Monday, May 30, 2011

Elizabeth Caruthers Park expedition




View Larger Map

Today's adventure takes us to Portland's shiny new Elizabeth Caruthers Park, in the center of the South Waterfront district. I can't really say the heart of the South Waterfront given the current state of the area. The city had such high hopes for the South Waterfront back in the condo-bubble days. It was to be a new urban Eden of steel and glass, with clean green biotech jobs for all, or something along those lines. Right now, not so much. I don't know how it manages to feel empty and oppressive at the same time, but it does. And I'm told it's worse at night, when packs of demonic zombie realtors roam the streets, desperately seeking new victims, er, investors.

But enough about the surrounding area, let's talk about the park. This is supposed to be the South Waterfront's neighborhood park, so presumably it provides facilities tailored to the needs of area residents. As far as I can tell there are no children in the South Waterfront. I'm not sure if it's technically forbidden; maybe it just hasn't ever occurred to anyone to take kids there, or in the case of residents, to have kids. In any case, there seems to be zero local demand for playground equipment, ball fields, or even a skate park.

On the other hand the area's home to countless fancy little dogs with weak bladders, and for them the new park is a godsend, or a dogsend as the case may be. So most of the park is just a flat grassy area where dogs can take care of business. Although the problem with fancy little dogs is that they can't always hold it until they reach the dog park. Ran across a couple of examples while walking around the neighborhood, with owners looking way more embarrassed than the situation called for. It's the nature of tiny dogs. Living in a condo building myself, I can tell you they can't always hold it for the full elevator ride.

Anyway, because this is an officially designated upscale area we can't just leave the whole park as an open field. No, we need to overspend on Design with a capital 'D'. The idea here, as I understand it, is that rich Californians will see all the avant-garde-ness and identify with it and plunk down a few mil for a penthouse condo, and if we're lucky they'll tip their baristas generously. You can think of it as Portland's liberal-esque flavor of trickle-down economics, basically.

So the non-canine remainder of the park offers an array of premium luxury features:
  • The north end of the park is a sort of landscaped garden area. It didn't come across as a particularly interesting or inspired garden area, but I visited in the off season, and I'm told it's really not fair to judge formal landscaping for at least a decade or so after it's been planted, to give everything a chance to settle in. That may be true, as far as I know, so the park gets a pass here.

  • There's a low hill in the middle of the park, which creates a boundary between the dog part and the artsy part without having to put up an ugly fence. It's not really much of a hill, more of a little grassy knoll, although I suppose calling it that might offend more sensitive souls among the neighborhood's aging boomers. In any case, a long post about the park at Landscape + Urbanism mentions that the hill is sort of a signature feature of Hargreaves, the design firm behind the park. (Their page about the park is here). Dogs marking territory, architects marking territory.

  • The south and west fringes of the park include an artificial wetland-like area, crisscrossed by a few boardwalk paths. It does does basically sorta-resemble a Northwest wetland area, minus the skunk cabbage, carnivorous pitcher plants, and invasive blackberries. So again, not particularly exciting, but I understand that this feature was a big contributor toward making the park so expensive. The whole South Waterfront district was industrial land prior to being redeveloped, and the original topsoil was thought to be too contaminated to let people live directly on and have long term exposure to. So new topsoil was brought from somewhere else and placed as a cap on top of the original soil. That's not an unusual solution to the problem, and it's a lot cheaper than carting away all the potentially contaminated soil and figuring out how to dispose of it. The problem comes when you need to cut into the cap you just created, and make something that resembles a wetland on top without letting the cooties leach out of your capped soil layer.

  • Scattered around the wetland area are several tall poles with what look like oversized bike wheels on them. That's exactly what they're supposed to be. This is Art, and it's supposed to reinforce the notion that the neighborhood's identity is shaped by bicycles and wind power, whether that's actually true or not. I'm not a big fan of art that tries to define the tribal mores of a neighborhood, or a city, or a country, but at least this one doesn't include any salmon. Maybe bikes are the new salmon. I dunno. I have to say these bike wheel gizmos look like something you'd see in the yard of a bipolar folk artist in rural Alabama.

