Tuesday, November 28, 2006

collected tidbits, 11/28

I've been neglecting my RSS-reading-and-aggregating duties for far too long. Sorry about that. Here's the latest in my occasional series of tidbits found on the interwebs:

  • The very latest fascinating post over at Cafe Unknown, full of local history and trolleys and bygone bridges and such. I try to do a reasonably thorough job when I cover local history and oddities and related topics, but I'm a total piker compared to the Cafe Unknown guy.
  • The Champagne of Blogs posse visited the Oaks Bottom pub recently, and they had the good sense to take plenty of food photos. In particular, they have a beautiful photo of a nice plate of totchos. Totchos? You know, like nachos, but made with tater tots. Mmmmm.... Tater tots..... Mmmm.... beeeeer....
  • Also, this year's Holiday Ale Festival is nearly upon us. When you see the tree going up in Pioneer Courthouse Square, you can be sure that roasty sudsy tipsy holiday goodness is never far behind. Mmmmm... beeeer....
  • The Guilty Carnivore has a great piece bashing the soulless, corporate Chipotle Mexican Grill. I mean, some of my best friends are accountants, seriously, but they don't know jack about how to run a good restaurant.
  • Goddamn that rat bastard Dan Saltzman. On top of everything else, now I can't wave my numchuks around in public parks anymore. Anywhere. In the entire city. We have tons of off-leash dog areas; why aren't there any designated areas for those of us who don't have dogs but want to be irresponsible anyway? I hereby propose a citywide system of Amateur Ninja Zones (clearly marked, of course), where the city just isn't legally responsible for anything people in the zones do to themselves or one another. Poke yourself in the eye with your own ninja star? You saw the entrance signs saying "Caution: Amateur Ninjas! Enter at own risk!", so you've got nobody to blame but yourself. People can be stupid to their hearts' content, and the city has no liability when the inevitable happens. Everybody wins!
  • Also at the Mercury, plenty of photos of cute cats, complete with fun captions.
  • From Pink Tentacle, covering all sorts of weird stuff from Japan, a rather scary mall security robot, and a gallery of dekotora, or decorated trucks, which are sort of Japan's answer to the lowrider.
  • Less weird but cool in a transit-geek sort of way is the "dual mode vehicle", which can run on rails like a train, or on the street like a bus. This might be a great answer to all the nonsense the city of Portland is preparing to do with the downtown transit mall in the next few years.
  • Finally, an amusing cartoon about matrix transforms. Thanks, xkcd!

Today's thrilling echidna roundup:

like amethysts beneath my feet

If you live or work in downtown Portland, you may have noticed the little purple glass squares and circles set into the sidewalk here and there, at seemingly random locations. If you're like me (which I admit is unlikely) you might've been curious about them. They're obviously quite old and a bit weatherbeaten, but it's not so obvious what they are or what they're for. Fortunately, in this modern era, the answers are just a few keystrokes away, out there on the interwebs.

The purple glass bits are known as "vault lights". See, a "vault" is an underground area, well, ok, a vault, situated under the sidewalk or under the street proper. If you want natural light in your vault, you install some of these. Hence the name. In Canada, they call them "sidewalk prisms", which has a more poetical ring to it. It's also a bit more informative, since the lights do have prisms on their down-facing sides, for diffusing sunlight all over the subterranean vault. Flat glass on the bottom would mean a few small pools of intense sunlight, which isn't what anyone's likely to want.


Vault lights aren't all that common anymore in Portland but underground vaults are all over the place. Some are abandoned and bricked up, while others are used for storage. If you've seen the super-cool freight elevators that pop up out of the sidewalk, they exist to provide direct access to your sidewalk vault right from the street, so you can stock up your underground storeroom without hauling everything in through the front door. This can be very helpful, since our fair city generally lacks back alleys for that sort of thing.

I can't find a comprehensive list of vault lights in Portland, but I'm making notes now when I run across them. I'm certain these aren't the only ones, but these are the ones I know of right now. The largest collection I'm aware of is around the Galleria building, which is where the top two photos were taken. The south side of the building facing the MAX tracks has an array of clear vault lights, which I'm guessing may be more recent replacements for older lights. The third photo is from outside the Dekum Building, on SW 3rd around Washington or Alder, I think. A third grouping is in front of the Clyde Hotel building on Stark St. You could also count the clear lights that serve as skylights for the visitor center in Pioneer Courthouse Square. They obviously aren't any older than the park itself, but I guess we can still count them if we want to.


[Updated 1/2/07: Two more vault light sightings to report, both on the edge of the Pearl. #1, the sidewalk outside the North Park Lofts building, on the North Park Blocks at Everett. #2, outside the office supply place at 9th & Flanders. ]

I was curious why they're always purple: If that was just an aesthetic choice, or was mandated by law, or something else. Turns out the answer is "something else" in this case; the lights actually started out as clear, but prolonged exposure to UV light caused impurities in the glass to turn purple over time. In the early 20th century, it was common to add managanese to glass, to combat existing impurities that would make the glass green. That works great in the short term, but eventually your 'clear' glass turns purple, sort of potassium permanganate colored. Manganese is actually the cause of the very similar purple color in amethysts, the only difference being that amethysts are quartz instead of glass. Still, they're close cousins, and the family resemblance should be pretty obvious. Restoring vault lights could be kind of a problem; do you restore to clear glass, or to the purple glass everyone's so used to?

As an aside, if you ever see anything advertised as "vaseline glass", with a fluorescent yellow-green color, just be aware that it gets its color from... uranium. Seriously.

Back in the Galleria's heyday, the vault area was just part of the mall, and you could stand there and look up and out. You couldn't get a clear look at the foot traffic passing overhead, but you could tell they were there. I remember thinking that was very cool. Of course, I've always had a fascination with all things subterranean, I mean, the very name of this blog refers to a 50's sci-fi mole machine, so I may think this stuff is cooler than the average person might. But really, how can you not love having another entire world directly beneath your feet. That's just cool.

I have a dream here. Vault lights are cool, sidewalk elevators are extremely cool, and I just don't think either is being used to maximum advantage. Imagine, an underground bar, purple vault lights in the roof, as many as the city will let us have. And instead of carrying freight, the sidewalk elevator is the bar's main entrance. You press a call button, the elevator pops up out of the sidewalk, you hop in, and it whisks you down to a secret space beneath the feet of passersby. Decorwise, either Art Deco speakeasy, or Victorian boudoir would seem fitting. I'm not sure what I'd call the thing; the obvious choice is something using the word "vault" or "prism", but perhaps that's just too obvious. Failing that, as a geek I've always thought "/dev/null" would be a great name for a bar, although it doesn't exactly have a retro ring to it.

Further resources about this stuff:

  • An extremely thorough page about vaults (a.k.a. "sidewalk basements") and vault lights. Everything you ever wanted to know, and much, much more. Plenty of photos, too.
  • Two pages concerning city regulations of sidewalk elevators. So far I haven't seen anything that explicitly prohibits using them to carry passengers instead of freight.
  • More resources about how glass gets to be purple: here, here, and here. From the first link:

    Take a century-old glass bottle, and expose it in the desert to the ultraviolet radiation present in strong sunlight. Come back after ten years, and the glass will have acquired an attractive purple color. Heat the bottle in an oven, and the color disappears. Next expose the bottle to an intense source of energetic radiation, as in the cobalt-60 gamma ray cell of Figure 24, and within a few minutes an even deeper purple color appears, as shown in Plate XI.
    A century ago, glass used to be decolorized with manganese additions to remove the green color caused by iron impurities. It is the Mn2+ left from this process which loses an electron to form the purple Mn7+ shown in Plate XI in the solarization process described at the beginning of this section.

