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.

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