  • Back at the north end there's some abstract art made with big wooden beams, which I have no real opinion about either way. The main drawback that I can see to it is that it's the closest thing the neighborhood has to a playground structure, and it's a miserable excuse for a playground structure. Aging boomers (the target audience for the South Waterfront) are going to have the grandkids over now and then, and the grandkids will try to play on this thing and be sorely disappointed, and they'll soon realize this is the least fun park they've ever been to, and they'll complain to grandma and grandpa about how bored they are, and either grandma or grandpa will start rambling on about Woodstock for no reason, or maybe about that first BMW they bought back in the 80s with the capital gains on those junk bonds, or why Howdy Doody is way better than SpongeBob, or some damn thing, and multigenerational family discord will result, and the therapy bills will be enormous.

  • There's a small historical marker dedicated to what we're told is the site of the first pioneer cabin in the Portland area. The historical marker itself is rather old, dedicated by a Daughters of 1812 group back in the 1920s. It was 83 years between the cabin and the dedication of the historical marker, and now it's going on 86 years since the marker went in. It's worth pointing out that the marker (and presumably the cabin itself) was not originally here at this spot. Not sure why they moved it; if it's not marking the actual spot anymore, I'm not sure what the point is of having it at all. Over time people will gradually forget that the marker's in the wrong place, and future archeologists will dig in the wrong place, and they'll break through the cap into the cootie topsoil, and it'll be expensive to fix, assuming people remember that layer of soil has cooties, which they may or may not.

  • There's a new, larger monument to the Johnsons nearby. Larger in this case does not mean more informative. The Johnsons were a historical footnote, and they didn't do anything noteworthy except live nearby for a while, and they left no written account of their time here. So we have a very expensive stone monument that lets us know in the most pretentious way possible that we have no clue who these people really were or what their lives were like.

  • The markers are of debatable accuracy and historical significance. A letter to the editor in the June 28, 1920 Oregonian lays it out quite clearly: Although the Johnson cabin predates the various land claims in what's now downtown Portland, the South Waterfront area was not considered to be part of Portland until much later, and in no sense was the city founded here. Furthermore, if we consider all of 1920 Portland (or present-day Portland for that matter), Johnson was preceded in 1829 by a gentleman named Etienne Lucier (namesake of a short-lived and extremely expensive French restaurant in the Riverplace area). And what's more, there's no actual record of Johnson having served in the War of 1812, on the USS Constitution or elsewhere. In fact, he would have been about twelve years old at the time. As the letter puts it, "The presumption, though not conclusive, is that one of such tender years was not in the great naval battle.".

  • On the other hand, the 1920 letter mentions an intriguing detail: "In addition to farming he manufactured a decoction called blue ruin, which carried a knockout in every drink." So you could plausibly claim him as the founder, or at least the, uh, spiritual ancestor, of Portland's present-day microdistilling boom. Which to me is a much better claim to fame than having owned a crappy little cabin off in the woods somewhere. The letter may not have pointed this as out a compliment, however; 1920 was the year Prohibition went into effect nationwide, Oregon having gone dry four years earlier. Anyway, to all the local microdistillers out there: You aren't obligated to credit me when you name your new concoction "Johnson's Blue Ruin", but feel free to send a bottle over for, uh, review purposes. Thx. Mgmt.

  • A February 8th, 1925 article just prior to the marker's unveiling mentions a fun detail. The "Old Ironsides" tale apparently was Johnson's explanation for some unusual scars he had. Apparently everyone, or at least the Oregonian, took this at face value. The story of the unveiling, on February 15th 1925, gives a bit more detail. Johnson's surviving (and now elderly) daughter Amelia attended the dedication.

  • The park is dedicated to a different pioneer, Elizabeth Caruthers, whose big claim to fame was that a dispute over her estate (including a donation land claim to the South Waterfront area) went all the way to the Supreme Court. A John Terry column at OregonLive explores the gory details.

