Saturday, July 02, 2022

Montgomery Pride

In a post back in January I mentioned something about there being another City Repair street mural on a closed section of SW Montgomery St., on the Portland State campus, which I was bound to do a post about sooner or later. So here are a few photos of Montgomery Pride, on the block of Montgomery between 6th & Broadway. The blurb for it on the City Repair project map describes it as "a design pattern that celebrates LGBTQ Pride, the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, and Marsha P. Johnson" and the 2019 painting of it as "an event that would bring together the LGBTQ community, Urban Planning community, and the PSU community to turn an unattractive street into an enriching temporary public event space."

The street closure happened as part of the university's major renovations to the business school building next door. The business school was the newest and swankiest building on campus when I was a student circa 1990 -- a student environmental group I was involved with tried to schedule meetings there, strictly for the nice cushy chairs -- but it couldn't compete with the new engineering school buildings, facilities-wise, and that simply wouldn't do. But there's always donor money available for re-swank-ifying business schools, and the one at PSU has reclaimed its rightful place as the newest, shiniest, swankiest, most blindingly metallic edifice on campus. Across Montgomery, for contrast, is the brutalist University Services Building, built in 1970 and seemingly unchanged since then (except for some late-2000s public art on the east side of the building).

Monday, May 30, 2022

Wave Flight

Next up here's a look at Wave Flight, a sculpture in the overseas terminal of the Honolulu Airport (and I'd love to say these were recent photos, but it's been a while since I've made it over there). This was created in 1984 by local artist Donald Harvey. The Public Art Archive description doesn't say much about it specifically and is more of a bio:

A longtime Hawaii resident, Donald Harvey prefers to sculpt in clay, wood, resin and fiberglass. He graduated from Kailua High School, attended Utah State University as an undergraduate, and received his Masters in Fine Arts and professional teaching diploma from the University of Hawaii. Immediately upon obtaining his Masters degree, Mr. Harvey became an art teacher at Kamehameha Schools, then worked his way up to becoming Chair of the Kamehameha Schools Art Department. He also serves as a guest lecturer in art at the University of Hawaii, while taking continuing education courses at Hickam Air Force Base. He has works in numerous public and private collections that have included the Contemporary Art Center and the Honolulu Academy of Arts. In addition, he has been commissioned for large structures that appear at Honolulu Community College and the Honolulu International Airport.

Befitting the location, the name is an aeronautical reference. Under certain conditions, standing atmospheric waves called "lee waves" can form downwind of terrain, typically a high mountain range (like the mountains on the Big Island) or a plateau. Skilled glider pilots can ride these waves upward to achieve very high altitudes and long distances. To give a sense of why wave flying is an advanced skill, here's a firsthand account of what it's like, a YouTube lecture on how it works, and a report on a 2008 Big Island glider crash during an altitude record attempt. The pilot had made it up to over 38,000 feet before his plane came apart. As of mid-2022 the current altitude record stands at nearly twice that height at over 76,000 feet, in the ballpark of the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes. The project team behind that record flies out of the far end of Patagonia during the winter, and are aiming for 90,000 feet with their current plane, and 100,000 feet with an advanced glider still in the design phase. At those altitudes, aerodynamics are similar to near the surface of Mars, so this is supposed to be a faster and cheaper way to learn more about flying there. Although NASA managed to send a helicopter to Mars without doing this step first, so who knows.

The term was also used by a 2019 Alaska Airlines promotion, partnering with a surfing website to offer last-minute deals when the surf's up. Which is an exceptionally niche play on words, you gotta respect that.

Catkin Marsh

Here are a couple of photos from Portland's Catkin Marsh Natural Area, an obscure city park in industrial NE Portland on a branch of the Columbia Slough, east of NE 33rd and west of the airport. The park consists of a 53 acre wetland area -- surrounded on three sides by the now-defunct Broadmoor golf course, and the fourth by warehouses -- plus a long skinny strip of land along the south side of the slough connecting out to 33rd, which is the only part shown in the photos. I took these while stopped briefly along 33rd after taking the car through DEQ at the test station nearby. I didn't actually turn the car off, much less get out for a closer look, so the photoset is somewhat less than comprehensive this time around.

The city bought the land fairly recently, in December 2012 -- it was part of the golf course before that, maybe serving as a natural water hazard. It was included in the city's Natural Areas Restoration Plan when it was updated in 2015, which rated it in 'Fair' health and as a high priority for restoration, though without any specifics on what they might do about it. They did remove a couple of culverts blocking this section of slough in 2017, at least. And with that, we've covered just about everything the city's said publicly about the place.

