Thursday, May 29, 2008

Free Beer @ Vera Katz Park

dedication, vera katz park

So I was just at the grand opening for Vera Katz Park. If you hurry, there's still free beer until 7. And even better, the politicians and dignitaries are done talking now. I think.

Just for fun, show up looking homeless (or even better, be homeless) and see if they'll give you your free beer or not.

Top photo: The evening's musical entertainment, plus some guy with a video camera.

But that's not what you care about. Here's the line for beer:

dedication, vera katz park

Here's the tribal invocation courtesy of the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde -- you know, the Spirit Mountain folks. They donated to the theater, dontcha know. The color guard is an interesting touch. Curious how the only way you'll get a flag at a Portland event is if one of the local tribes brings one. I dunno, that just sort of screams "historical irony", if you ask me.

The POW-MIA flag is an additional interesting touch.

dedication, vera katz park

Our new mayor. Who I voted against, as it so happens:

dedication, vera katz park

A flower, plus my souvenir beer mug. I told you I was going for the free beer, didn't I?

dedication, vera katz park

The developer behind the Brewery Blocks, whose name adorns the theater next door. Lots of talk from him and others about visionary plans and so forth. I get the distinct impression that a visionary plan is one that makes you a lot of money.

dedication, vera katz park


dedication, vera katz park

One of the theater execs, whose name I didn't catch. There were at least two guys from the theater, and both spent a lot of time talking about their capital campaign, fundraising, important donors, and so forth. Straight out of central casting, if you'll forgive the expression. Seriously, I kept thinking about Slings and Arrows the whole time when either one was talking.

dedication, vera katz park

Oh, and the guest of honor, Vera herself. Who I actually have a soft spot for, despite my usual tendency to rant about the Pearl and all the shiny-trinkets-for-the-idle-rich schemes emanating from city hall.

dedication, vera katz park

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Vera Katz Park

View Larger Map

A few photos of our fair city's shiny (& tiny) new Vera Katz Park, the Pearl District's very latest high-concept amenity. It's an odd sort of park (or will be -- the official dedication won't be until May 29th.) It's basically just a wide sidewalk on SW Davis St. between 10th & 11th, next to the Gerding Theater (the old Armory building). There's a water feature running the length of the block, and a sort of bioswale-like arrangement with a few native(?) plants, grasses and horsetails, mostly. In short, if you go, don't bring the softball team along. Unless you're headed to the new Deschutes Brewpub across the street, I mean -- but that's a topic for another post, as soon as I get around to visiting the thing. There's also nothing here to satisfy the off-leash dog mafia. As much as your darling little pug might want to take a crap in the bioswale, it's a safe bet it's Not Allowed. Violate the rule, and the Proper Authorities will either taser you, or buy you $30 fruity drinks at Bluehour at taxpayer expense, depending entirely on who you are and who you know at city hall.

Ok, that's not entirely fair. There's something about the place that brings out my snarky and irritable side. Or more to the point, it's something about the idea of the place, not so much the place itself.

Case in point: I mentioned the park in an earlier post, where I described it as:

The future site of "Vera Katz Park", a fancy name for the little strip of land on the north side of the Armory Theater. It's a fitting name in many ways. It's a minor adjunct to the grand dreams of a well-connected developer, and it's been delayed greatly due to cost overruns and general mismanagement.

Yikes! That wasn't very nice at all. I must've been in a bad mood, even so more than normal. This time around I'll try to just talk about the park itself, and I'll strive to be fair and balanced about it. No, really, I will.

I took a few photos of the park. A few are in this post, and more are in my inevitable Flickr photoset. At least those are fair and balanced, I think, probably.

rain, vera katz park

Ok, so a few links about the place:

  • A piece on the design of the park. Same people who were behind Collins Circle -- which I'm very much not a fan of. Vera Katz Park is an improvement; it's fine, I guess, but I'm still not entirely sold on it. I do like the idea of turning awkward little bits into parks, but I'm ambivalent about the execution on this one. The black stone echoes the basalt of the armory building -- I think that works for the most part. It might've fit even better if they'd used actual local basalt for the job. Perhaps there's some technical reason that wouldn't work, I dunno. The overall effect is excessively austere, to my taste. All that polished black stone makes it look a bit like a war memorial. A few strategically placed flowers might cheer it up a bit... or it might look even more like a war memorial that way. I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with war memorials (other than war, obviously) -- it's just that there's nothing about it that seems very Vera-like at all. Jamison Square would fit the bill a lot better, if it wasn't already named in honor of someone else.

