Thursday, May 24, 2007

stairs x 5

I got a reader question the other day from someone wanting to know more about the steep narrow stairs between the Mt. Tabor reservoirs. I responded, and got to thinking that I hadn't done any stair exploring around town recently. So I figured I'd have another go at it. I'd read there was a loop you could do up in NW Portland where you can hit a bunch of stairways all at once, if you're feeling up to it. I've got a few photos from the excursion, but first a map:


I couldn't find an existing map on the net with the stairs marked, since the city doesn't yet have a NW Portland walking map like it has for the rest of town. The stairs are shown in red, although their positions are sort of approximate. It's the best I can do in MS Paint, I'm afraid.

Writing walking directions from scratch can be kind of tedious, so let me start by quoting a couple of the sources I relied on. A piece about Forest Park at Walk About Magazine covered the stairs, albeit going in the opposite direction than I went:

From here you will walk to the left and downhill, following NW Luray Terrace for about 10 to 5 minutes, then branching right and uphill at the Y in the road onto NW Luray Circus. On the left, almost at the end of this cul-de-sac, is the first set of stairs. (All of the entrances to the stairwells are tough to see as they are covered with foliage and blend with the surrounding houses, so look closely for them.) Go right at the bottom of these stairs, which puts you back on NW Luray Terrace, then when you hit Cumberland Road go left, staying on the left-hand sidewalk. In about 15 yards you’ll cross over Shenandoah Terrace and then — on the left-hand side, just in the crook of the road where it breaks right — the next set of stairs will plunge steeply down to Fairfax Street. From here you want to cross Fairfax, and then cross over to Westover Street, walking about 20 yards to the right where between two houses the next set of stairs waits. At the bottom of these stairs turn left, and follow NW Summit Street downhill to NW Cornell. Turn left up Cornell, walk about 25 yards, cross the crosswalk, and then descend the stairs immediately on the other side of the crosswalk. At the bottom of these stairs take a right down Pettygrove Street, and at the stop sign at 26th Avenue go left onto the paved path. This path cuts between the school and the park and will lead you back to Raleigh Street and your car.

A recent forum post has a similar description, this time going the right way:

Pettygrove Street near 26th there's a stairway to NW Cornell, then take right to NW Summit Street and turn right to next set of stairs, this leads to Westover Street that you cross over and up to Fairfax Street to just up to next stairs that climb to Shenandoah Terrace, then right to Cumberland Rd. and to NW Luray Terrace and turn left till next stairs that go up to NW Luray Circus (a cul-de-sac), this meets again with NW Luray Terrace that you follow up to a pathway that's to Cumberland Road that meets there with the Tunnel Trail on right but keep going along the Wildwood Trail ... till it crosses NW Cornell Road past the parking lot and restrooms and Forest Park's 5000 acre wood... I remember a stone house down along the trail where the name changes to the Lower Macleay Trail.... that can take you back down to the Lower Macleay Park Trailhead on Upshur Street and it's about three blocks to NW 28th Avenue just a few blocks from where you started in Northwest/Nob Hill around trendy-third, I mean 23rd Ave. ... 'PORTLAND'S LITTLE RED BOOK OF STAIRS' by Stefana Young has the guide but I've yet to look for and find it.

Ah, the ever-elusive Little Red Book of Stairs. I still can't find a copy for sale anywhere, dammit. Anyway, there's also a description at NW Portland Neighborhoods, but you probably get the gist by now.

[Updated 5/25/07: Until just now, I'd forgotten to go look for stairs stories in the library's Oregonian database. Nothing about these particular stairs in the O dating back to 1987, but a few stories did crop up:
  • A piece from last October, profiling a guy who developed an interest in the city's public stairs. He was taking photos and notes and had no idea what he was going to do with them. That's easy, if you ask me. Put it on the net. Share information, don't hoard it.
  • From 1998, a walking tour of the numerous stairs in the Alameda neighborhood. I don't know Alameda too well, so this is unexplored territory for me so far. If I get around to checking it out, it would be safe to bet there'll be photos here.
  • A '99 article about the Elevator Stairs, which mentions the Little Red Book. They were one of the author's faves, and they're one of mine too. I've already covered them in a previous post.
  • And a '97 bit about the stairs in Mt. Tabor Park.