I gather the longer-term plan is for an extension of the Columbia Slough Trail to run through here someday, which I imagine is gated on both money and acquiring land or easements further east so the trail doesn't just dead-end on an abandoned golf course or at the airport security fence. The new owners of the Broadmoor site want to build warehouse space there, so making a deal for the unbuildable wetland parts of the course seems doable, in theory.

For anyone feeling really impatient to go visit the rest of the park for some reason, on the map above you can see an unofficial boot path through this strip along the slough, and conceivably you could get there that way, on an unofficial basis. But note the chest-high tall grass in the photos, and remember it's growing on top of a muddy, slippery bank that you won't be able to see because grass. So you stand a really good chance of going for a swim, which I cannot recommend here. As a data point, the city advises not eating fish from the slough more than once a month, due to PCBs and other contaminants, and discarding most of the fish even then. The slough as a whole is not considered a Superfund site, on unspecified technical grounds, but I still think this would be a bad place to take a mud bath or see what the water tastes like. Ewww. Just ewwww.

Under the Same Sky

Next up we're taking a look at Under the Same Sky, a very large mural in downtown Portland by Canadian[1] artist Kevin Ledo, whose website describes it briefly: "Under the Same Sky, 50’ x 60’, w/ exterior wall and spray paint, APTart Diversity project, Portland, Oregon, USA | Painted for the ‘awareness and prevention through art’ project, ‘paint outside the lines’". Ledo's website and Instagram obviously cover a lot of other murals besides this one; most are in a similar style[2], with a sorta-photorealistic portrait or two surrounded by a colorful design, like this recent example in Lynn, MA.

The mural's painted on the side of the historic Bishop's House building at 223 SW Harvey Milk (formerly Stark St.). The building looks extra fancy in front because it was built in 1879 as the official residence of the local Catholic archbishop, though due to a bit of exceptionally poor planning it only served in that role for a couple of years. The cathedral[3] next door was already being replaced by a larger one up in NW Portland, and when it opened this house was immediately obsolete and the archbishop had to move again. An 1892 panorama of downtown at Vintage Portland shows the Bishop's House sandwiched in between the old cathedral along 3rd and an ordinary 3-story commercial building facing 2nd. The latter building was probably demolished sometime in the 1950s to make room for today's surface parking lot, so that's where the blank wall for the mural came from. Jumping ahead to 2022, the house is now home to the Al-Amir Lebanese restaurant plus various offices upstairs. Some years ago -- and I remember seeing a news item about this at the time but can't find it now -- utility crews discovered underground wires connecting the Bishop's House building with the city's old police headquarters a block north on SW Oak, and the theory was that the wires were an old direct private phone line. It remains a mystery to this day what the line was for and who was calling whom and for what purpose.

Back in the pre-Covid era -- which seems like a billion years ago now -- I once had an office that directly faced this mural for a while. I liked it; it was colorful, and cheerful, and a big improvement over the vast blank wall it replaced. I'm kind of surprised I didn't do a post about it back then, but I suppose it didn't feel like there was any great urgency to it at the time.




notes

1. Speaking of Canadian things, Ledo recently (2021) did a mural in Sudbury, Ontario in memory of Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, who was born there, and was kind of a big deal across Canada. Here's a CBC article about the mural. I've only been to Sudbury once, back in the mid-1990s, back when the town was most famous for the Inco Superstack, the world's second-highest smokestack (and highest in the Western Hemisphere) at 1250 feet. The superstack was built for what is still the world's largest nickel mine, back when people thought a tall smokestack dispersed toxins well enough that no additional pollution control gear was needed; you could tell you were approaching Sudbury by road because the surrounding forest became increasingly sparse and sickly-looking the closer you got, even before you got your first glimpse of the smokestack itself. The only thing I remember of the city itself was stopping for gas and the attendant saw my license plate and had never heard of Oregon before and had no idea there were states wedged in between California and the US-Canada border. I don't seem to have taken any photos of the place, though, despite how weird it seemed at the time. Anyway the big smokestack has been replaced with a couple of smaller ones and is supposed to be demolished at some point in the near future, so it's fortunate the city now has a new and much less toxic landmark for people to visit.

2.A 2020 GQ Magazine profile of the artist, co-produced with Lexus, argues that Ledo's style exceeds expectations just like the new 2021 Lexus IS does. Over on the youtubes, Doug DeMuro (a well-known auto reviewer with 4.4m subscribers) says it's just 'average', while another guy with 859 subscribers says DeMuro is wrong, which is how debates usually go over there. I have never driven one of these, or any sort of Lexus at all, and have no opinion whatsoever on the matter.