    William Morris advocated the notion that if you're going to have something around, it ought to be either beautiful or useful. So I'm trying to figure out which it's supposed to be here. It's a little of each, but not really either. I suppose the bioswale is useful. It had better be, because I wouldn't call it beautiful. Unless we're making a fetish of austerity, I mean.
  • The park cost us $250,000 (see here). So to give the whole city the Vera Katz Park treatment, it'd be $1M per block times a jaw-dropping number of blocks. Hmm. This doesn't sound like a concept we can easily put into practice citywide. If you can get away with not making each sidewalk an art installation, just a strictly utilitarian water-quality feature, I'm sure it'd knock the price down a bit. Suppose you can do the basic bioswale part for $50k (a figure I just dreamed up), that's still $200k per block times the same jaw-dropping number of city blocks. And if you use the same design as here, you lose on-street parking for the length of the block. While that may please bike and streetcar activists and the city's parking garage operators, I'm not so sure the general public or retailers would be quite as enthusiastic. So I think it's safe to say that if we do build more of these, we won't build a huge number of them. Therefore -- assuming these really do work to protect water quality and keep icky stuff out of the river -- naturally we'd want to target them to problem areas around town. Is the Pearl District really a problem area? I don't know. I suppose it might be.

    Speaking of parking, it's probably worth pointing out that the Brewery Blocks development, of which the park is a very small component, includes a vast multistory, multiblock underground parking garage. I imagine we'll be told that taking out the parking spots on one side of the street is a step toward the coming Glorious Car-Free Future. That may be true of the park itself, but the project taken as a whole sends a very different message. The message, as far as I can tell, is that it's ok to drive a monstrous earth-crushing SUV and not feel guilty, so long as you hide it underground when you aren't using it. Out of sight, out of mind, and all that.
  • Some architectural blathering about the park, on the Portland Center Stage website, PCS being the new tenant next door in the theater. So of course they like the thing. I don't know if it technically belongs to them, but they seem to have been the driving force behind it. The post tries to explain why the park is great, for those of us who don't grok it immediately.

    I've become convinced that contemporary architecture is roughly 98% marketing, 1% marketing, and 1% engineering. The latest buzzwords just so happen to be "green" and "sustainable". Not, I think, because the industry actually cares about these things, but simply because they sell. It's the usual handwaving, with a double helping of guilt. The results are much more expensive than "normal" buildings, and ugly too, but anyone who questions the dogma is accused of being a earth-destroying, kitten-eating, Bush-voting philistine. I just want to know how on earth we're going to save the world when the only things we're creating are by and for the richest 0.001 percent of the world's population, and nobody else. And at what point do we move past the endless "awareness-raising" symbolic acts and do something that actually matters? Have we just given up on that? Are we just going to build a sort of hermetically sealed bio-dome over the Pearl District so the wealthy can survive the coming apocalypse, and to hell with everyone else? Is that how this goes down?

    The apocalyptic form of environmentalism has always made me uncomfortable. It's always struck me as a sort of quasi-religious mindset, and as a happily non-religious person, even quasi-religions and their believers make me nervous. Even when the facts indicate that something bad lies ahead (as is the case with climate change, and the ozone layer before that), I always get the impression that certain people are enjoying the idea of a coming apocalypse rather too much. In the coming apocalypse, the unbelievers will be laid low, and somehow the faithful will be spared the worst of it, sort of a New Age version of the fundies' "Rapture". As a member of the faithful, one must constantly engage in extravagant and highly visible displays of personal virtue -- driving a Prius, wringing one's hands endlessly about paper vs. plastic, buying a 5000 square foot LEED-certified vacation home, and so forth. This way, whoever or whatever unspecified entity that's doing the sparing during the apocalypse will take notice, I guess.