  • But wait, you're probably thinking, didn't we just learn all about the Johnsons being here sorta-first? You see, that's different. Johnson settled here before Oregon was legally a US territory, and was believed to have been a British subject. Later, when a formal system of land ownership was created, US citizens were grandfathered in. Everyone else had the right to continue living where they presently were, but no right to sell the land or leave it to heirs. Which meant any Johnson descendants would be out of luck. I don't have references to prove this right now, but I suspect this is the reason for all the talk about how the Johnsons were here sorta-first, and how he was a big war hero from 1812. If you could argue that your ancestor's loyalties lay with the USA, and took part in an ultra-patriotic, anti-British conflict that was still reasonably fresh in everyone's minds, perhaps you might end up as the rightful owner of a big chunk of South Waterfront land instead of those crazy Caruthers hillbillies.

  • And then, speaking of rightful owners, the city's page for the park mentions this part at the end, after covering the Caruthers legal drama in some detail:
    Prior to European contact, over 50,000 Native Americans lived in the Portland area and hundreds of thousands of Native Americans came to trade along the river. During the time of early land agreements and negotiations with local tribes, the South Waterfront area became a relocation camp for Native Americans who were removed from other parts of the city. This is one of many greenspaces within our park system that are sacred and important sites to our Native communities.


    Perhaps I'm a little biased, with a few Native American ancestors of my own back in the mists of time, but this seems like somewhat of a bigger deal than all this business with the Carutherses and Johnsons. I mean, we have a couple of memorials around town dealing with the 1942 "relocation" of Japanese-American citizens to internment camps. If the South Waterfront was the Native American equivalent, and a sacred site to boot, it seems like you ought to at least mention it on a plaque or something, and maybe not make the park quite so pioneer-centric.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

OR 219 Bridge, Willamette River

OR 219 Bridge, Willamette River


[View Larger Map]

This installment of the ongoing bridge project takes us down to Newberg, where we find the Oregon Route 219 bridge over the Willamette River. I'm afraid I only have this one uninteresting photo of the bridge, and it was taken with a Blackberry, from a moving car, in the rain, with a semi tailgating me. The Structurae page linked to above has some photos from the side so you can see it's pretty uninteresting from that angle too. The bridge doesn't appear to have a name, and it doesn't even merit its own Wikipedia page, even though it's the only bridge over the Willamette between Wilsonville and Salem.

Usually when I link to a bridge's Structurae page, I also point at its Bridgehunter page, since each tends to have info the other doesn't. This bridge has no Bridgehunter page, but it turns out Bridgehunter has a sister site, UglyBridges.com, which describes itself thusly:

This website provides listings for "ugly" bridges not suitable for our companion site, Bridgehunter.com. It also highlights the "ugly" condition of our nation's bridges thanks to years of neglect and deferred maintenance.

As you probably guessed from this buildup, this bridge does have an UglyBridges page. So it's a typical, humdrum, non-photogenic concrete deck girder bridge, but there's sort of an upside to that. A recent OSU study of wear and tear on aging concrete deck girder bridges used it as a test subject, presumbably because it was utterly typical. I'm not a civil engineer and it's not clear to me what their conclusions mean in that study. I think they're saying the gathered data will help them better model shear effects on this type of bridge. Not totally sure though. The phrase "significant diagonal cracks" did jump out at me. It's the kind of phrase that tends to jump out at laypeople.

In case you were wondering, it was not possible to walk across this bridge. There are no sidewalks, and much of the traffic consists of extremely large trucks, all of them in a huge hurry to get somewhere. The "not dying" angle is way too obvious and easy to imagine, and not particularly funny either, so instead I'll just pass on one semi-random link I came across, and we'll wrap up this installment of the bridge adventure.

Back in 1993, McMinnville's Evergreen Air Museum had acquired Howard Hughes's infamous Spruce Goose, and had to move it from Santa Barbara, CA, to its new home. This involved disassembling the plane and barging the pieces almost the entire distance. My employer at the time was located right on the Willamette, and I was able to watch as various airplane parts were barged through downtown Portland. Further upriver, the wings were the last major part of the plane to arrive, and they squeaked under the 219 bridge with just one foot to spare.