3.The old cathedral was demolished in 1895, not long after the panorama photo I linked to above was taken. A contemporary news item on the demolition said debris from the old building would be used in a new 2 story office building on the site. Which might be the same two story building that's there now. If so, the ground floor was home to the recently-departed and widely missed Cameron's Books, which had been there since the 1930s. For almost as long, the second floor was home to the Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant, which was reputedly the worst Chinese place in the whole metro area but somehow stayed in business anyway. A few years ago it morphed into today's "Golden Dragon Exotic Club", keeping the previous name and even inheriting its pile of single-star Yelp reviews. The whole building is pretty decrepit-looking these days and would likely have been torn down for condos or a luxury hotel ages ago if there wasn't a historic structure next door, mid-block in about the most inconvenient place possible. I suppose they could just build around it like the house in "Up", or the similar real-life one on the PSU campus. Long story short: Old building, semi-colorful backstory, draw whatever conclusions you like.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Park Place

Another of the many ongoing projects here involves tracking down public art around Portland (or wherever I happen to be at the time). I take a few photos of it, see what else I can find out about it on the interwebs, and (because this is an important serious-person website for those in the know) sometimes hazard a semi-informed opinion or two about it. I haven't done a lot of this lately, but I recently stumbled across something that's been on one of my todo lists for years now, so I figured I'd go ahead and finish the post about it now so it doesn't languish in drafts for ages like these things tend to do.

With that introduction out of the way, today we're having a look at Park Place, created in 1997 by Lloyd Hamrol. This consists of three groups of small brick stools or benches scattered around SE Portland's Woodstock Park. The linked RACC page describes it:

Hamrol’s “Park Place” presents itself as series of three intimate gathering places with benches scaled at alternating levels to accommodate both children and adults. The columns were designed to mirror the existing brickwork in the park and to make reference to the many strands of trees. Their varying sizes, heights, arrangements and surface patterns were intended to evoke both a sense of rational order along with the eccentricities of nature.

The three groups form a triangle in the unbusy north side of the park, roughly overlapping the off-leash dog area. My first thought, as a former teenager of the 1980s, was that these isolated groupings seem ideally suited to gothic brooding about goth things, clove cigarettes optional but likely. Though the brick seating would be much less appealing during the rainy months; gloom is one thing, hypothermia is quite another. Second thought, as a former child of the 1970s, is that the three groups are obviously solar systems, and the important thing here is to sprint back and forth between them as fast as possible, while holding a Lego spaceship and making spaceship noises. And keeping an eye out on the other two solar systems, just in case someone wanders by and mistakes your secret base in the Xyzax system for a bunch of free random Legos.

A third thought occurred to me while poking around Hamrol's website. A sited works page has an entry for Park Place along with other site-specific art, and it's quickly apparent that this one is kind of an outlier. The others tend to be much larger and often involve stone masonry in curved mathematical forms and that sort of thing (something I'm generally a big fan of). I haven't found any news items or exact numbers to verify this, but it just sort of feels like Park Place had a much lower budget than these other projects. Which could've been the plan from the beginning, of course, but this was also around the worst-ever point of Oregon's perpetual state & local budgetary woes, in the wake of the spotted owl wars and Measure 5's strict property tax limits. On top of all that, RACC (the regional arts agency that usually handles projects like this) would've been preoccupied back then trying to get its piece of the overdue, over-budget Westside MAX project over the finish line. In short there are any number of reasons that could have led up to an awkward conference call, or maybe a series of faxes, something like "Hey, change of plans, looks like we'll only have 15% of the budget we agreed on, are you still on board?", followed by "Ok, so what can we get for that price?" And what I'm really getting at here is that it somehow reminds me of the cute little Stonehenge from Spinal Tap, and it feels like there ought to be a funny-in-retrospect story behind it, but I can't find one so I'm just sort of guessing one into existence for entertainment purposes. Oh, and here's a movie clip for those who don't get the dated pop culture reference.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Dougan Creek Falls

Next up we've got a few photos of Dougan Creek Falls, a small waterfall a short walk from Dougan Falls, which we just visited in the previous post. Dougan Falls is on the Washougal River, about an hour's drive NE from Portland; Dougan Creek flows into the river just downstream of there; and Dougan Creek Falls is on the creek a short distance upstream from that confluence, if that makes sense. Or you could just go to the other post and look at the embedded map there. I mentioned this waterfall briefly in the Dougan Falls post, saying it's not worth driving an hour to see on its own merits, but if you're visiting the main falls anyway you might as well go have a look. So here we are, visiting it in a separate post, because I decided that was a rule here at one point a long time ago. Was I really that worried about running out of material? I don't remember why anymore, but changing the rule now would lead to things being inconsistent, which would bug me.