    Sometimes I wonder how many of these people had a strict religious upbringing, and ended up rebelling against it in substance but not in style. In a way, I do kind of see what makes the religious right so angry about the environmental movement as a whole: They see it as a competitor, an alternate end of the world. They're wrong, of course, like they are about everything else, but I can see how the notion would occur to them.
  • Anyway, here's a post at Portland Architecture while the park was under construction. Which process took freakin' forever due to interminable delays in materials and whatnot. One commenter mentions the stone came from China. How's that for sustainable, eh?

    The post mentions that the rough edges to the stone help ward off skateboarders. I guess that fits. I seem to recall that Vera never liked skateboarders very much.
  • There's a bit about the upcoming dedication party here.

    On May 29th Portland Center Stage will host a community dedication to celebrate the completion of the Vera Katz Park, truly the final crown jewel of the Brewery Blocks rehabilitation. Festivities will include a tribal blessing, theater, dance, conversation, food, beverage, bioswales and Vera. The event is from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm and is open to the public

    A "tribal blessing"? WTF?! Am I the only person who sees church & state issues with this? Why is it that tribal blessings are OK, and it's not OK to also invite a pastor from some warmongering, Bush-worshiping suburban megachurch? People will probably argue it's not the same thing. And that's precisely what the whole Establishment Clause thing is all about: If the government starts drawing distinctions between "religions we like" and "religions we don't", and granting the former a bunch of privileges unavailable to the latter, well, how can you really criticize Texas or Alabama when they do the same thing, reversing who's in the two categories?

    Oh, and what's with listing Vera after the bioswales?
  • A bit about the stone used in the park. Interesting note, the armory itself seems to be a brick and basalt structure. Basalt being the local volcanic rock that doesn't need to be trucked in from afar, burning a ton of fossil fuels in the process. Just sayin'.
  • The armory project was financed in part with something called a "New Markets Tax Credit", a federal program intended to spur "community development". Organizations wanting to qualify for the program must do a variety of things, including (allegedly):

    # demonstrate a primary a mission of serving, or providing investment capital for, low-income communities or low-income persons; and
    # maintain accountability to residents of low-income communities through representation on a governing board of or advisory board to the entity.

    If I recall correctly, the armory project qualified because, technically speaking, it's geographically close to Old Town, which unlike the Pearl is a bona-fide low income area. So next time you drive down Burnside and see people sleeping in doorways or waiting in line at one of the soup kitchens, remember that the Gerding Theater exists for their benefit. At least on paper. In reality, not so much.

    In any case, program participants are required to produce a "Community Impacts Report", spinning, er, explaining how the world is a better place because they got a juicy tax break. The armory's report describes the park thusly:

    A New Park In an effort to provide community benefit outside the Armory
    walls, Vera Katz Park “greens” the existing sidewalk and eliminates the parking
    spaces. The park will serve as a water filter for rainfall, and as the only
    green park in the immediate area (except for numerous green roofs), a shady
    resting place.

    There's a bit more about the tax credit here. Now, I realize that arts funding is an unending struggle, and sometimes you have to be extremely creative and take a "the end justifies the means" attitude to get anything accomplished, and the New Markets program requirements were so written vaguely and broadly that the armory managed to qualify. I realize all that. But I can't help but think about all the real low-income projects that weren't funded because the tax credits went to the armory instead. It's probably pointless to wish the city would stop ripping off the poor so the richest 1% of the population can have more goodies. But I kind of wish they'd at least not flaunt it quite so much.
  • All of that said, it seems the grand opening bash will feature free beer. Free beer! Yay! I'll forgive nearly anything if there's free beer involved. I mean, sure, I expect the offer of free beer doesn't extend to the aforementioned denizens of Old Town, but really, who can quibble and complain and carp when there's free beer to be had? Not I! Yay, free beer!

