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Today's excellent adventure takes us to a weedy triangular vacant lot near I-405, where SW Broadway, Broadway Drive, and Grant St all smoosh together. No, wait, come back! Where are you going? Bear with me here, there's a reason for all this. And besides, you're only really going there on the Interwebs.
If you live in Portland and own a car, sooner or later you'll be stuck in traffic next to the aforementioned weedy lot. And the odds are pretty good that you'll pay no attention to it. I mean, why would you? If you're of a cynical bent, as I am, you might've idly wondered why nobody's yet excreted a condo tower onto the spot. It's probably big enough, just barely, for a Vancouver-style "point tower", and they're already building in much more improbable locations (*cough* South Waterfront *cough).
So I was poking around on PortlandMaps the other day, partly because I was looking for new material, but mostly because I'm now a freshly-minted area homeowner and I kind of wanted to know who's responsible for this shabby little weed plantation and similar spots around the area.
If the owner was just some random individual or LLC or whatever, I wouldn't be posting this -- I'm not that much of a busybody, fresh homeownership notwithstanding -- but that's not the case here. I tracked down the place's PortlandMaps page, and the owner is a tad surprising:
Owner(s) Name PORTLAND CITY OF (BUREAU OF PARKS & RECREATION)
Yes, kids, this here is a city park, sort of. PortlandMaps doesn't say what the place is called -- the triangle doesn't seem to have a name at all except for its city property ID, "R128726". If you know how to decode tax roll descriptions (and I don't), it's also known as "CARUTHERS ADD; EXC PT IN HWY 2151/583 SWLY FRAC BLOCK 32". "R128726" has more of a ring to it if you ask me.
But wait, there's more! It turns out that ol' R128726 was the subject of a grass & weed nuisance complaint last July. I can just see the faces of the code enforcement people at city hall, all ready to bust some deadbeat absentee slumlord, or maybe hassle a double-wide full of Okies about their pit bulls and rusting Camaros. And then someone checked the GIS system and went, oh, wait, we're the deadbeat absentee slumlord. D'oh!
The complaint was marked "closed" within a couple of weeks. It's not known whether closing the case involved any actual mowing or weeding, or whether the whole affair was just one of those Innocent Misunderstandings, resolved quietly and amicably over a few rounds of $30 fruity drinks at Bluehour, at taxpayer expense of course. We'll never know.
So we know the "what" part, but the "why" remains unclear. My guess is that it's a leftover bit from when the Powers That Be shredded the surrounding neighborhood and built I-405. They figured it wasn't buildable, so the city ended up with it by default. One clue is that there's another unnamed (but better maintained) park further north and west along 405, at 14th & Hall, a place I've mentioned before here Another possible clue is an old fire hydrant, strangely located away from the sidewalk in the middle of the, uh, park. And look closely at the property lines on the PortlandMaps page. Only the eastern half of the current weed farm is actually "park", and the other half seems to be city right-of-way, so it's technically part street too. The line between the parts seems to line up with where the hydrant is, so I'm thinking there might've been an actual street there at one point. It's a theory, anyway.
Back in 1913 there was an old disused city reservoir at the intersection of Broadway and Grant, and a proposal was, uh, floated to turn it into a municipal swimming pool. I haven't seen any subsequent mentions of a municipal pool here, so apparently nothing came of the idea. And in any case it's not clear whether the reservoir/pool involved the specific parcel of land we're concerned with at the moment.
Updated: Ok, I've learned a little more about this place, thanks to Vintage Portland. It seems this park is, or was once, named Coolidge Square. A square, you say? Yes, a square, bisected diagonally by SW Broadway, so there was today's triangle, and another triangle across Broadway where I-405 is now. I'd seen the name before, listed in a certain obscure city document that's resulted in quite a few blog posts here over time. (Check here to see which ones I've tracked down so far.) So they were still calling it "Coolidge Square" as of 1979, and it already wasn't a square by then. I kind of like the idea of continuing to call it a square even though it's a triangle now. Hey, if they ever build the long-discussed, never-funded cap over I-405, maybe we'll get the other half of the park back and it'll be a square again. So think of using "Square" as an optimistic gesture. Also, this way we don't have to rename the park from "Triangle" back to "Square" if/when the freeway cap happens, which hypothetically saves taxpayer dollars or something, so there's that.