Only some of these photos are of the actual falls. Others are of the fast-flowing stretch of creek between there and the Washougal River, which is pretty photogenic too, with a few drops almost as tall as the 'real' waterfall. Though some of those are over very large logs, and waterfall pedants are in furious agreement that water flowing over a log doesnt count as a real waterfall no matter how big the log is. There's also a stretch where the creek slides over some bare rock at a low angle, and I gather there's a debate about what the minimum angle the drop has to be before it counts. And what all this really boils down to is that I wasn't sure what Dougan Creek Falls was supposed to look like going into this, so I took lots of photos of the whitewater parts just in case any of them turned out to be the thing I was there to see.

I was going to work in an analogy about this being the "B side" attraction, or the B movie on a double bill, before remembering that very few people under 50, or 40 tops, have any idea what those things even are. A more recent analogy might be, well, just about everything on basic cable for the last couple of decades. But I'm not sure anyone under 40 watches a lot of basic cable these days and likely never did. Ok, so in modern video game terms this is a side quest that pads out your total play time by a bit (so it feels more like you got your money's worth) but doesn't contribute to the main thrust of the game. I think that gets roughly the same idea across. Though I was never much of a gamer, to be honest.

Dougan Falls

Next up we've got some photos from Dougan Falls on the Washougal River, around 6 miles upstream (and up the road) from Salmon Falls, which we just visited in a recent post. This one is supposedly just 19 feet high, or 30 feet if you count a couple of smaller drops just downstream of it, but it's around a hundred feet wide, so it looks really impressive. I added the supposedly because it looks taller than that to me, but I'm also really bad at guessing heights of things, so I'm probably wrong here. It just feels like it ought to be taller than that, I dunno.

The pleasant fall day when I took these photos just happened to be Halloween, and Dougan Falls seemed to be a stop on someone's scavenger hunt for the occasion. I didn't ask anyone to explain since they all seemed to be in a big hurry, but I gather the goal of this stop was to take a group photo of your team having a picnic at the falls, optionally in costume. Every so often a car would pull up, people would spill out, lay out a blanket or set up a card table, take a few photos, pack everything back up, and head back the way they came. One group in formalwear had time for a cigarette break and a glass of bubbly or maybe cider, but overall I got the sense there may have been a few too many stops on the day's itinerary. Hopefully there was a fun party afterward that made it all worthwhile.

Unlike Salmon Falls, where your presence is distinctly unwelcome, here there's a whole day-use area with picnic tables, room for parking, and official access to the river. The area around the falls belongs to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, specifically their Yacolt Burn State Forest, which we last visited while checking out waterfalls along the Lewis River (further north of here) back in 2011. As the name suggests, this whole area ended up as state-owned land after the half-million acre Yacolt Burn back in 1902. A forest service map of the area (mostly covering their Gifford Pinchot National Forest) mentions that the adjacent campground and picnic area are operated by Skamania County rather than the state. Chapter 8.60 of their county code declares the area between Dougan Falls and the fish hatchery downstream a "Recreation Safety Corridor", and the rest of the chapter lists all the things you aren't allowed to do within said Safety Corridor: No drinkin', no shootin', no fireworks, no unauthorized camping or campfires, and a catch-all prohibition of "any activity including stopping or standing from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise (day use only)". Which is probably just official-ese for making the day-use areas day-use only, but the phrasing is kind of weird, like maybe the "stopping or standing" bit was added to close a loophole after someone with a good lawyer weaseled out of a ticket.

The reason for all these rules (as well as the campground and other facilities) is that the falls are a popular local swimming hole, and have been for as long as anyone remembers. And although the location feels pretty remote, it's still close enough to Portland to attract city people too. It made the Portland Mercury's 2014 list of summer swimmin' holes, which is a thing they put together for a big summer issue every few years. A 2013 Willamette Week article also mentions it & the rest of the river briefly, as a summer water activity for the whole family. (Most of the article concerns windsurfing in Hood River, so you'll have to scroll down a bit.) It also has largely positive Yelp reviews. A Youtube search on "Dougan Falls" and "diving" returns the usual stuff you'd expect, but also several clips of some people scuba diving below the main falls, as the river forms a surprisingly deep pool there. There are no coral reefs to explore here, and no need to ward off sharks or Bond henchmen with a speargun, but if you just want to go hang out with some trout (or chill with the salmon, in season), this is apparently a great place to do that.