horsetails, vera katz park

There was a strange incident while I was taking the last few photos of the place. Some random guy wandered by while I was busy focusing, and said something to the effect that I wasn't allowed to take photos of the park because it was copyrighted or something. Which isn't entirely absurd -- ok, it is absurd, but it's not unusual. Consider the case of "the Bean" in Chicago, for example. Although I think even that only refers to for-profit photography, and this humble blog remains proudly noncommercial. (Although if the price was right, and there were no provisions involving my "immortal soul", and the proposer wasn't evil, and the proposal was at least somewhat interesting, I just might consider selling out to The Man.) Anyway, I wasn't entirely sure how to take that. I looked up and scowled at the guy because he was interrupting my concentration and artistic vibe and whatever, but I didn't say anything. It was pretty clear he wasn't a security guard or anything, so I went back to what I was doing. He kept walking, swearing at me a few times and then flipping me off. For the life of me, I can't imagine what he was on about. Was it economic resentment, maybe? Was I on the receiving end of the age-old class struggle? Or was it just National Hassle-The-Nerd-With-The-Expensive-Camera Day? Or maybe he'd just gone off his meds. I suppose that's possible -- I imagine your average crazy person doesn't know about the whole public art vs. copyright issue, but then the Pearl probably attracts a better class of crazy person. Or maybe he's just one of those people who wander around angry all the time, looking for targets to take it out on. I dunno. It was awfully peculiar, whatever the reason was.

rain, vera katz park

I do object to naming things after living people, whoever they happen to be. It seems to be a relatively recent practice in Oregon, as far as I can tell only going back to the late 1980's. We started naming things after Sen. Mark Hatfield in gratitude for his bringing home piles of congressional pork. It's fortunate we never got around to naming anything after Neil Goldschmidt or Bob Packwood, or we'd have had to chisel their names off and pretend it never happened. I don't mean to go off on a huge tangent, but here's a short list of things I came up with of various things around town named after Portland mayors, living and otherwise.

  • Vera Katz Park
  • O'Bryant Square, named for Hugh O'Bryant, Portland's first mayor, who by all accounts was a complete failure in office. The park itself has no historical links to the guy, that I'm aware of. The Park Blocks were probably still howling wilderness at that point.
  • Terry Schrunk Plaza, plus a housing project named for Mayor Schrunk somewhere up in St. Johns.
  • Pennoyer St., and indirectly Governors Park
  • A small and unobtrusive plaque of Bud Clark at Saturday Market location
  • Failing St., pedestrian bridge, and school (now home to the Natural Medicine college)
  • Ladd's Addition, and Ladd Acres school out in Aloha
  • David Thompson fountain (the elk)
  • Chapman Square (and old Chapman Ave., now 18th or 19th)

I don't suppose they'll be naming any parks after Tom Potter anytime soon -- unless it's a sort of sunny veranda where you can rent a rocking chair for an hour or two and take a nap, or daydream, or have a "visioning process", whatever the hell that is.

reflection, vera katz park

Friday, May 23, 2008

How to walk the Ross Island Bridge and not die, if you're lucky

[View Larger Map]

Fresh off my semi-exciting semi-adventures walking across the Morrison Bridge, I thought I'd take a crack at bigger game. Thus it was time to walk across the Ross Island Bridge, once again without dying at any point in the process, and also taking a few photos (the full Flickr photoset is here) and trying to have interesting impressions of the experience to share on the Interwebs. And for some reason this seemed like a really great plan.

ross island bridge

There isn't a lot of info out on the Interwebs about walking across the Ross Island, primarily because it's a bad idea and an unattractive prospect. This bit at The Deuce of Clubs has a bunch of photos, plus a battered bust of Wagner. You know, the opera guy. So if, in the course of this post, you find yourself craving a fix of fancy 19th century Germanness and wondering why there isn't any here, you know exactly where to go. Or whatever.