  • Photos of vault lights in Portland, Astoria, Seattle, and Victoria, BC.
  • The National Park Service considers them part of the "look" of historic Lowell, Mass., and therefore worth preserving.
  • As part of an award-winning restoration of Seattle's Pioneer Square, "pre-purpled" vault lights were installed.
  • And two pages touching on vault lights in New York City.
  • If you need to buy modern replacements for your vault lights, here's one source for them. Not purple, though.
  • A mention of underground vaults in connection with persistent stories across the Old West that they were somehow connected with secret doings in the Chinese community. Our own "Shanghai tunnel" mythology may be connected to this as well.
  • Off on a bit of a tangent, a piece about obscure & unusual elevators in the state of Oregon. Sidewalk elevators get a brief mention here:

    The City of Portland in the past gave out permits for sidewalk elevators so the downtown buildings could receive freight below ground in their basements. As far as anyone knows there have been no new permits issued for a long time but there are some of these elevators used today. We will not list them.
  • An interesting, poetic blog entry about vault lights.
  • Portland's sidewalk elevators get a mention in this intriguing thread about the tech behind vaults and elevators, among other things. This post discusses how sidewalk elevators work, and has this to say about vault lights:

    The glass blocks you recall being imbedded in the sidewalk were called "vault lights". As you note, some businesses had extended their basements out past the "building line" and under the sidewalk. Usually, this was done to provide working space around a sidewalk type freight elevator, additional storage or utility space (as for water,gas and electric meters) or was done to provide space for coal bins or bunkers. I have been in a few such basements in really old buildings and walked in under the vault lights. It is a strange feeling to be "under the sidewalk" and see the changing light patterns as pedestrian traffic keeps right on walking accross the vault lights with no knowledge you are under their feet. In truth, a weak light, at best, came thru the vault lights. These were solid pieces of glass imbedded in a concrete slab which the formed the roof of the "vault" or extended basement. The glass was usually quite thick, ont he order of 2 or 3" thick. Over time, the glass became frosted from foot traffic, steel wheeled carts, and the use of sand and ashes on the sidewalks during winter weather. Typically, if you looked closely at the sidewalks where there were vault lights, you would see a strip of bronze imbedde dint he concrete- this marked off the limits of the "sidewalk vault". You might also see a small cast bronze tag imbedded in the concrete giving the name of the vault light maker. I haven't been down in the old parts of NY city in years, so don;t know if the sidewalk freight elevators and the sidewalk vaults and vault lights still exist.
  • JSTOR has the text of a book or article titled Superstitions from Oregon, but the Google search that led me there indicates there was a superstition about walking on sidewalk vault doors. Which isn't completely unreasonable, since some of them can get pretty slippery when wet.
  • The MySpace profile of a local guy who lists vault lights as one of his interests.
  • From the state building codes division, we learn that sidewalk elevators now only need to be inspected once every two years, instead of annually. (It's on page 4 of the linked PDF.) An earlier doc from the same agency informs us that yes, you do need a permit for a sidewalk elevator, and the pertinent safety regulations may be found in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' A17.1 Part IV. Unfortunately I'd have to pay money to find out what that says. So first, I guess I need to find someone to fund my latest "coolest bar ever" idea, and then find out whether it'd actually be legal or not.

Monday, November 27, 2006

10,000 and counting...

Wow. Earlier today, my lil' hit counter doodad hit the 10,000 mark. 104 visitors in less than a year. Sure, plenty of sites get that many visitors every minute, but still, I'm flattered. Although it's a bit late for Thanksgiving, I'd like to say thanks, everybody, all the same. I'll get to the Thanksgiving thrills, chills, 'n spills in a moment, but first a bit more about today's important milestone.

Visitor #10000 came here looking for wisteria photos. I posted a few of those back in early May (see here), but this visitor probably never saw them; several weeks ago there was a sudden upsurge in search hits from images.google.com, which would be neato except that they're basically all "junk" hits. Instead of directing users to a specific post, Google Images sends people to the archive page for the entire month in which I posted the desired photo(s). Needle, meet haystack. So instead of going to the specific wisteria post, user 10k ended up at my May '06 archive page. The wisteria pics are near the very bottom of the page, and the top story is a grim bit about the massacre at Haditha, something you're probably not in the mood to see if you're looking for nice photos of flowers. If this blog had a narrow focus on either flowers or the mideast, all these archive page hits wouldn't be a big deal, but whatever super-secret algorithm Google's using right now clearly discriminates against those of us with wide-ranging interests.

Also, Google sends image queries your way if you merely link to a picture and don't actually include it in your page. Last December, I made the innocent mistake of linking to a photo of the Devil in his Tucker Carlson "harmless doofus" persona, just mentioning the guy briefly at the bottom of a mostly-unrelated post. Now, if you click the #2 image hit for ol' whatsisname, you'll arrive at my December '05 archive page. When you get there, you'll really have to search to find my brief snarky comment about the guy, and you won't find the linked photo at all, because it isn't here, dammit. It just isn't. All of this just goes to prove the guy really is the Devil.

A few days ago, I got a brief flurry of silky anteater hits, and I'm still not sure why. Maybe Animal Planet reran the stupid nature show where I first heard of 'em. There's no way to know, really. But I'm willing to misinterpret that as a vast surge of popular demand for cute animal photos. I don't actually have a lot of those, unfortunately. I was just about to upload a handful of third-rate wildlife photos I had on hand, but I like to think I've achieved a certain level of quality here, and blurry long-distance photos of deer and hummingbirds just won't do the trick. So I think we'll go without photos for once.

So whatever. As I was about to say before I interrupted myself, Thanksgiving was just fine. This year someone brought poker chips to the big family gathering, so us manly men would have something manly to do while the womenfolk were in the kitchen making pies and quilts and churning butter and gossiping and watching Oprah and doing who-knows-what. Seems certain male relatives of mine have caught the Texas hold-em bug, so I finally broke down and (sort of) learned how to play, or at least how to lose. Then grandpa arrived. He's 95, and he's been playing poker since about age 8 or so, and he hasn't forgotten a thing. Grandpa says Texas hold-em is a sissy game, and he wants to play 5 card draw or 7 card stud, with an occasional round of 3 card lowball. Which is fine by me. I learned to play (sort of) on the classics (thanks, Cub Scouts!), not this newfangled business with cards in the middle and small and big blinds and all this complicated crap. Switching to dealer's choice didn't help me a lot, since grandpa ended up with all my chips, but at least it was more fun. The unspoken rule of playing cards with grandpa is that he'll see what he can get away with, since he knows you aren't likely to call him on it. I see everything (I think) but I don't say a word, because it's just a marvel watching the guy work. You'd almost chalk it all up to fumbling 95-year-old fingers, except that it always works to his advantage, and it's always subtle. You won't catch the guy with five aces or anything egregious like that, and most of the time he plays strictly by the book and beats you fair and square anyway. Ever heard the saying about how old age and treachery defeats youth and skill? I think grandpa might've been the inspiration for that. Did I mention he's also basically unbeatable at pool, too? It's true. If I live to be 95, I figure I could do a lot worse than to be the resident poker & pool shark down at the senior center, and I expect I'd feel I, too, was entitled to beat the young 'uns at cards by any means necessary. As for the meal? I'm slowly realizing that "turkey" rhymes with "jerky" for a reason. That's all I'm going to say.