Obviously there's more to do here than swim. There's waterfall hunting, obviously, which is how I first heard of this place. There's not much of anywhere to hike to from here, but I did come across one OregonHikers thread about it, I suppose because the "hiker" and "waterfall photo fan" Venn diagram overlaps by a lot. A short stroll across the day-use area does get you to nearby Dougan Creek Falls, a smaller and less impressive waterfall on the eponymous creek, a Washougal River tributary. That waterfall is not really worth visiting on its own merits, but it's so close by that you might as well pop over for a look if you're in the area anyway. But that's a separate blog post, which you'll see here as soon as I'm done with it, whenever that turns out to be.

If swimming around below the falls and leaping from the top seem too tame, you can always go over the falls in a boat. A page at American Whitewater describes the segment of the river ending at Dougan Falls, starting several miles upstream, which goes over enough waterfalls on the way down that it's come to be known as "the Waterfall Run". An Oregon Kayaking page describes the various challenges in more detail, if you're curious, or you could just watch these two videos of kayakers doing the Waterfall Run, and one of some rafters having a moderately bad day at Dougan Falls.

I was there well outside of peak outdoor fun season and didn't see anyone running the falls that day, and (other than scavenger hunters) most of the other people I saw were on motorcycles. It turns out this is a popular thing. I think I mentioned in the Salmon Falls post that the drive along Washougal River Road is ridiculously scenic. Motorcycle Roads Northwest recommends it as one of the best roads in Clark County, and a forum thread on another site has people going on about how much fun it is. Both mention turning around here, because the roads past Dougan Falls are all gravel. Motorcycles are not a subject I know anything at all about, but the sheer volume of tutorials and forum threads and such about how to ride on gravel tell me it's an acquired advanced skill, along the lines of driving a car on snow. For drivers of the four-wheeled persuasion, the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce recommends the road as a scenic drive, though their directions have you arrive at Dougan Falls the back way, via one of those gravel roads, and then turn off at Salmon Falls Road and head down to SR-14. Which skips a lot of the best scenery, but at least the route doesn't leave Skamania County at any point, which is the main thing, of course.

Dougan Falls also gets a quick mention in the 2015 book Gold Panning the Pacific Northwest, as the downstream end of the stretch of river where it's worth looking. The books says the very best spot along the Washougal River is much further upstream, at the mouth of -- wait for it -- Prospector Creek. Because early pioneers around here were so unimaginative that they literally gave away the spot where the gold was just because they couldn't think of anything else to call it. The book refers the reader to a 1977 Washington Dept. of Natural Resources circular, St. Helens and Washougal Mining Districts of the Southern Cascades of Washington for more info, and notes that the abandoned gold mines around the area are notoriously hard to find and usually concealed by vegetation. Which led me to a website called Mindat (as in "mined at", I think), and its map of said Washougal Mining District, and a page with photos of the district's long-abandoned "Last Chance Mine". Which I am not going anywhere near, because of a rather memorable safety lecture we got back in Cub Scouts about not going anywhere near abandoned mines. Which, unrelatedly, was right around the same time my parents decided that gold panning might be a fun outdoor activity for the whole family. It wasn't, unfortunately, as it involves a lot of uncomfortable squatting in the hot sun, swirling a pan of sand or mud around, finding nothing, and repeating this for hours on end. Or at least it seemed like hours on end; it may have been more like 20 minutes, exactly once, though the still-almost-brand-new gold pans sort of lingered around the house for years afterward. If I remember right, someone finally bought them when we had a garage sale years later, probably thinking they'd just stumbled across a new fun activity for their whole family.

If your personal hobbies lean more toward complaining about things on the internet, which -- let's be honest -- is true for quite a lot of people, you're also in luck. You might have noticed a few houses right at the falls, and more along the road just before you get there. Turns out there's a whole subdivision lurking in the forest just downstream of the falls, behind the houses you can see from the road. I'm not sure what the total population nearby is since it doesn't seem to count as an unincorporated community or even a census-designated place, but it does qualify as an official Nextdoor 'neighborhood'. So all you need to do is buy a house here so you can join that corner of Nextdoor, and then you can complain to your heart's content about kids these days, tourists, outsiders, newcomers, Californians, the government (federal, state, and county), and all of the other usual suspects. At least I assume that's what the Nextdoor group is for, going by what I've heard about all other Nextdoor groups. I don't imagine there's a lot of other breaking news happening around the greater Dougan Falls metro area, at any rate.