ross island bridge

I'd actually walked the bridge once before, around 15 years ago. I lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood at the time, a few blocks south of Powell. For the life of me I can't recall why I tried it. It wasn't so I could blog about it; I know that much at least. I did actually have net access way back then, but it wouldn't have occurred to me to post about such a mundane thing. No, the Internet was for serious, important stuff, like the previous week's Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. But I digress. I think I just wanted to go to Powell's or something, and it was a nice sunny day, and I thought I'd walk instead of taking the bus, or trying to find a parking place in the then-dodgy industrial neighborhood around the store, better known as today's glitzy Pearl District. What I remember of the experience was that it was hot, loud, windy, and dusty, with cars, trucks, buses, semis, cement mixers, etc., whizzing by just inches away. It wasn't fun. The return trip was by bus, if that tells you anything.

So with that in mind, I set out to do it again. I'm not sure what that says about me, really.

I'm not sure it would've occurred to me to do it if I hadn't just done a post about the Morrison Bridge. Walking across the Ross Island is not an idea that readily suggests itself. The areas around both ends of the bridge are not pedestrian-friendly, by any stretch of the imagination. Just cars. The surprising bit about this is that the bridge was built way back in 1926, and the present-day approaches to the bridge date to the 1940's. That's quite early to be planning for a car-only future, and I'd be intrigued to know why they did. On the other hand, the fact kind of cramps my style a bit, since I can't blame it on the 60s and riff (semi)amusingly about monorails and jetpacks and whatnot, like I did with the Morrison. Oh, well.

Regarding the pedestrian situation, unlike the Morrison I also can't say, well, thank goodness they're going to fix it in a month or two. ODOT worked on the bridge a few years ago, and among the improvements they added a metal guardrail to keep today's humongous SUVs and so forth from crashing through the old concrete railing. But crucially, they decided to put the guardrail just on the inside of the existing railing. Which not only fails to protect pedestrians from cars, it also makes the existing sidewalk even narrower. Contrast this with the walkway on the upper deck of the Steel Bridge, for example, which places the guardrail where it should be, between vehicles and pedestrians. There's probably some traffic-engineering reason why they did it this way -- perhaps the steel bridge style makes it more likely a vehicle will rebound into traffic, other lanes, other vehicles. And if they were basing the choice on existing conditions, not too many people would've been walking the bridge at the time, so no sense in going to extra trouble to protect pedestrians who aren't even there anyway. I guess. Or it was just cheaper to do it this way. Either way, it's a choice that probably won't be revisited for a long, long time.

ross island bridge

The bridge is fairly photogenic, but that's all it has going for it. It's scary to walk across, and scary to drive across, and I cannot even imagine how scary it must be to ride a bike across it. The bridge ranks #7 at ThingsAboutPortlandThatSuck. It also figures in a funny rant at PSU's Daily Vanguard -- although I don't understand the Eminem and Insane Clown Posse references. (Kids these days...) Elsewhere, the short description at PortlandBridges gives some idea of the traffic weirdness and complexity surrounding the bridge. An even shorter description at Home & Abroad does mention one positive thing about the bridge: "Price: Free". So there's that, at least. There's also a photo of the Ross Island on a "Portland's Bridges" post over on JGaiser's blog.

Before we get to the practical bit, a quick word on what not to do: Do not place any faith whatsoever in walking instructions from the TriMet website. It's a recipe for disaster. Here, for example, are the walking instructions from an eastbound bus stop simply known as "Ross Island Bridge" to the westbound one at SW Kelly & Corbett, which you'll pass on your way to the bridge. Here are TriMet's official government-approved instructions, which are almost poetic in their terseness:

Walk a short distance west on SW Ross Island Brg-naito Pkwy Ramp.
Turn right on SW Water Ave.

Walk a short distance north on SW Water Ave.
Turn right on SW Woods St.
Walk a short distance east on SW Woods St.
Bear left on SW Corbett Ave.
Walk a short distance north on SW Corbett Ave.
Turn right on SW Porter St.
Walk a short distance east on SW Porter St.
Turn left on SW Ross Island Brg-kelly Ave Ramp.
Walk a short distance north on SW Ross Island Brg-kelly Ave Ramp.
Total walking is 0.23 miles.