The next day, it was time to go see the latest James Bond flick with dad. Well, with the whole family, but mostly with dad, who's a huge James Bond fan. He seemed to think Casino Royale is one of the better Bond films. I thought it wasn't bad, although I got a chuckle out of the extended casino sequence. Instead of baccarat, the gazillionaire high rollers have a tense high-stakes game of... you guessed it, Texas hold-em. I kept expecting to see some D-list celebrities show up, and maybe a camera crew from a third-tier cable network. I'm not asserting that rich people actually play baccarat in real life. They probably play bridge, perhaps the only card game in the universe that's even more complicated than baccarat, and it isn't even played for money. Maybe that's why the rich are still rich, I dunno. That aside, dad and I got to drool over the new Aston-Martin for a bit, so overall I suppose it was money well spent.

The following day, it was time to hang out with a friend of ours who's single and newly 40, which means a rapid trek from bar to bar all across town, searching for eligible women. If none spring immediately to hand, it's off to the next bar. I don't entirely understand the role we play in this quest. I guess we're there as the normal-looking married friends who help him look safe and nonthreatening or something. Which is ok, since he really is safe and nonthreatening, he just doesn't look like it when you first see him. Sometimes it takes a few months to see past the dubious exterior, and we're there to facilitate the process as best we can. It hasn't worked yet, but we're all still very hopeful. At least, I think that's the role we play in his scheme. I'm not 100% sure. I don't really remember a lot about the evening, quite honestly. At one point there were tater tots and electronica, and I think that was the highlight of the evening, as far as I can recall.

The day after that, I woke up and felt utterly godawful. Finally got over that and had just enough stamina to get up and go to the gym for the first time in a week, and after that it was nothing but junk food and beer and cheesy movies. Ahhhhhh. Now that's what I call a holiday...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Behold, ze tram!



So I was making a run to the grocery store for last-minute holiday fixins this morning, and noticed a couple of strange objects suspended in the sky overhead. Yep, it's our fair city's shiny new aerial tram. I stopped briefly and took a few photos of the thing, since it's just so... weird...


I read somewhere that they aren't going to take the plastic wrap off the tram cars until it's ready to start carrying passengers. So they're still in the original packaging, but it's unclear whether we can still return them for a full refund.

Actually that's sort of unkind. I'm not actually against the thing. I'm not convinced the general (i.e. non-OHSU) public's getting good value for the money, and I might've had different budgetary priorities if I was calling the shots. But all the same, the whole thing is weirdly fascinating, and I'm sure the tourists will love it. Gawkers on I-5 may become a real problem, which means the Powers That Be may soon offer us an expensive solution, like putting I-5 in a tunnel through the area, maybe. Which might actually be a good idea, just a very expensive good idea. Unless you're one of those hardcore bike fascists, you have to admit I-5 desperately needs at least one more lane in each direction, and there's just nowhere to put them if you leave everything on the surface.



Maybe I'm just obsessing about I-5 because I'll be driving this stretch later today, in the rain, along with everyone else, and I'm Not Looking Forward To It. Oh, and before anyone hassles me about that, Amtrak doesn't serve the town we're going to, and no airlines serve the local airport, and the idea of biking that far in this weather lugging many pounds of mashed potatoes is an amusing notion. I'm sure there are people out there doing it, but I won't be among them. Imagine, biking hours and hours in the driving rain, with nothing to look forward to but a steaming pile of low-sodium Tofurkey on your plate, a tall glass of wheatgrass juice, and light dinner conversation with one's fellow self-righteous masochistic dolts. Gee, that sounds like fun.

Also, I don't own a Segway, or a unicycle, or a horse, or a pogo stick, or a jetpack, or a zeppelin, or a mole machine, so those options aren't viable either, in case you were curious.

I suppose there's also the option of staying at home and doing Thanksgiving dinner with family by videoconference, but the in-laws can be oddly old-fashioned sometimes, and I suspect they'd think it just wasn't the same, somehow. So in short, I don't see any realistic alternative to driving. If there was, I'd happily take it, because nothing's worse than a long-distance drive for the holidays, but there's just no other way. It's troubling that our fair city's gone so far down the transit fanaticism path that I feel like I need to make a public apology for driving to see elderly relatives on Thanksgiving, thus burning fossil fuels and spewing greenhouse gases. I live downtown, and I usually get to work by bus or streetcar, but I walk to work when the weather's nice. I drive maybe once every week or two, and then only for a mile or so, just to pick up groceries. I'm already doing my part, dammit.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

cedar & cactus

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A couple of photos of the cool stairway between Cedar St. & Cactus Drive, two tiny streets just outside the main entrance to Washington Park, in downtown Portland. This is one of my favorite sets of public stairs in the city. I really haven't visited that many of those, but this has to be a standout. It has flair, somehow, and it's much fancier than you'd expect for something that connects two very obscure dead-end streets.

Cedar - Cactus Stairs (2)

I'm not the only person who likes 'em: Here's a walking tour of the Washington Park area that includes the Cedar/Cactus stairs, with a couple of photos. I recall that the ever-elusive Little Red Book of Stairs also mentions them, but as usual I don't have a copy handy to quote from.

Here's a Google Map of the area, though I doubt it's going to be very useful. You can barely see the little streets, and you can't really see the stairs even on the highest zoom setting. But it may give a somewhat better idea of the area I'm talking about, since the street names themselves aren't likely to ring a bell with anyone except people who live there. The map is roughly centered on the stairs.

A fun historical note about the area: Many years ago, this was the location of the childhood home of John Reed, the prominent early 20th century writer and communist. That page, part of a larger Portland Radical History Tour, mentions the stairs briefly:

Today, only the elaborate concrete steps that connect SW Cedar Lane with Cactus Drive survive but nearby SW Green Street is named for his capitalist grandfather.

The main page adds

The only remains of the home are concrete steps (which probably led to the stables) at the end of Cedar, where it meets Cactus Drive.

This planning doc [PDF] from city hall regarding the King's Hill Historic District (which for some reason includes all of Cactus Drive except for the stairs, and none of Cedar Street) has slightly more info:

The Green residence, complete with large hot-houses for growing exotic plants, was located on Cactus Drive where it joins Cedar Street at the edge of Washington Park. S.W. Cedar Street, a narrow, winding road, was the original drive to the Green estate, and S.W. Green Avenue is named for the family. The Greens were known for throwing lavish parties. Their grandson, John Reed, was an early Northwest "radical".

That document goes on to indicate that the immediate vicinity is platted as the "Cedar Hill Addition", and is occasionally referred to as "Cedar Hill", not to be confused with "Cedar Hills", which is way out in the westside 'burbs. Prior to being subdivided, the Green house itself was named "Cedar Hill", apparently. The name is exceedingly obscure, and using it when asking people for directions will only end in tears, or in Beaverton, which is essentially the same thing.

I'm skeptical about the suggestion the stairs were once part of a house. To me they look like they were always meant to connect two streets; the curvature you see at the top is the cul-de-sac at the end of Cedar St. I haven't seen photos of whatever used to be here in the old days, so I could be wrong. The house theory would certainly help to explain why these stairs are so much more elaborate than the other examples you see around town. Although in the absence of proof, I prefer to think it was all just a lark on someone's part. Throughout most of the city's history, there was a desperate shortage of eccentric people doing odd things for inexplicable reasons, which means most of the city's history is pretty damn yawn-inducing. If you read anything John Reed wrote about the city in the early 1900s, it's clear he absolutely hated the place.

We like to think we've mellowed out and gotten a bit more free-spirited over the last hundred years or so. Per my usual inclinations, I've been sitting here trying to think of a way to be cynical and pessimistic about that notion, with extra points awarded for using the words "poseur" and or "dilettante". But it just isn't working. It's freakin' true, already. The place really has improved over the years, and even I have to admit it. Bojack probably wouldn't agree, but I have it on good authority that Jack was already a notorious cranky old guy a full century ago, churning out endless broadsheets and handbills, ranting on about how them newfangled horseless carriages and moving pictures would be the death of us all.