Downstream of the subdivision is the Kiwanis Club's Camp Wa-Ri-Ki, which until 1973 was the Washougal Honor Camp, a minimum-security work camp belonging to the state prison system. Inmates were kept busy fighting forest fires, planting trees, building logging roads, and so forth. The library's newspaper database has a few news items about the place, which may hint at why it closed after just over a decade in operation. It opened in August 1960, and had its first of many escapes a couple of weeks later. This was followed by escapes in 1961, 1965 (this time robbing a motel before being recaptured), 1966, 1967, June and July 1969 (possibly leading to awkward conversations years later, when asked what they were doing during the moon landing), and 1970. Things quieted down after the change in ownership and most mentions of the camp afterward were in connection with an annual craft fair. And that's about all the news there was about Dougan Falls and vicinity (at least in Portland newspapers) up until 2017 when it figured in a lurid Portland homicide case. It seems the killer dumped the body at the falls instead of a genuinely remote location because going any further would have involved driving on gravel, and that led rather directly to his getting caught. Legal wants me to put a disclaimer here to the effect that this is not meant as helpful advice on being better at crime, and should not be construed as such, as this is not that kind of website. And with that I'm going to do an abrupt & awkward transition to a different topic, because a.) I didn't want to end the post on a down note, and b.) avoiding that fairly recent news as if it didn't happen doesn't sit quite right either. So, switching gears in 3... 2... 1...

Um, anyway, one thing I've always liked to do here on this humble blog is link to other people's pages about the same place or thing I'm writing about. At first it was just to share other perspectives or images that I thought were interesting, which occasionally resulted in them linking back to me, incidentally boosting both of our search engine ranks in the process. But that doesn't really work anymore, plus now there's an important principle at stake. In 2022 it feels like a real achievement -- when writing a post like this -- to wade through a few dozen pages of search results, picking out the few that were created by actual human beings and aren't auto-generated junk created by an algorithm at some sketchy content farm. For some search categories it's already too late; search on the name of a street, any street, and you'll have to wade through real estate listings for every possible address on that street and others in the surrounding area, from several competing spammers, before you'll see a single result about anything else. Doesn't matter if a given property hasn't been on the market since before the internet existed; the top search result for it has already been claimed and is defended zealously. A few years ago the hot thing was to take the (freely available) US Board on Geographic Names database and do things like generate a "hunting and fishing report" page for every named body of water in the country, naturally including heavily polluted rivers in industrial Southside Chicago. Oh, and one for Dougan Falls even though the whole river upstream of Salmon Falls is a strict no-fishing zone. There are real estate listings, Yelp results, and more claiming to be for Bayocean, Oregon, even though the entire town fell into the ocean way back in the mid-20th century.

The auto-generated junk isn't always as obvious as the ones above, either; for a Dougan Falls example, let me point you at a couple of pages at Rare.us and Narcity. Both are kind of clickbaity and are padded out by embedding other people's photos a la Buzzfeed. If I had to guess, my guess would be that the first was written by a live human and the second, unbylined one is by an AI, but I can't quite put my finger on why I think so, and I could easily be wrong on both counts. So yeah, realistically I don't actually think linking from one site way down on the tenth page of search results to another on the fifth or twentieth page is going to turn back the tide of garbage, but it still feels like it's worth doing. It's sort of a John Henry vs Skynet thing, if I can mix metaphors a bit.

Long story short, here's what I've got this time around:

Sunday, May 08, 2022

SE 6th & Stark street mural

Next up, here are a few photos of the other Green Loop street mural on the eastside, after the one at SE 2nd & Caruthers that we just visited. This one's at SE 6th & Stark St. and has sort of a Hispanic / Central American theme to it. The theme comes from being right outside the Milagro Theatre, the Northwest's only Hispanic live theater company. Which staged La Bici -- an original play with a bike safety theme -- in fall 2021, I guess in conjunction with the mural and the whole Green Loop PR effort.

