every day even during a downpour. The flip side of course is that this probably means putting the irrigation system on the net where script kiddies and the Russian mafia can find it. So that could be exciting someday.
- In other assorted recent crime news, local TV news websites have alarming recent stories about discarded syringes in 2014, a prowling sex offender earlier this year, and a possibly gang-related shooting in August. I was actually working on this post literally when that shooting happened; posting it right then seemed a little crass, so I saved it to drafts & let it chill for a while. I think it's been long enough now that hopefully it won't look like I'm trying to capitalize on lurid news or anything like that.
So anyway, there's nothing really earthshaking here, but there you have it. If there's a more comprehensive history of the park (other than this post) anywhere out there on the interwebs, either Google hasn't indexed it, or my Google-fu has failed me somehow.