Monday, November 20, 2006

six pics for monday



Yes, it's yet another post full of mostly-unrelated photos. The top two are a couple of great tastes that (might) taste great together: Guinness and kumquats. I haven't actually tried this, but there's Guinness involved, so it just stands to reason. Guinness is also the reason the Guinness photo's kind of crooked.


Berries next to the newly-reopened Grand Staircase at Reservoir 3 in Washington Park.


A closeup of the base of the Lewis & Clark monument, also in Washington Park.


The sign outside the now-closed Jasmine Tree tiki bar up near PSU. The tiki gods pictured in this previous post are no longer there. Coming soon: another cookie-cutter condo tower! Hooray, PDC!


A volleyball stuck high up in a tree in Lovejoy Fountain Plaza. I don't know how it got there, but I assume it had help.

Friday, November 17, 2006

urban parks imagedump

The elephant sculpture in the North Park Blocks. Ok, sure, there's a front side to it as well, but where's the fun in that? Besides, this angle matches my mood today. What sort of person schedules a meeting from 11am to 1:45pm, without a break for lunch? On what planet is that a common and accepted practice?

I started out with the idea this would be just a random Friday imagedump, and then I realized most of the pics I picked were related to city parks. So I figured I'd go with the theme that presented itself, and save the other pics for later. I tend to try not include more than six photos in a post anyway, and even that number can be a bit taxing for dialup users.



Got out of the office briefly yesterday and ventured over to Ankeny Park again, since those nighttime photos turned out a bit on the dark-ish side. While I was there, a bicycle cop rode up and shooed a homeless guy out of the one functioning restroom in the park. Still, for the second time in a row, nobody killed me while I was there. I think I have a streak going, which seems like a good sign.



Two more pics from Lovejoy Fountain Plaza. I realize I post an inordinate number of pics of the place, mostly because I pass through the area a lot. I realize longtime readers of this blog might be sick of all my Lovejoy Fountain photos, and I apologize, humbly and sincerely, but I can't promise there won't be any more.


Canada Geese next to a mysterious rusty barrel, in Waterfront Park near Riverplace. This was taken a while ago, and since then the barrel has mysteriously vanished.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ankeny Park

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Here are a few nighttime photos of tiny Ankeny Park, in downtown Portland. As I mentioned in the previous post, Ankeny Park is sort of a misfit mini-North Park Block, marooned all by itself on the south side of Burnside, along the line where the true-north and magnetic-north parts of the city's street grid collide.

There's an unfortunate naming collision between this spot and the better-known Ankeny Plaza (a.k.a. "Ankeny Square"). The latter is the triangular wedge between 1st & Front next to the Skidmore Fountain. If you've been to Saturday Market, you've been there. Both parks border Ankeny St., so the name fits both places, but it's kind of confusing that they both got the name. Oh, well.


night, ankeny park

The place isn't obscure in the same way that, say, Frank L. Knight Park is obscure. It's more the kind of place everyone walks past and nobody takes notice of. In truth there really isn't a lot to take notice of, either; the park's main feature is a pair of very old and ornate public restrooms, with a bit of greenspace and a small fountain (nonfunctional) between them. The top photo is a detail of the fountain; there's a picture of the whole thing further down the page, and another pic showing the mini-fountain on the back of the main fountain.

The city has high(ish) hopes for the place, though. In an effort to make the upcoming Park Block 5 look like it's part of some kind of master plan, the city's come up with what it calls the Three Downtown Parks project. They've got to design the new park, obviously, and they've scrounged up some money to tinker with O'Bryant Square, too. Ankeny Park gets the short end of the stick under the plan; the city's quite happy to generate reams of paper about how the place could be rearranged, but there's no money in the budget to actually do anything about it. There aren't any adjacent lots where the PDC could plunk down another tower full of taxpayer-subsidized million dollar condos, so what would be the point of renovating the park?

Call me a cynic, but I suspect a big reason the city generally ignores the place is the restrooms. Public restrooms have been out of favor in this country for several decades now, because the wrong people (the poor, the homeless, junkies, etc.) use them. Doing something about the underlying conditions of poverty isn't an option; we as a society threw in the towel on that way back in the 70's or so, and we're not likely to have another go at it any time soon. Still, we're well-meaning people with consciences, and seeing poor people in our midst pains us occasionally, so the logical answer is to shoo them away, and make our public spaces hostile to their presence. That way we don't have to look at stuff that might disturb our inner calm and whatnot. But we'll only go so far in that direction, since as Portlanders we like to avoid confrontation. Actually closing or tearing out the restrooms would outrage the activist community, and make us look cold-hearted and uncaring. So instead we take the passive-aggressive route, the path of least resistance (and expense), and simply let the facilities decay until they become inoperable. Problem solved.

Note that I have no photos of the inside of the restrooms, because I didn't go inside. I've said on numerous occasions that I go to the mat for you, my loyal Gentle Reader(s), but there are things one does, and things one simply doesn't do, and it's good to know the difference. I will point out, however, that I visited the park after nightfall and nobody killed me. I have to take that as a sign the bad rap the area gets in some quarters is not entirely deserved.

I honestly didn't start out with the idea of writing a post that's primarily about restrooms. Sure, it's lots of fun in a grade-school sort of way, and we can all have a nice giggle about it, but this really was unplanned. I'm merely being guided by the available material on the place, and the toilets are basically the only things of note here. If the fountain actually worked, the Water Bureau might have a fun, quirky information page up about it, but it hasn't worked for as long as I can remember, so no dice. If anything historic had happened here, I'd write about that, but in the 150+ years the city's been settled, there was a bit of toilet construction in the 1920s, and a steady stream of unremembered petty crime, but as far as I know nothing important has ever happened here. And I can't really see any nature, or wildlife, or scenery angle, either. There aren't even any squirrels The North Park Blocks are full of squirrels, but they don't seem to ever venture across Burnside, at least not successfully.



Additional resources:

  • Status update from the PDC
  • The city has a diagram & notes about Ankeny Park. Among other things, they note the place is "dark, damp, and shady", and is too small to host events or activities. Also, there's a map of the park, and the other two "Downtown Parks" here.
  • Apparently the park did get a bit of maintenance back in 1983, due to a grant from the National Park Service.
  • An Oregonian article about the park plan.

    Ankeny Park. This small block at Southwest Park and Burnside Street houses two small brick buildings (one closed) for public restrooms amid grass and trees. There is no money for immediate improvements, but it's a key link to the North Park Blocks across Burnside.