I didn't really have a lot of material for this post, or any other super-genius startup ideas to share with you, so I put the intersection into the library's Oregonian database to see if anything interesting had ever happened here. It turns out that way back in 1924 there was actually a bike shop here, or (strictly speaking) a motorcycle dealer that also sold bikes. The classified ads read "BICYCLES, $10 DOWN, $1 PER WK., Tricycles, coasters, scooters, etc., EAST SIDE MOTORCYCLE CO., Cor. E 6th-Stark. EA 1000". More ads of theirs appeared starting in 1933, now advertising that they sold new Harleys as well as used motorcycles of all types. An assortment of other industrial-type businesses followed, which I won't bore you with since it's just not very interesting.

I also tried searching on the theater's street address, which also wasn't very interesting until around 1948 when the current building went in. The new building was originally home to the shiny, new House of Fong Chinese restaurant & nightclub. Which in that era would have naturally had space for a live band and dancing after a dinner of inauthentic Chinese food. I'm imagining something along the lines of Club Obi-Wan in the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, though perhaps without the huge Hollywood song-and-dance production numbers. This space also doubled as banquet space so your large business or fraternal group could have a big party here, and the papers listed lots of these events over the next couple of years. These notices stopped abruptly in October 1950, so the place may have gone out of business right around then. One of the last mentions of the club came in May when a safecracker (who was arrested elsewhere in town) was found with plans to the House of Fong building, and a receipt for buying a gun.

The empty building was advertised for sale occasionally for a few years, eventually becoming the Backstage Coffee House sometime before 1961. This was obviously long before my time, but the name and the date make me think beatniks, free jazz, and improv poetry, maybe some avant-garde theater or interpretive dance, that sort of thing. And sure enough, the first mention of the place in the paper was when it became the venue for a new local repertory theater company. It seems the coffee house stayed open rather late and segued into the Backstage Club (featuring live music again) at some point in the evening, and later that year it saw a police raid for violating the city's new after-hours dancing ordinance, with several arrests including the club's 71 year old co-owner. The news story explained that Portlanders of 1961 were not permitted to dance in public after 1:30am, unless the club had a liquor license in which case patrons could keep dancing until 2:30am. I'm not sure of the subsequent details of that particular legal drama, but by December of that year the club was advertising that it opened at 2:30am, 7 nights a week, featuring a gentleman named Wally Dee at the piano bar. The aforementioned co-owner passed away in 1962, and her obit mentioned that she had once had her own jazz orchestra that performed regularly at the Crystal Ballroom (yes, that Crystal Ballroom). In 1963 the club or some part of it was known as the Downstage nightclub, which saw another police raid, this time for various liquor law violations, with six arrests for various severe offenses such as drinking liquor from a plastic container.

That may have been curtains for the club, as the next time the street address appeared in the paper was in 1967 when it became home to Eagles Lodge No. 3256, and various fraternal activities ensued for the next decade or so. 1975 saw yet another police raid, this time for operating an illegal bingo game. Five people were arrested, one on felony charges, although all charges were dropped soon afterward when it turned out the police had not gotten a warrant first before barging in.

The Eagles migrated elswhere around 1977, and after that the building was briefly home to a craft mall in 1978, and an Asian-style furniture store in the 1980s, before becoming the present-day theater in the early 90s.

So that's what I've got for this particular location, but if you're still interested in history and are up for a longer bike ride, might I suggest continuing east on Stark to see the old Stark St. Milestones, a series of stone distance markers that continue east along Stark all the way to Mt. Hood Community College, with one marker per mile minus a few that have been misplaced since the mid-19th century. Milestone P2 is the first you'll encounter, embedded in the north wall of Lone Fir Cemetery. If you get to MHCC and you're still up for a longer ride, the same milestone numbering continues east as part of the Columbia River Highway, with mile 31 putting you west of Multnomah Falls, and mile 35 is around the Ainsworth freeway exit. The HCRH bike trail will (largely) get you as far as The Dalles, and fragments of the old road continue east as far as Pendleton. At which point it becomes the Old Oregon Trail Highway and continues eastward to Idaho and points unknown. If you're feeling ambitious, I mean.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

SE 2nd & Caruthers street mural

Next up is another of the city's four(?) new-ish Green Loop murals, this time on the eastside where SE Caruthers deadends west of 2nd Ave., between the Portland Opera building and the docks for the Portland Spirit fleet, hence the musical theme on this one. This is a quiet dead-end street for cars, but as a bike route it's a major intersection between the Springwater Trail, the Tilikum Bridge, the Eastbank Esplanade, people headed to or from OMSI & the Hawthorne Bridge, and I guess now for people doing the Green Loop thing too. Meaning if you're a mere pedestrian and you're here taking photos of the mural, you really need to watch out for traffic and not just stand in the street like a drunk Tour de France spectator.