So we do know the city's had it for quite some time now, and in all that time they've done nothing with it. I used to carp and complain a lot when I ran across something like this, but really, if you look at the Parks Bureau's list of current projects it seems to divide up between ritzy urban amenities for the Pearl and similar areas, and actual neighborhood parks with playgrounds and ballfields and so forth, out in the lower-income parts of the outer eastside. It's tough to argue with at least that part of the list. If the city had decided to gussy up "R128726" instead of building soccer fields in the Cully neighborhood, say, I'd have had to make fun of them. So I'm not actually complaining about urban priorities here. Still, it's kind of a shame the place looks like an abandoned vacant lot.
I can think of about 4 possibilities for what could happen with the place in the future. First, the city is kinda-sorta open to community-initiated projects, so long as they don't increase maintenance costs or generally cost the city any time or money or anything. They might let you build it if they're absolutely sure you'll do the maintenance yourself from then on. I'm not sure what you could do with the place; a playground is probably out, given the busy street next door. Maybe a large and amusing kinetic sculpture to entertain stressed-out commuters as they inch their way past the park.
Second possibility: I understand that TriMet hopes to eventually run a MAX line south out of downtown, generally along Barbur, down to Tigard or maybe Tualatin or so. If that ever happens, the line will probably run pretty close to "R128726". There'll be a big juicy bucket of federal transportation money to play with, and TriMet always likes to spend part of that money on public art projects along the line, so this would be an obvious place to plunk down one of their usual semi-whimsical installations of fair-to-middlin' quality. It's never what you'd call inspiring, or inspired, but hey. We're a net donor state, we pay a lot more in federal taxes than we get back in federal spending. If the feds send us a few hundred grand to put up yet another cheesy sculpture of Heroic Salmon Swimming Upstream or some damn thing, it's best not to mock it too much. If you want your fair share of federal money, it's either that or have an army base. Some years ago I used to live in a small Southern city located next to a huge army base, and all things considered I'd rather have Heroic Salmon Swimming Upstream, thanks.
Third possibility: Continue doing nothing for the foreseeable future. Hey, it's worked so far, and nobody's complained. Except for that business last year with the weeds, I mean.
Fourth possibility: Sell the lot to a well-connected insider who wants to put up a condo tower. Given the current real estate market, this has become far less likely over the last year. But it's a cyclical industry, and when it comes back there's going to be even more of those ultra-desirable rich Californian empty-nesters, all desperately looking for their second or third luxury pied-a-terre.
At some point in a post like this, I tend to proclaim that there's no other mention of the place in question anywhere else on the entire Interwebs. And I suppose that's an achievement of a sort, in a way. But not this time, believe it or not. Once again I've been scooped by those meddling kids at the Urban Adventure League. They actually did an organized bike ride across town and held a picnic here. Seriously. I try to come up with original material, I really do, but I keep getting scooped by those UAL bastards. To wit:
- My post on the Arthur St. Tunnel, and theirs.
- My post about Lotus Isle, and again, theirs.
- My adventure on the Morrison Bridge, and theirs.
- My expedition to Kelly Butte, and theirs.
If we're to be diplomatic about this, it can be argued that UAL and I exist in slightly different ecological niches. Where they're earnest and chock-full of hipster-esque bike-o-licious camaraderie, I tend to be snarky and cynical and occasionally pointless, although I also have a few good photos from time to time. Actually you'd be forgiven if you just came here for the photos, quite honestly. I expect you wouldn't be the first.