    "It didn't make sense not to consider it," Rouse says. The buildings could be converted to other uses, although many people recognize a need for comfort stations downtown.
  • The Tribune has an article as well. Seems that the city received a number of whimsical suggestions about what to do with the place, among them a putting green, a tango dance floor, and a butterfly garden.
  • A post about the project at the Portland Transport blog. Several commenters puzzle over what to do about Ankeny Park. One proposes giving it the Tanner Springs treatment, as if that would be a good thing. Another reader suggests planting a new Church of Elvis here, which is at least kind of intriguing.
  • Actually the Church of Elvis idea would be kind of ironic. Back in the old days, the original C. of E. site on Ankeny between 2nd & 3rd (now part of Berbati's Pan) was right in the middle of the city's main open-air tar heroin market, and church proprietor Stephanie Pierce was quite vocal in encouraging the dealers to move elsewhere, anywhere but in front of her establishment. The restrooms pictured here were one of her proposed alternatives: "Privacy for big deals!!'' is how she put it, as quoted in a Phil Stanford piece in the Oregonian, way back on August 27th, 1990. A number of the other places she proposed weren't happy about the attention, and US Bank's lawyers sent her a nastygram about it. Hence the piece's title, "IF THEY SUE, THEY'LL HAVE TO SUE ELVIS". You gotta love the Multnomah County Library's searchable Oregonian database. You never know when it might come in handy.
  • An entertaining Willamette Week article that mentions the park's "comfort stations", and others like them around town.
  • The recent Oregonian piece profiling Laurie Olin, the designer for the "Three Downtown Parks" project. Of his plans for Ankeny Park, he says "Ankeny Park is straightforward. We won't do much." No doubt the absence of money is a factor here. If I was redoing the place, at minimum I'd take out that silly balustrade between the two buildings. I realize it's original and "historic" and all, but it serves no purpose and it's an obstacle, and it's falling apart. I'd leave the fountain, of course. The buildings themselves, I'm not sure about. They're kind of white elephants: Recent history demonstrates they're unsuitable for their original purpose, at least in this location, but they're also too small to put to much of any other use. It wouldn't be right to just demolish them, but maybe they could be disassembled and moved elsewhere in the city park system, or something. You'd have to provide replacement facilities, either here or nearby, but you could probably do that in a safer, and less obtrusive way than the current arrangement.
  • Ankeny Park is mentioned in a recent report from the mayor's office titled "Going Public" [PDF] regarding the state of the city's public restroom facilities. (Your tax dollars at work!) The report isn't gross, and the graphics on the title page are actually kind of funny. There are several photos of the park both in the present day, and when the facilities were built back in the 1920's. There are also "then" and "now" interior shots, and the "now" one looks even worse than I imagined. So now we know, I guess. Yeechhhh!!!

    The document includes an appendix giving an inventory of the city's public restroom facilities. Clearly, someone was very, very brave, or had an armed police escort.

...wherein I visit the center of the universe...

Ok, I lied in that last post when I said that was my only chance to post for the day. I managed to escape the whiteboard jungle, and I'm having a cold one at the Official Center of the Universe, generally known (outside this blog) as Tugboat Brewing, on Ankeny St. just off Broadway, in downtown Portland.

Which is not to say this is a come-meet-the-blogger invite. I'll probably post this just as I leave, antisocial geek that I am.

If you find yourself at Tugboat, get an ESB if it's on. The Hop Gold is a good bet as well, and it's organic now, too. And Chernobyl Stout... Wheaties may be the breakfast of champions, but Chernobyl is the dessert of champions. Or if not champions, at least it's the dessert of *me*.

Not a lot to say about the day's software design thrills, other than that it's nice to be back in the Java universe again. I do have one pending task that requires a bit of JNI, but I'm procrastinating about it. If I procrastinate long enough, it might go away. That would be nice.

Long(ish) time readers of this blog may remember my interest in the Ruby language. Sure would be fun to get paid to code in a super-high-level interpreted language for a change, but I have a funny feeling I'm heading the other way and I'll get sucked back into kernel world again. I don't really fancy having to write a Solaris or HP-UX driver anytime soon, but for some reason I volunteered anyway, which means I'll probably have to. Ugh.

Ok, it's Chernobyl time now. The nice folks at Tugboat insist it runs around 14% ABV. I'm not totally convinced it's that high, but it's a tasty beer, rich and roasty, the way a Russian Imperial Stout ought to be. If you like Old Rasputin, there's a good chance you'll like Chernobyl too.

I've gotten a few compliments lately about photos and my occasional city park posts. I aim to please, so I took a couple of photos here and I might even post 'em if they're any good. The closest city park to the center of the universe is tiny, obscure Ankeny Park (not to be confused with Ankeny Square), which is basically a mini North Park Block marooned on the wrong side of Burnside. Its main feature is a pair of old public restrooms. So it's maybe not a crown jewel of the city park system, but Tugboat is just steps away, which counts for a lot in my book.

Ok, I'd probably better wrap this up. I saved as a draft a minute ago, and then the Blackberry mail app died with a NullPointerException. I'd hate to overtax the poor thing any further, so here goes...
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

morning photomelange


This is the only chance I'll have all day to post here, and right now I only have time for this "misc. photos" post. I'll be spending nearly all of today holed up in a stuffy conference room with a few other geeks, grinding out an endless series of UML diagrams, plus a few UI mockups just to change things up a little. Even though I'm not a UI guy and have nothing useful to contribute on that point, I'll dutifully be in the room anyway. But hey, that's why I make the big bucks, I guess.

Anyway, this post is my one bit of escapism for the day, so I'm done with the RL whining now. Here are the rest of the photos:


A wet maple seed "helicopter" on the sidewalk, a few days ago.

Mt. St. Helens from Kelly Butte

Mt. St. Helens from Kelly Butte, taken way back in the summer when I was out exploring that neck of the woods. I had to do a bit of GIMP-fu on the pic to get the mountain to stand out in all the summer haze and smog, which is why I didn't post it until now.

red autumn leaves

Yet another photo of autumn leaves. This hasn't quite gotten old yet. Possibly we'll run out of autumn leaves before I get bored taking pictures of them. Either way, this is going to stop eventually.


A seagull in Waterfront Park. I took this on Halloween while walking through Waterfront Park looking for anything remotely spooky to mark the occasion. I ended up going with a couple b+w photos of crows, since that's all I could find at the time. Seagulls aren't scary unless you're a chunk of dead fish, in which case the worst is already over.


Looking east from Mt. Tabor, taken back in September. I don't know if that's smoke or just steam you see off in the distance. We actually do have a fair amount of heavy industry in this city, but nobody talks about it. I guess the thinking is that it's somehow disreputable. The city likes to think of itself as a purely "creative class" kind of place, where either A.) You spend your days kludging up annoying Flash dreck for someone's new ad campaign, and your evenings sucking down $12 designer cocktails and wondering what to do when your chihuahua goes out of style; or B.) You make lattes for the city's many Flash designers, while imagining that you're a "creative type" too. You spend your evenings practicing with a shoegazing indierock band nobody's ever heard of. Turns out there's actually a lot more to the city than this silly and shallow image, but you'd never know it from the way people talk, including the local media. Sooner or later I'm going to post about the city's industrial side, once I have some good photos, and time to write the thing properly. Right now I have neither.

Monday, November 13, 2006



The top two photos were taken this morning as proof that the world did not, in fact, end during the "wind apocalypse" the local TV news people were promising us. Come to think of it, not once have I ever seen a promised apocalypse (weather or otherwise) turn out to be the real thing. Funny, that.


The next two are from last week. You can think of them as "before" photos, showing it was already kind of grim and wintry before last night's non-cataclysm. They aren't of precisely the same trees, but they're in the same part of town. I also realize they're in black and white, which always makes things look more grim than they actually are. Also, both the before & after samples are too small to be statistically useful. Furthermore, I don't have a control group; to really nail my "the world didn't end" hypothesis, I'd also need "before" and "after" images from somewhere the windstorm didn't affect. Current images are relatively easy to find. For example, here are live webcams at Sheraton Waikiki in Honolulu, the Eiffel Tower, and the San Diego Zoo's Panda Exhibit. This still isn't a statistically significant sample, but it's evidence (albeit anecdotal evidence) that at least three widely scattered locations around the planet continue to exist after last night's aeolian assault. Sadly, at present I lack conclusive proof that these three locations also existed on November 8th, when my pre-windstorm photos were taken. My working conclusion at this time is that the world currently exists, although I'll need a great deal of additional data before we can regard this as proven.


In any case, this is my first post (such as it is) since Thursday. Despite being unbelievably busy during the week, and unbelievably sleepy on the weekend, I'm trying to keep posting on a quasi-daily basis (i.e. "daily, except when it isn't"). I can't guarantee that every post will be a gem of wit or insight into the human condition. Nor will I claim that all posts here will be informative or useful for any particular purpose. However, blogging is a nice break from the neverending thrills of RL, even if the result is completely lame.