Sounds reasonably straightforward, except that the underlined bits involve darting through traffic, and probably dying. You really, really, really don't want to do this. Ah, the danger and menace lurking in such innocuous words.

Anyway, let's get to walking. The problems with walking the bridge are threefold: The western approach to the bridge, the bridge itself, and the eastern approach to the bridge. In other words, the whole damn thing. I walked west to east this time, so we'll go that way. Before you can experience the wind, dust, noise, and grime that is the Ross Island Experience, you first have to get to the damn bridge. Let's start around SW 1st & Arthur. That's about the last point you can get to easily, and by following the normal city street grid. If you were in a car and wanted to go east, you'd follow the "Ross Island Bridge" signs -- the ramp up on to (or sorta on to) Naito for a couple of blocks heading south, then a tight curve through an underpass (sorta on Grover St., but not really), and finally a straight shot onto the bridge, albeit with traffic merging on from all directions. If you're walking, ignore the "Ross Island Bridge" signs. You can't go that way. It'd work out if there was a sidewalk on the south side of the bridge, but there isn't. There just isn't. So you basically need to go the way westbound traffic is coming from. If at any point the traffic closest to you is heading the same way you are, you're going the wrong way.

So at 1st and Arthur, you want to be on the corner with the LaGrand Industrial Supply building. Walk east, under the Naito overpass. Just past the overpass there's a corner with a ramp that lets westbound traffic from the bridge get onto Naito going north. Be careful. People who use this are going full speed coming off the bridge, and are expecting to keep going full speed for a while on Naito, and they aren't expecting you to be there. Wait for a nice big gap, and cross when it's "safe". If it's anywhere near rush hour, this may take a while.

Once you're across, you'll see the ominous north entrance to the Arthur St. Tunnel, which is a blog post in itself. Ignore it, unless you're up for an alarming side trip. Arthur becomes Kelly Avenue and makes a clean break with the city street grid, heading sorta-diagonally toward the bridge. So you head SE for a few blocks, crossing a few not-very-busy streets. Then you get to the next obstacle, the ramp where northbound traffic from Macadam merges onto Kelly. Again, watch out. Drivers aren't expecting you to be there, and the fact that you are is liable to make them surly. Once you've crossed that, eventually, you've entered the bridge interchange proper. Here you'll find the "SW Kelly & Corbett" bus stop I mentioned, the purpose of which I can't fathom. It's not exactly easy to get to, and doesn't really connect to anything. I have actually seen people waiting for a bus here, but I don't know where they came from or why. Possibly they were on a previous bus and got off here by mistake, and could only stand around and wait to be rescued by the next bus.

ross island bridge

There's one more street to cross before the bridge, this time a curving ramp where westbound bridge traffic whips around and heads south on Hood Avenue, which eventually becomes the southbound lanes of Macadam. If it's close to rush hour at all, you can probably just give up and come back some other time, because there isn't going to be a safe gap in traffic. Note that due to the way the ramp's situated, drivers won't be able to see you very well until they're almost on top of you, and again, they won't be expecting pedestrians here. So be careful! There's no shame in deciding it's simply not worth it. I kept going, and I'm still not convinced it was worth it.

ross island bridge

Still with me? Ok. Once you're safely across, you might notice there's a stretch of new sidewalk between the "crosswalk" and the bridge proper. I think this is due to Big Pipe construction a year or two ago. One peculiar thing about it is that the new sidewalk includes a ADA-compliant curb cut, to accomodate wheelchairs and vision-impaired pedestrians (see the yellow bit in the above photo). I realize it's required by law and everything, but getting to this spot is kind of scary even with 20/20 vision and running shoes. Putting it out there as a sort of invitation almost seems sort of cruel. The sidewalk project ended at the curb cut, so I suppose whether people could actually get across the street safely was outside the scope of the project.