Unlike the two westside plazas, I don't think this one was meant to host food trucks even seasonally. But given the level of bike traffic through here, it might be a good site for a super-genius idea I had a while back. So here's the startup pitch: If you're commuting by bike and are hungry on the go, right now you need to stop somewhere, get off the bike, and order something, and wait. Meanwhile SUV Steve, your office archnemesis, can just roll through the nearest drive-thru. (Which means SUV Steve consistently gets to the office before you, lands that big promotion, and gets an even bigger SUV, destroying the world even faster, just to be clear on what's at stake here.) The pro cycling world has solved this problem already: Riders roll through a feed zone partway through the race, grab a musette bag from a team soigneur, and continue on their way without stopping or even slowing down very much. Imagine that crossed with a Portland food cart: You'd order and pay through the app ahead of time, and give a rough ETA for when you might be there, and then just roll through and snag your breakfast burrito and keep going, and be at work on time for that one crucial meeting. There'd be an RFID tag scheme or something along those lines to match the right bag to the correct rider, and a newbie lane for people who aren't good at the bag-grabbing part of the arrangement, and some way for people to return the reusable bags, and a really solid EULA so nobody can sue you if they crash after a bungled handoff or something. But overall I think this could totally work, given the right location, at least on a seasonal basis.

The reason I'm telling you all of this instead of pitching it to VCs is that I don't actually want to be in the food service business again, personally, and especially not in a way that involves getting up at zero-dark-thirty to make the breakfast burritos. Don't want to deal with Portland customers again, or constantly hiring and training new food-cart soigneurs (who are bound to get sick of being rained on before long). And before any of that, navigating the city's kafkaesque permit system. And at some point doing a few weeks of crisis PR when it turns out some of your customers are egregious litterbugs. So if any of that sounds more appealing to you than it does to me, feel free to go ahead and have at it, be my guest, and remember that I have absolutely zero liability if things don't work out in practice.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Madison Street Plaza mural

Ok, here are some photos of yet another painted intersection, once again in downtown Portland. If you aren't familiar with this mildly weird local thing, the previous one of these that I covered back in January tries to explain a bit. The current one we've visiting is another twist on the usual theme in that it's an official city government project by the Bureau of Transportation and painted by hired artists, not at all a community volunteer thing. Madison St. Plaza here (which is just across from the Portland Art Museum) is one of at least four new 'plazas', all painted as part of a wider effort the city calls "The Green Loop", which is a bit hard to explain. It's sort of an official bike loop around the central city -- that's downtown plus the central eastside -- enhanced with things that are either trendy here right now, or were trendy before Covid, or at least were cool sometime in the last 15 years or so. So, occasional "everybody ride the Green Loop today" events, complete with obscure local bands you probably haven't heard of playing along the route; food cart pods; street paintings like the one here; that sort of thing. I was all ready to snark about this; I figured the city was trying to create a Disney-fied version of the real things, aimed at tourists and rich developers and conveniently close to upscale hotels downtown and around the Convention Center, and routed past the front doors of sponsoring businesses.

Eventually I realized what the city was really up to. Despite our heavily cultivated reputation around being the perfect bike & pedestrian city, we still have a really high rate of traffic fatalities and serious injuries here, and the numbers keep increasing, which leads to people asking the city how they're going to fix it. The city seems to think that one quick and easy, if partial, mitigation would be if people would stick to side streets more and avoid riding in heavy traffic and darting around 18-wheelers and gigantic SUVs from the 'burbs. You can even put together a network of these safer routes around town and give out maps. The city's done that for years now, and some people pay attention to that sort of thing religiously and others... don't. A lot of other people respond badly to safety-based appeals; they see it as victim blaming, or at least being told to eat their vegetables instead of just gobbling glucose gel packs all the time. So the plan, as I understand it, is to take the existing safer routes and make them look cool and trendy, so people will sort of gravitate to them of their own accord without any safety lectures. At least I think that's what the plan is, unless I'm giving them too much credit.

Whether the execution on the street murals and the curation of food carts and so forth is good enough to pull this off is a whole other question, obviously. And of course there will be cynics out there who see right through what the city's trying to do and reject it out of hand, and if too many people start thinking that way the city will have to come up with an alternative (but still safe) route that isn't 'corporate', but without anyone clueing in that it's another safety campaign. But hey, that's why city bureaucrats make the big bucks. Or at least why they have a good pension plan. I mean, I assume they still have a good pension plan, I dunno.