I think I've said before that photoblogging is a great way to put together a post without having to come up with quite as many words. It's easier and faster and all that. Less cynically, it's a way to keep tabs on what's going on in the outside world. I have a goal, sort of, to take at least one photo a day, and sometimes I actually do, unless I forget, or I'm too busy, or I didn't see anything I wanted to take a photo of that day, which happens sometimes. I expect that taking pictures of bare trees will get really old really fast, and there won't be much of anything else to take pics of until February or so, when the first flowers -- crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils, etc. -- start to come up. I can't wait until it's summer again...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

post-election edition

Well, obviously the big news is that my "endorsees" did a lot better than they did in the May primary, where I didn't pick a single freakin' winner. So clearly the general public learned their lesson and heeded my advice this time. I'm sure that must be it.

Ok, let me qualify that. Three of my high-profile picks were obvious protest votes. I came out against Ted, and David Wu, and Leslie Roberts, even though I was sure all three were a lock to win. If either Ted or Wu had been within a couple percentage points of their Republican opponents in the last polls, I would have at least considered voting for 'em, even though I'm no fan of either guy, just to keep the Rethuglicans from winning. So being able to vote for third-party candidates this year was an enjoyable luxury. And the Leslie Roberts thing, well, a write-in candidacy is always an uphill battle. Charles Henderson grabbing a quarter of the vote in a write-in campaign is huge, almost unheard-of in this state. With any luck, Roberts will get the voters' message and approach the job with at least a vestigial amount of humility, compassion, and professionalism. You're a judge of the Oregon Circuit Court, 4th District, position #37. You aren't Queen of the Universe. Deal.

I didn't mention my local state legislative race in my "endorsements" post, since the R's didn't even bother to nominate anyone this time around. Geez. I'm not actually going to vote Republican in any conceivable situation, but I'd at least like to have them on the ballot. If there aren't any wild-eyed wingnuts to vote against, it takes a lot of the fun out of voting. So anyway, my state rep won. And the D's won the House back. So hopefully they can demonstrate they're a bunch of responsible adults, and we haven't just traded one gang of crazed ideological nutjobs for another.

The voters took my advice most of the time on this year's crop of ballot measures, at any rate. Measure 42, the insurance & credit score measure, didn't pass. It's kind of too bad, but I'm not exactly surprised. The insurance industry ran an effective "no" campaign, and the measure probably lost 10-15% of the electorate just because Bill Sizemore was behind it. Still, a decent measure failing is less bad than a bad measure passing, and no bad measures passed this time around. The thing I'm really confused about is Measure 46. Measures 46 and 47 were a conjoined-twin pair of proposals: 47 was a campaign finance law, and 46 was a constitutional amendment to make campaign finance laws possible in this state. 47 passed, but 46 didn't. WTF?! There's some debate about whether some of the provisions in 47 can take effect without 46 in place, but it's still a peculiar result. Isaac Laquedem, who endorsed 46 and said no to 47, wonders whether the voters didn't understand the two measures. I, too, am surprised that at least 14% of the electorate voted in such a seemingly pathological way. I can think of at least three explanations:
1. The voters are much more sophisticated than they get credit for, and they read M. 47 carefully and decided they wanted only those reforms within it which didn't require a constitutional amendment. That would be suggesting that 50+% of the voters are more sophisticated than I am, since I didn't do that. So I firmly reject that suggestion.
2. The voters want campaign finance reform in the abstract, but not this particular reform, so by deliberately voting yes on 47 and no on 46 they were trying to cast a purely symbolic vote in favor of the general notion of reform, just to "send a message". I doubt this because this kind of behavior is usually media-driven, and I haven't seen or heard of a single media outlet anywhere statewide encouraging people to vote this way.
3. The voters are smoking crack. Lots and lots of crack. And meth, too. And sniffing glue. And slamming down Everclear jello shots, with OxyContin chasers. And maybe licking a toad or two, while they're at it. Plus they're just plain stupid.

I'm leaning toward explanation #3, but hey, I've always been a cynic.

In the ultra-obscure West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District races, I did better than I thought. I figured that for anything as low-profile as this, a vote for anyone other than the incumbent would be the longest of longshots. But in the sole contested race, the challenger (who I endorsed) won. So I really hope Mr. Goode wasn't the good-ol-boy-network candidate, challenging an "outsider" incumbent. There was really just no way at all to find that out one way or the other. The district's "permanent rate limit" measure passed, although I came out against it. I'm not heartbroken about that, and anyway I figured that anything with the word "conservation" in the name was a guaranteed winner in this neck of the woods. The good ol' boys who got re-elected will probably waste the money on pet projects, or just swipe it, or whatever, but really it isn't a lot of money, all things considered. So no biggie, I guess. It'd take the entire annual budget of 60+ soil-n-water districts to pay for a single aerial tram, to put things in perspective.

In mildly related news, the tram is finally up and running, kinda sorta. So I expect to have pics and/or video of the new beastie here in the near future, when I get around to it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rumsfeld Cuts & Runs!

So Rumsfeld's resigned already. That was awfully fast. In a way I'm kind of disappointed. For the last six years Rummy and Dick and George and friends swaggered around like they owned the world and everyone on it, but take away their rubber-stamp Congress and they fold up like a house of cards. That's just sad. If only we'd known this was all it would take to bring the crazies to heel, we'd have done it years ago. Damn.

At least Rummy's guaranteed to get himself a nice, shiny "Medal of Freedom" for his efforts, as a sort of consolation prize. Kind of like what they did with George Tenet, come to think of it. (Unless Rummy gets pissed off about being hung out to dry like this, and writes a lurid tell-all book. Sure, sure, that would never happen in real life, but it's fun to think about.)

All of this is not to say I expect the next two years to be a kinder, gentler era of bipartisanship. I think we can safely ignore all the morning-after happy talk we're hearing today. With Democrats running the show in the House, and maybe the Senate, I imagine Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman will have plenty of stuff to distort and lie about to rile up the wingnuts for '08. I haven't seen a full accounting of the seats the R's lost and where the former occupants fell on the ideological spectrum, but I read somewhere that many of the seats they lost in the northeast were formerly held by "moderate" Republicans. So the hardliners will probably dominate the House Republican caucus even more than they did before, although that fact won't matter as much as it once did.

I also don't expect any serious policy changes in Iraq. Short of cutting off money for the war (a drastic step I don't expect to see), Congress doesn't have a lot of options in the foreign policy area. Even if they did, the Decider's made it very clear he believes he has the inherent, absolute right to take the country to war with anyone, anytime, anywhere, and torture or kill anyone he pleases whenever the mood strikes him, without having to so much as ask anyone's opinion. I don't see that changing. George doesn't say "stay the course" in public anymore, but I expect that's what he'll do, or try to do. And if it ends up in the courts, I don't see the Supremes lining up against him, not with Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Alito on the bench.

Since he's still basically got a rubber-stamp Supreme Court, I'd be surprised if the Bushies aren't at least daydreaming about how to abuse a certain obscure, never-used provision in Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers: he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States.

All you'd need to do is engineer a pro-forma adjournment "dispute" between the two houses in the outgoing lame-duck Congress, and have George ride in on his white horse to save the day, adjourning both houses until, for example, Inauguration Day, 2009, or simply "until further notice". Then all you'd have to do is convince five Supremes that the plain wording of this passage doesn't explicitly prohibit that long of an adjournment, and the Decider has clear sailing for the rest of his term in office, with no pesky subpoenas to answer or investigations to stonewall. Sure, the public probably wouldn't take kindly to this, but the next election isn't for another two years, surely they'll get used to the new state of affairs sooner or later. If worse comes to worse, you can always blame the whole thing on 9/11.