ross island bridge

In any case, you're past the last traffic barrier now, and now it's time for the bridge itself. As I mentioned earlier, it's a long, long way across the bridge, it's uncomfortably narrow, and there's no barrier between you and the traffic whizzing by a few feet away. It's pretty noisy and windy too, also due to the traffic. You'll get used to all of that eventually, but you'll probably also start feeling a bit impatient, in an "are we there yet?" sort of way. I know I did, at any rate. At least there's an unusual view, so you can stop and look at that when you need a break from all the monotony and trudging.

view from ross island bridge

The bridge is quite high up, to accomodate shipping traffic on the river (which for the most part no longer exists). So you'd think there'd be a pretty picture-postcard view of downtown from here, but the land below and just to the north of the bridge is derelict brownfield land, at least for the time being. Directly across the river is a riverfront cement plant. It's Portland, but not picture-postcard Portland. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advancing the usual PDX argument that industrial land, vacant areas, warehouses, and so forth all need to be turned into condo towers for the idle rich, just because I find the existing uses visually unappealing. I'm just telling you what to expect, that's all.

derelict dock, from ross island bridge

One interesting(?) thing along the west riverbank is a stretch of old pilings and planks, all that's left of a long-ago wooden dock along the river. Ok, it's not much to look at, but it's a rare remnant of the era when the Willamette was a working river this far upstream. When the powers that be get around to redeveloping the vacant land between the Ross Island and Marquam bridges, I'm sure they'll tear it all out, and put in some sort of overpriced public artwork that makes ironic reference to it. I know this because it's what always happens. So take a good look, and then get back to trudging.

ross island, from ross island bridge

One thing you won't get a good look at is Ross Island itself, because it's south of the bridge, and there's no sidewalk on that side. The photo above is about the best look you'll get. Unless, I suppose, you're in an eastbound vehicle, and you're stuck in traffic.

detail, ross island bridge

detail, ross island bridge

Here are a couple photos of the detailing on the bridge railing. You can't get that good of a look at it due to the new-ish guardrail. But hey, there's not all that much else to look at on the way across, so you might as well take a peek.

ross island bridge

This is the "summit" of the bridge. It's all downhill from here.

ross island bridge

Looking west from the "summit". You've come a long way, baby.

> tugboat & barges, ross island cement plant

As you get closer to the east bank, you'll get a closer look at that cement plant I mentioned. I realize that the fashionable Portland thing is to insist that everything vaguely industrial is horrible and icky. But admit it: If you were ever a 3-8 year old boy, at some point this was your dream job. Or at the very least you wanted a playset just like it for Christmas.

ross island cement plant

It looks straightforward enough: Gravel arrives by barge, pushed by a bright yellow tugboat. Then something industrial happens to it, and then cement leaves in bright yellow trucks.

dedication, ross island bridge

Eventually you'll get to the other side. No, really, you will. Seriously. At the east end of the bridge there's a dedication plaque to one Sherry Ross, a pioneer who settled on -- you guessed it -- Ross Island.

cherry blossoms, ross island bridge

Ooh, look! Flowers!

ross island bridge

When you get to the other side, you'll be hot, dirty, and sick and tired of trudging along six inches away from careening tractor trailers. It's time for a beer. Way past time for a beer. And since you're now on SE Powell, it turns out the first OLCC-licensed establishment you'll encounter on the east side, in fact the first structure of any kind, is the Lucky Devil strip club, recently famous (as of 2022) for the drive-thru and food delivery versions of itself during the long COVID-19 lockdown. and before that for multiple incidents of SUVs hopping the curb and smacking into the building. So while you may be off the bridge, you aren't quite out of the woods yet when it comes to vehicular peril. Continuing east the very next building, right across SE 7th, is a weed store, housed in a historic 1949 aluminum shingle warehouse (but that's a whole other blog post I haven't finished yet). So if you have out-of-town visitors who want to check off as many Portlandy tourist checkboxes as possible while they're here, you can check off two of them right here.