So that's not really the most exciting story. It was a tight fit, but nothing terrible actually happened, and the rest is vintage aviation history, which I'm not that wild about. But it's the most exciting thing I was able to dig up about this bridge, and now I can at least say that I tried. FWIW.

Aurora Bridge

Aurora Bridge
[View Larger Map]

The ongoing bridge project heads north this time, to Seattle's Aurora Bridge. This is the first Seattle bridge I've done; it's not a topic I'm overly familiar with, despite having lived in Seattle until age 6, which really ought to make me an expert. And I'm only managing it now because I had some pictures floating around in the archives from back in 2006, the same trip that took me to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I wasn't actually doing a bridge project yet, at least not that I was aware of, so I didn't try walking across or anything exciting like that. I was actually in the area to track down the Fremont neighborhood's infamous Lenin statue, and the enormous Volkswagen-eating troll who lives under the north end of the Aurora bridge:

troll

My relatives in Seattle always point to the troll to illustrate just how quirky and alternative their city is, even if they themselves are a rather non-quirky bunch of engineers and accountants. So the troll has civic aspirational value, if nothing else.

troll_detail

The Aurora Bridge has made a cameo here once before, in a post about Portland's Vista Bridge, since unfortunately this is Seattle's favorite suicide bridge. A recent WSDOT project put up a nine foot fence to deter jumpers, at the cost of (I'm told) uglifying the bridge and messing up the view. I haven't been back to Seattle in a few years and haven't seen it for myself. And with that I'm going to stop talking about that particular topic, because (as I've learned with the Vista Bridge) jumpers result in a flood of page hits, and it creeps me out. That's not really the kind of web traffic I'm looking for, thanks.

Aurora Bridge

The bridge does bear an obvious family resemblance to Portland's Ross Island Bridge, as they're both cantilever truss bridges. The Ross Island is significantly longer (3649.1 feet vs. 2945 feet) and slightly older (1926 vs. 1932) and the Aurora is wider (70 feet vs. 43 feet), higher (163 feet vs 123 feet), and has more trolls (1 vs. 0). More exciting vital statistics can be had at the bridge's Structurae page, if you're so inclined.

Aurora Bridge

The last photo also shows a bit of the Fremont neighborhood's Sunday Market. Which, as you might imagine, was aggressively quirky. I took a walk through out of curiosity, but I don't recall actually buying anything, now that I think about it.

Typewriter Eraser, Scale X

Typewriter Eraser

A few photos of Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen (official website). This piece is located outside of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at CityCenter, Las Vegas.

Oldenburg & van Bruggen are famous for their sculptures of everyday objects scaled up to enormous size, including a giant cherry & spoon in Minneapolis, a giant clothespin in Philadelphia, a giant safety pin in San Francisco, another giant safety pin in New Orleans, and several giant typewriter erasers. There are at least two others on public display besides this one: One at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and another in Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Garden.

Typewriter Eraser

Elsewhere on the net, I came across a PBS video about the piece, and restoration photos of the Vegas copy.

One -- it's not clear whether it was the Vegas copy or yet another one -- sold at a 2009 Christie's auction for a cool $2,210,500. For comparison, you can buy a much smaller -- but functional -- vintage typewriter eraser online for just $5, and Amazon has new ones for about $2.

And while you're busy buying retro technology, it turns out that you can still buy a shiny new typewriter to go along with your eraser. A recent Daily Mail story claimed that the world's last typewriter factory had closed, but it turns out that it wasn't really the last typewriter factory. In fact New Jersey-based Swintec has a range of models available in the $150-$900 range, including clear ones for use in prisons (so inmates can't hide contraband inside). Amazingly, they also offer a classic 80s-style word processor, complete with 15" monochrome monitor and floppy drive, for a mere $1,678. The info page for it points out that it can't be used to access the internet or play games. Assuming these machines aren't just unsold inventory from 1989, there must still be a niche market out there for dedicated word processors. I can only speculate what that niche might be. My guess would be curmudgeonly mystery writers who've used this exact word processor since 1982 and absolutely refuse to move with the times, to the eternal dismay of their long-suffering agents and publishers.