In any case, I'm just happy we've gotten through another election without (so far) seeing any mention of the accursed name "Boies". The Virginia senate still isn't settled, so we're not completely out of the woods yet. But I've got my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006



The famous "Expose Yourself to Art" statue is gone! This lumpy square of asphalt is all that remains where Kvinneakt (that's her official name) once stood. They're going to tear up the transit mall for MAX construction next year, so it was time for her to go.

On the way home from work yesterday I saw the statue swaddled in a protective wrapper, sort of a bubblewrap burqa. I thought it'd make a good picture and resolved to come back today, but she was already gone. The city can move remarkably fast when it wants to.

I don't know where the statue's going from here. The late, lamented Soaring Stones outside Pioneer Place were handed back to the sculptor, and word is they'll likely end up in Seattle. Call me a cynic, but I have a funny feeling the lovely Ms. K. will put down roots in the Pearl, or maybe South Waterfront, or some other official gentrification zone; or maybe she'll end up in the private collection of a wealthy campaign contributor, or she'll just get lost in the warehouse, never to be seen again. It just stands to reason, the way things usually work out these days.

Turns out I had a picture of one of the Soaring Stones lying around, and here it is.
("Soaring Stones" would be a good name for a band, btw.)

Soaring Stones

Updated 12/27/07: If you look closely at the Soaring Stones photo, you'll see a couple of the transit mall's groovy old 70's bus shelters. Those are gone now too, and like the Soaring Stones, they're not coming back.

Also, this humble post has gotten linkage from Portland Public Art. Yay!

Lone Fir

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So here are some of those photos of Lone Fir Cemetery [google map] I mentioned a few days back. I'd never been there before, and I've been meaning to visit for a while now. The idea occurred to me again around Halloween, but it didn't seem right to go just then, since I was going out of historical curiosity, not just to be morbid or out of some juvenile thrill-seeking impulse. Visiting on Halloween just seemed kind of silly and melodramatic. Plus on Halloween, or on the day after, I figured there'd probably be too many people of the living variety there; it'd be like going to the mall on the day after Thanksgiving or something. And in any case, on Halloween it was cold and clear and sunny outside, and I'd had the idea that bad weather would be better for b+w photos. Well, it was raining quite a bit when I visited, and the color photos turned out way better than the b+w ones. Have I mentioned yet that I'm not a professional photographer?

Lone Fir #4

Lone Fir is one of the oldest cemeteries in the area, and Metro administers it under their pioneer cemetery program, even though it's still accepting new residents. Many of the newest arrivals are immigrants from Russia and Ukraine, with long Cyrillic inscriptions and elaborate designs on distinctive polished black headstones.

We Portlanders are a reserved and rather squeamish bunch, and we don't have the same attitude towards death as people do in, say, New Orleans or Charleston. We don't talk about it, we don't think about it, and we avoid places associated with it whenever we possibly can. And naturally we don't admit we're doing any of these things, because that would be talking about it, which we don't do. So even though I've lived here most of my life I knew absolutely nothing about Lone Fir until just over a year ago, when the Chinese graveyard controversy cropped up.

Lone Fir

The next photo is of the southwest corner of Lone Fir, or of where it was until 1948. At that point the county decided it needed space for a new office building, and what better place to build than on top of the Chinese corner of the old cemetery? (No, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me either, but those were peculiar and highly bigoted times.) So they dug up everyone in the area and plunked an ugly office building on the spot. Recently the county decided it didn't need the building or the land after all, so they tore the building out and were making ready to sell the land. Then it turned out people had been careless back in '48 and had neglected to dig a few people up. They'd been there all that time, under the parking lot. (I'm sure I've seen a movie or two that started out that way.) So now the talk is that there'll be a memorial of some kind. But right now there's no money for that, so the spot currently looks like this.


The statue in the above picture is part of a war memorial tucked away in the center of Lone Fir. The four sides of the base dedicate it to veterans of the Civil War, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, and wars against the Indians. We have a surprising number of monuments and markers concerning the Spanish-American War, considering what a brief and relatively bloodless conflict it was. There's a bunch of stuff in the Plaza Blocks, and the Battleship Oregon mast in Waterfront Park, and I understand there's a rather obscure marker near the Veterans Hospital, south of OHSU, and this monument. And if we have four, there are probably even more scattered around the area that I'm unfamiliar with. I've been meaning to do a post about war memorials in the city, but that's going to require a bit of additional research.


Another photo looking across the grounds. Parts of Lone Fir, such as this spot, look rather sparsely "settled". That is, until you realize that of the 30,000+ people here, an estimated 10,000 are either lost or unmarked, due to time, weather, vandals, or simply poor record-keeping.

The interior of Lone Fir is basically invisible from the street on three sides of the place. On the sides facing Stark and Morrison Streets (the north and south sides, respectively), all you see is a high, blank, gray retaining wall topped by a chain link fence, with barbed wire on top. (And yes, that means many of the residents here are in fact above street level, despite being underground.) On the west side, there's a row of houses between 20th avenue and the cemetery, so you can catch occasional glimpses between the houses of headstones backing up to someone's back yard.

There are one or two small signs on the perimeter fence informing you the entrance is somewhere on Morrison St., but even if you're on Morrison it's tough to find the entrance. If you scroll up and look at that photo of where the Chinese part of the cemetery used to be, you'll see another chain link fence in the distance, separating the old parking lot from the cemetery proper. The main entrance is simply a gate in that fence. By all rights, Lone Fir ought to have an ancient, elaborate, Gothic wrought iron fence, and an entrance arch of stone or brick. But it doesn't, and as far as I know it never did.


This last photo is a detail of the tombstone of James B. and Elizabeth Stephens, early pioneers in the area. The back of this stone holds the inscription "Here we lie by consent after 57 years, 2 months, 2 days sojourning on earth awaiting nature's immutable laws to return us to the elements of which we were formed". Which to me is a touching, and refreshingly nonreligious, sentiment.

Clearly I'm not the only person who feels that way. You can't see it in this photo, but above each portrait someone had recently laid a single red rose.

Next door is the oldest grave in the cemetery, J.B. Stephens's father Emmor, who died in 1846. Oregon wouldn't even become a state for another three years. To me, what's even more striking is that the elder Stephens was born in 1777. It's quite rare to see any mention of a year starting with '17' in this part of the world, in any context.

Other info & resources:

Monday, November 06, 2006

Milestone P2

This small stone object is very, very old, at least by Portland standards. It's an old 1850's-era milestone on SE Stark St., a bit east of 20th Avenue. (Roughly 2300 SE Stark, to be exact.) It's embedded in the north wall of Lone Fir Cemetery, which itself is very, very old, by Portland standards. The "P2" was to indicate it was just two more miles through the howling wilderness to Portland, with its handful of wooden shacks and muddy stump-filled streets.

I saw a brief bit about this milestone quite recently on an episode of Oregon Field Guide, but when I ran across it I was actually on a visit to Lone Fir, which I'll talk more about in a subsequent post. I was just walking along Stark St. and there it was, and I thought, "Oh, that looks familiar." I just can't get enough of weird, geeky, esoteric stuff like this, so I had to take a few pictures, and I had to write a little about it. If this bores you to tears, my apologies. I don't always blog about obscure old rocks, in case you were curious. I'll probably do another cheesy monster movie post next week, and maybe you'll like that post better than this one.