There are a few other old articles out there, but these are the most informative & useful ones.] The hardest part to any stair excursion is finding the stairs. They're unmarked, so you have to look a bit, and you want to avoid mistaking someone's front steps for a public staircase. It's easier to do than you might think. That's where this post comes in, I hope: I've got photos of each staircase from the top and the bottom, to make them easier to locate out in the field. Or that's the plan, anyway. As you might've guessed, our trip begins at the stairs from NW Pettygrove up to Cornell, although you could just as easily start off with the stairs on Quimby, Overton, Northrup, or Marshall, if you prefer, since they all end up on Cornell. So here's the Pettygrove side:


And the Cornell side:


Looks pretty steep, huh? Well, that's just the beginning. A short walk uphill gets you to the next set, from Summit Ave. up to Westover Rd. The Summit side:

Public Stairs:  Summit Avenue to Westover Road

These stairs have seen some maintenance recently. Here's a post all about stairs from last June over on jgaiser's blog, and he's got a photo of the Summit-Westover stairs caked in moss. He also includes an envy-inducing photo of his copy of the Little Red Book. So ascend those newly cleaned and maintained steps, and this is what you'll see on the Westover side:


Ok, so far so good. We're already getting a decent view from up here. If you look off in the distance you can see Mt. St. Helens on the horizon. Just below it you'll see a water tower, which looks like the one next to Going St. up in North Portland. Which means that just to the right of it, and not visible to us, is tiny Stanich Park. But that's a different expedition, and I do hate to digress. Honest. Anyway, those last stairs put you close to one corner of a four-way intersection, where Westover, Fairfax, and Cumberland all join together. The next set of stairs is diagonally across the intersection, from Fairfax Terrace up to Cumberland Road. (Cumberland loops around, see?) Here's the Fairfax side:


If you're like me, these stairs may start to feel like entirely too many stairs right about now. Sometimes you just have to stop and take photos of the flowers... if you're like me, anyway, which you probably aren't:

flowers, fairfax-cumberland stairs

Ok, so here's the (vertigo-inducing) Cumberland side of the steps, finally:


Moving right along, walking a bit uphill (and west), we get to the stairs from Luray Terrace up to Luray Circus. The base:


And the top:


So you're at a cul-de-sac here, and all you can do is walk downhill until you're back on Luray Terrace. Which begs the question: What's the point of these stairs, if you can just as easily walk around the block? Beats me. At least there's a decent view:


You probably get a better view if you own a house up here, or know someone who does, which I don't. Still, you get a wide vista of the Willamette, with the BNSF railroad bridge and part of the St. Johns Bridge in the distance. Not bad. From here, the hike directions usually send you up Luray Terrace and into Macleay Park, from where you loop back around down into NW Portland. That's sort of what I did too, but I'm trying to keep this post reasonably focused on stairs, if I can. I've got park photos too, but we'll save those for another post, ok? So from here you can either follow the directions from one of the sources given above, or turn around and go back down the stairs, or I guess you could take the sidewalk down if you're feeling mundane, or go by street luge if you're a little more adventurous. It just so happens that I looped around through the park, and ended up back on Cornell, where I ran across the stairs connecting Cornell & Quimby St., right at a steep corner on Cornell. Unlike the other stairs, I was heading downhill at this point, so here's the top first:


And the Quimby side. This is right at the corner of Quimby & 29th Ave.


If you're doing this for the sake of completeness, the Overton, Northrup, and Marshall steps are nearby. Or you can be like me, and declare Mission Accomplished and go locate a frosty beverage of some sort instead.


akimbo said...

Great post! I was perusing some Forest Park maps a few weeks ago and found out about the stairs. You can see them on this map of MacLeay Park. They show up as kinda little dashed lines.

Baloo said...

Please consider adding these ways that you found to OpenStreetMap so others may find them more easily!