Typewriter Eraser

In any case, I generally like Oldenburg's work, but I see a couple of problems with this piece, neither of which are/were under the artists' control:

  1. The whole concept behind Oldenburg sculptures is that they're ginormous oversized versions of everyday objects. If the giant typewriter eraser is itself dwarfed by ginormous oversized skyscrapers all around it, it just doesn't have the same impact.

  2. The other problem is that a typewriter eraser is no longer an everyday object. How many people in 2011 know what the hell a typewriter eraser even is, or what size it's supposed to be? As far as I can recall I've never used one, although I may have seen a real one once or twice. Actually I don't think I've used a typewriter at all since my freshman year in high school, which was about 25 years ago. Oh, and while I'm telling you how incredibly old I am, did I mention that our school had manual typewriters? And they replaced them with shiny new Macintosh Plus computers the year after I had typing class? It's true.

So it's not a huge surprise that it's already been spoofed (along with the other works scattered around CityCenter), in a recent show at the county government center titled CountyCenter (more photos here).

"Backspace Key, Scale X". Heh.

Typewriter Eraser

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Tacoma Narrows Bridge (2006)


View Larger Map

Here are a few circa-2006 photos of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Tacoma, Washington. I was rummaging around in the, uh, archives (i.e. iPhoto) recently and realized I hadn't posted these, and there was obviously a bridge post (as well as a non-Portland post) to be had here.

The second bridge (under construction in these photos) has has been open for several years now, but I haven't been back to Tacoma since I took these, so these are all the photos I have. As you might imagine, I don't have any photos from walking across either the old or new bridge, since I hadn't yet dreamed up this silly bridge project at the time. Hell, this humble blog was in its infancy at the time and I was still trying to figure out what it might be useful for. Some would argue I still haven't figured that out, but that's neither here nor there.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge (2006)

I can't very well do a post about the current bridges without mentioning the ill-fated original Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which opened in 1940 and collapsed just a few months later. Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, here's the video of the collapse, which is just jaw-dropping no matter how many times you watch it:



I like to believe that, if I'd been around in 1940 and blogs existed outside of pulp SF magazines (they probably didn't exist there either, come to think of it), I would have dropped by and taken a bunch of digital photos and filmed an exciting video clip of the bridge flapping around using my phone, and maybe live-tweeted it if it was really exciting, and then fled before the G-men could show up up and confiscate my futuristic space-man gadgets, thus altering the timeline with untold consequences.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge (2006)

If that happened, most likely the Manhattan Project wouldn't be necessary, therefore families wouldn't move from the Midwest to work at Hanford, and one thing wouldn't lead to another, and my parents would never meet, causing a classic time loop similar to those you've seen in a million cheesy Star Trek: Voyager episodes. Except in real life this probably destroys the universe or something, and remodulating the phase inverters with a new particle the writers just invented doesn't do bupkis to stop it.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge (2006)

Which brings us to the obligatory "not dying" angle: Don't go back in time and blog about the original bridge instead of the current one. As it turns out, having the bridge collapse beneath your feet may be the least of your worries.

Puget Sound near Tacoma Narrows Bridge (2006)

Tacoma Narrows Bridge (2006)

Munson Creek Falls

Munson Creek Falls

View Larger Map

Today's adventure takes us to Munson Creek Falls, a few miles south of Tillamook where the Coast Range meets dairyland. It's a surprising place to find a 319 foot waterfall, at least if you're accustomed to Columbia Gorge waterfalls.

Munson Creek Falls

The falls are a state park, so there's a fairly large and visible sign for the turn off US 101 (which is a left turn if you're heading south from Tillamook). But the road you'll turn onto doesn't look like a road to somewhere you'd want to go. It's paved, at first, but it's quite narrow and is in very poor condition, with ginormous potholes all over the place. There are houses on either side of the road, and as far as you can tell you're just driving around on some random rural road out in dairy country.