I also thought this was kind of fun because in present-day English the word "milestone" is a generic noun that's applied to all sorts of things. In Monday's Oregonian (11/6/06), the act of sentencing Saddam Hussein to the gallows is described as a "milestone". It's quite rare anymore to see the word used to describe a stone object that marks distance on a road. So this photo shows what an actual, physical, real-life milestone looks like. In case you were curious, or whatever.

This article at American Surveyor magazine discusses this milestone and its siblings at some length. Seems this is one of an original 15 stones, of which nine survive. Milestone P5 is pictured in the article. This is in a surveying magazine because Stark was originally known as the eastside portion of Baseline Road (the name it still goes by out in the western 'burbs), and Baseline is so named because it follows the original surveying baseline that extended out from what is now Willamette Stone State Heritage Site, an obscure and tiny state park hidden way up in the west hills. I haven't been there in years, and I don't remember it being overly enthralling. I don't know what conditions were like at the time the survey was done, but I imagine it wasn't completely overgrown like it is today. Don't go expecting a view.

Legend had it (sort of) that it was good luck to kiss the Willamette Stone. So it's too bad it's not there anymore. The sites linked to just indicate the thing was vandalized; I seem to recall that the original rock was actually broken off its base and stolen. This was in the distant pre-eBay era, so it's probably just gathering dust in some avid collector's attic, or gathering moss in their garden.

This page at the city government website says the P4 milestone still exists too. Apparently it's easy enought to find that official guided walking tours of the area sometimes start there. One puzzling bit is that while the P2 stone is near SE 20th, this page asserts the P4 stone is at SE 61st Avenue. City blocks downtown are 200 feet on a side, but I don't know what they measure outside of there. If it's 200 feet everywhere, neither milestone would be in the right place, and the P2 stone appears to have been in its current location for an exceedingly long time.

Updated: I went looking for P4 a while back, but no luck. And I'm not the only person out here on the interwebs who's looked: The estimable Mr. Klein of ZehnKatzen Times fame reports having no luck finding P4, P5, or P6, but he did track down Milestone P7, with photos and everything. It's at the corner of 117th & Stark, and you can actually see it plainly in Google street view:

View Larger Map

The sign next to the milestone apparently says that P2, P4 thru P7, P9, P13, and P14 still exist. Or they did, supposedly, at the time the sign went in, whenever that was. Also, here's a Gresham Outlook story with photos of various milestones.

Updated again: Ok, just go and check out the Stark Street Mile Markers blog. History, photos, exact locations of all the extant ones. Very cool, although I'm almost kind of sad that someone else has gone and done this already. And here I was fixin' to start a new project...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006



Here's a fun economic indicator for you. This spotlight was running last night during First Thursday in the Pearl District, trying to grab attention for yet another new condo tower. In past years you didn't have to do this. All you had to do was wander around the Pearl looking vaguely like a real estate developer (hint: riding a Segway helps. Seriously.), and people would stop you in the street and give you suitcases full of cash, begging you for a few square feet of precious Pearl real estate. It could be 50 feet underground, with knee-deep murky water, but so long as it was 50 feet underground in the Pearl, potential buyers would form a line stretching all the way from the California border.


[Note to prospective condo buyers from California. See those little streaky bits in the top photo? That is the substance we call 'rain'. It's cold, and wet, and falls from the sky. It tends to happen a great deal in Oregon. But no worries; usually July and August are (mostly) sunny, and sometimes parts of September can be nice, and occasionally a few days in June, too, if it's a drought year.]

So now they at least have to advertise the things a little, as you can see here. The downside of this is that the Pearl still isn't built out, so they'll keep doing this once you've moved in, and then that damn spotlight's shining through your loft windows, as seen (sort of) in photo #2. Photo #2 is the Marshall Wells Lofts building, a former warehouse renovated a few years back. The building isn't quite as illuminated as I'd like, but the spotlight was rotating, and the camera itself has a split-second lag when you're trying to take a photo, so getting everything timed right is an art I haven't quite mastered.

That's about all I've got on the First Thursday front. I've been really busy this week, as you might be able to tell from the lack of posts since Tuesday. I'd managed to collect a few photos and links about echidnas and I was going to do a mini-post about that, but I didn't even have time for a mini-post. I got a couple of SNR posts out, but those don't take as much time or effort; it's mostly a matter of checking Google News and making snarky and cynical remarks about the latest batch of stuff I run across.

So first, a big pile of Flickr photos of echidnas: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7].

Also, some bits about a visit to the Australia Zoo (also with a bonus wombat photo); your questions answered about how echidnas do it; an echidna wildlife encounter. Oh, and echidnas were recently named Animal of the Day over at TheWebsiteOfEverything. So now you know.

That pretty much uses up the echidna material I had, so on another utterly unrelated note, here's a great video on YouTube about the latest innovation in Texas cuisine: Chicken Fried Bacon. No lie. It's on YouTube, so it must be true. In a remarkable coincidence, not a single thin person appears in the video.

I actually do have something I can segue into from that, believe it or not. Here's yet another ooky recipe from the Baker County paper, from the same little old lady who did the Mock Chow Mein and "Different" Carrot recipes I wrote about previously.

Today's taste sensation is Easy Shrimp, Potato Soup, for which you will need the following:

1 cup hash brown potatoes
1 cup tiny salad shrimps
1 tbsp. cornstarch, mixed in
1/2 cup water
1 quart milk
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the liquids and cornstarch [I assume this means the cornstarch water, milk, and Worcestershire sauce] in a large pot and bring to a boil until thickened, about 5 min., add the shrimp and potatoes [she doesn't specify how long to cook after this, or at what temperature.] and serve with toast.

As with most of her recipes, there's a kernel of an idea here, so that you could in theory create something edible if you depart far enough from the recipe as given here. There's a long, rich tradition of dairy+seafood soups out there, and these often incorporate potatoes as well, as in most common clam chowder recipes, for instance. Since this is a long and rich tradition, in this modern era one can visit the local grocery store and buy a can of clam chowder, or salmon chowder if you want to be fancy. Yes, even in Eastern Oregon. I don't know that you can get canned shrimp chowder, but you could get a can of Cream of Potato soup and add shrimp to that, if you absolutely must have shrimp in your soup. Any of these options would be easier than this allegedly "Easy" recipe. What's really puzzling is that this is the first recipe from the old bag that doesn't include any canned soup. The one time it could be employed to maximum effect, and she suddenly goes all DIY. I don't get it.

But as always, our focus is still on how to make something from scratch that's vaguely like this recipe, and have it not totally suck. Personally, I have no trouble boiling a pot of "liquids" for a few minutes and then tossing in a few basic ingredients. My big stumbling block is the shrimp. I can't stand shrimp, especially those rubbery pink little larva-like shrimp you see all the time. So let's take a more generic approach and just say "catch of the day" instead. It could be shrimp, if you're insane, or clams, or fish. If you like smoked oysters, they'd go well here. My aversion to shrimp is a big reason my wife clipped this out of the paper for me. That, and the recipe's gratuitous abuse of poor, innocent hash brown potatoes. They deserve better. Much better.

As for the rest of the recipe, just go out on the net and find a from-scratch chowder recipe and glean what you can from it. There's tons of them out there, and they're often the product of much deep thinking and meticulous research. Lesson #1 is that the recipe as given is sorely lacking in saturated fats. Some portion of that quart of milk will need to be replaced with cream, maybe heavy cream. And you're also going to need to add bacon, at minimum. You'll probably want butter, too. Please note we aren't making health food here. If you make the soup base rich and tasty enough, maybe you can just dispense with the seafood element entirely and just have a nice bowl of Bacon Chowder. Doesn't that sound nice? I'd totally eat that. And this way it's earth-friendly, too, since you won't be contributing to the global overfishing crisis. So you can eat your bacon with a clear conscience. It doesn't get any better than that.