Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Washington Park


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KGW's reporting that under a new plan, the area around the Washington Park reservoirs will soon be open to the public during daylight hours, similar to the longstanding arrangement at Mount Tabor. This is about the most unexpected news I've heard in a while, but the logic of the plan actually makes sense. The decades-old chain link fence around the reservoir area doesn't really do anything to secure the area against actual, determined evildoers. Letting the general public into the area means you've got a lot of eyes and ears there. The city could never afford to hire an equivalent number of security guards. After all, this is Portland -- we love our reservoirs here, and people will call 911 if they see anyone trying to mess with them.

I recently walked around the park a bit and took a few photos of the area, figuring there was a blog post in it. Then I got busy with RL work and didn't get around to writing the post until now. I was originally going to write about how it was a real shame the reservoir area's closed to the public, and how it didn't make sense considering the Mt. Tabor reservoirs are open. I was also going to say that opening the area would be the absolute last thing I could see happening, in the current climate. I sure wish I could stop being wrong about stuff all the time.

Updated: Here's the city's official press release about the reservoirs. Seems the local media didn't get the facts quite right: The Hazelwood, Texas, and Vernon Tanks mentioned in the KGW article aren't names for the Washington Park reservoirs, they're other Water Bureau facilities that will also permit public access in the future. Looks like this change has been in the works for a while now for these other locations, but it was all happening under the radar until the Washington Park reservoirs joined the list.

Updated II: The Water Bureau would like to set the record straight: The existing fences are staying up, it's just that the gates will be open during daylight hours so the public can visit the area. If I'm reading this right, they're also only doing this for the upper reservoir, at least for the time being.

This is a smart approach -- there'll still be controlled access to the area, with a limited number of ways in and out, and they can shoo everyone out in the evening. I just wish the fence wasn't so ugly, though. It doesn't fit the character of the park at all. I think a wrought iron fence similar to what's around the reservoir itself would look pretty good, if they can spare the cash at some point.

Anyway, here are a few more photos from around the park. I was originally just going to mention the reservoirs in passing, and I was more interested in the odd, neglected areas in the lower portion of the park.

(I was originally also going to remark about all the nonnative English ivy that covers the park, but it turns out the water bureau's already started tearing it out, so maybe I don't need to complain about that after all.)


This fountain doesn't really count as neglected, since it's right next to the main road and everyone sees it as they drive past. Seen from a distance, you tend to shrug and write it off as yet another fusty old Victorian-era fountain. To really appreciate it, you need to get close to it, and stop, and listen the the water dripping and pinging off of it. It's sometimes called the Chiming Fountain, if that gives you any idea. Other fountains in town are bigger, more famous, and vastly more complex, but this my candidate for the most soothing one in town. Well, except when a bus rumbles by behind you, but hey, we're in the middle of a big city, and you can't have everything.


These winding stairs are part of the multitude of weird pathways that meander down the forested hillside between the reservoirs and the vicinity of Burnside & NW 23rd. Despite connecting two rather popular areas, this stretch is usually pretty empty of people, and the surrounding hillsides block out most city noises. You see nothing but trees, and hear nothing but birds. It's great.

Rumor has it that once you reach the top of these stairs, there's a long, dark tunnel, with a gigantic hungry spider living inside of it. This rumor is untrue, so far as I know.


This is the main path through the same area. City noises are blocked out so well here because this part of the park sits in a sort of mini-canyon. It appears that this path lies directly on top of the stream that drains the area. You'd never get away with building something like this today, and the environmentally correct thing would be to rip this thing out, daylight the stream, and restore the area to a more natural state. Although you'd still be draining into a pipe at the downstream end, so I'm not sure how much good it would really do.


This is not technically part of the park, but it's nearby, and dates to about the same era. This is a detail from the north end of the Vista Avenue Viaduct. This could be a good, ahem, jumping-off point for the usual "they don't build 'em like they used to" discussion, but that's not why this photo's here. What I've always wondered about is the curved concrete bench on the right side of the picture. There's a similar one on the other side of the street, and I think on the other side of the bridge as well. I've never seen anyone sit here, and I'm a little confused as to the designers' intent. Is this something people used to enjoy back in 1925? Sit there and watch Model T's chug their way up the hill and over the bridge? Or maybe it's supposed to be purely ornamental, and actually sitting there would be incredibly ignorant and gauche. Sort of like trying to bite into the fake food in the window of a Japanese restaurant, or something. Who knows?