(Technically the place is a "state natural site" rather than a "state park". I'm not sure what that's supposed to indicate, but my gut feeling is that it means they aren't going to spend any state money improving the road anytime soon.)

Munson Creek Falls

Once you're past the last houses the road turns to gravel, and it looks like you've wandered onto a random Forest Service road in timber country. It's not any wider than the paved portion, and there are a few big potholes here and there, including one in the middle of a bridge (!), but for the most part the gravel part of the road is in better condition than the paved portion. It's effectively a one lane road most of the way, so you need to watch for oncoming traffic. I didn't encounter any log trucks, but it definitely looks like a road where log trucks are a serious possibility, so pay attention.

Munson Creek Falls

There are also a couple of intersections to keep an eye out for. The route to the falls is clearly marked (so long as nobody monkeys with the signs), at least. There's no cell service out here to distract you while you're driving (at least if you're a T-Mobile customer like me), so you'd have to work at it a bit to get lost, unless you planned on using Google Maps for directions. If you do manage to get lost somehow, I have no idea where you might end up if you take the wrong turn.

Munson Creek Falls

It's a short drive, at least, and pretty soon you'll end up at the parking lot for the falls. From the lot it's an easy 1/4 mile walk to the falls viewpoint. The trail itself is well maintained, in much better shape than the road, and almost as wide. You still won't be right next to the falls at the viewpoint, and there's a railing with a sign saying it's super dangerous, prohibiting you from taking a step further. In practice you can go a bit further ahead without heroic efforts, but the view of the falls is actually better back at the viewpoint. And if you're carrying a mini-tripod like I was, the "none shall pass" fence at the viewpoint is a good place to set up and start taking longer exposures of the falls (which is what you do to get the classic silky water effect people often do with waterfalls).

Munson Creek Falls

Speaking of photos, the main problem I ran into was that, on a sunny day, the foliage in the foreground was bright, while the falls remained in shadow in the background. I expect this happens a lot in this location, so getting exposure and colors right can present a challenge. A cloudy day might be an asset in this case, which is nice since the coast has no shortage of cloudy days.

Munson Creek Falls

Munson Creek Falls

Munson Creek Falls

Thor

Thor

The occasional tour of Transit Mall art continues with Thor, yet another of the original 1970s pieces, now located at SW 6th & Taylor. This is one of my favorites from the original crop, with an interesting and pleasant shape & texture to it. TriMet's Green Line Public Art Guide is, as usual, quite terse in its description of the thing:
Melvin Schuler, Thor, 1977, Copper on redwood
.

Thor

The redwood part is not obvious from looking a it, so I assume it's somewhere under the copper plating. I'm not sure why it's redwood, specifically, since nobody can see it. I'm inclined to blame it on the 70s, when everyone wanted to make everything out of redwood because it was "natural". Pencils, hot tubs, groovy rustic furniture, and apparently abstract sculptures too. Then the 80s came along and people (myself included) looked at all the stumps and went "oh crap", and there were protests and lawsuits and on and on. But I digress.

Thor

As is often the case with 70s Transit Mall art, there's almost nothing on the net about Thor. Portland, OR Daily Photo has a post about it, obviously with a couple of photos. A forum thread at AskART includes a couple of people saying how much they like Thor. And a couple of references show up in the library's Oregonian Historical Archives:

An article on the front page of the Metro section on September 20, 1977 includes a photo of Thor being installed at its original location between SW Washington & Alder. An October 9, 1977 editorial about the controversial crop of new Transit Mall art mentions it briefly:
Look at the copper-sheathed work by Melvin Schuler between Alder and Washington. See the curve and balance and accent, the melding of shape into shape? Or do you see an off-balance rock about to crash upon you?

Thor

And that's about all I've got on this one, I'm afraid. If you know any interesting stories or anecdotes about it -- even completely fictional ones you made up just now -- feel free to share 'em down in the comments.

Thx. Mgmt.

Thor

Thor

Thor