Or maybe three, if doing stuff they read about here (an obscure Portlandy blog you probably haven't heard of) ever becomes a big tourist thing, stuff like walking across the Ross Island Bridge. I mean, it could happen, you never know. Like, who would have ever guessed we'd become world-famous for donuts, of all things? And the best part is that you can go ahead and do it now, before it's cool. Possibly years or even decades before.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

faces, dekum building

Architectural details on the historic Dekum Building, downtown Portland...

faces, dekum bldg.

faces, dekum bldg.

faces, dekum bldg.

faces, dekum bldg.

Arthur Street Tunnel expedition

View Larger Map

In a post of mine from about two years ago, I wrote about the creepy old pedestrian tunnel under SW Arthur St., near the Ross Island Bridge:

Here's one of Portland's (thankfully) rare pedestrian underpasses. This is how you're supposed to get across busy SW Arthur St. / Kelly Ave., next to the Naito Pkwy. overpass, and near the Ross Island Bridge.

I assume the similar portal on the other side of the street (which you can see in the background) connects directly to this one. But I don't actually know that from firsthand experience. I've never actually gone down there, and I think I can live a long and happy life without ever giving it a try. For all I know, it might be fabulous and exciting down there, a maze of twisty little passages all alike, full of treasure and magical delights. But I wouldn't bet on it. I've never seen a single other person use it, and descending into the dank recesses of the earth just to cross the freakin' street is not my idea of a good time.

Possibly I've gotten dumber or more reckless in the last two years (and trust me, this wouldn't be the only piece of evidence suggesting that). Or possibly I'm just running low on blog material, which is also possible. In any case, this time around I thought I'd see if I could actually walk through the thing. While toting an expensive camera, no less.

Arthur St. Tunnel

I figured the tunnel would be nasty, so I set a very low bar for success: Go down the steps just far enough to see into the tunnel. If there's anyone else in there, or anyone approaching the tunnel from either end, or it smells bad, or it's full of garbage, or standing water (or any other liquid), or needles, or otherwise looks unsafe or doesn't feel right, declare Mission Accomplished and leave. Maybe take a couple of photos first if you don't have to run to safety immediately.

Arthur St. Tunnel

I seem to have checked it out on a 'good' day, though. The tunnel was empty, and about as clean as you'd expect a decrepit pedestrian underpass might ever be. So I walked through to the other side. Once I realized I couldn't get onto the Ross Island Bridge from the other side (my main goal for the day, and a topic for another post), I turned around and walked back through the tunnel again. So I've been through it twice and lived to blog about it. And quite honestly I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. Walking through the tunnel, I mean, not blogging.

Arthur St. Tunnel

At least the tunnel's straight once you're down the steps. If it curved around under the street and you couldn't see the length of it, I think I would've bailed. As it is, you can see the whole thing, and you could probably see shadows of anyone coming down the stairs on either end. So the walk itself is pretty uneventful, albeit kind of dark.

Arthur St. Tunnel

When I mentioned the tunnel back in 2006, I couldn't find anything at all about it on the interwebs. Now there's only almost nothing out there. The tunnel was the subject of a recent Stumptown Stumper at the Portland Tribune, which explains just about everything you'd ever want to know about the tunnel and several others like it that used to exist around town. It sounds as though the city almost closed the tunnel last year, and only relented when the public complained. Not because anyone particularly likes the tunnel. Far from it; I think there's near-universal agreement that a pedestrian tunnel like this is a really shitty way to cross the street (at times quite literally so). But the city proposal didn't include a good alternative or replacement for the tunnel. I can understand why the city didn't take a crack at that. I'm not sure how you solve this particular problem without untangling the vast Gordian knot of transportation problems in this part of town. The city spent much of the last century layering new half-baked transit ideas on top of the previous ones, culminating in the aerial tram. To wit: If you want a street-level crosswalk, it's a problem because Naito crosses Arthur in an overpass, not a street-level crossing. Even if you could convince the city to put in a light to stop traffic just for pedestrians, I don't imagine it would be very safe at all. So to make a crosswalk work you'll probably also want to replace the overpass with a normal intersection, which incidentally is something the local neighborhood's been lobbying for for decades now. To do that, you'll need to rejigger how cars (and pedestrians and bikes, hopefully) get on and off the Ross Island Bridge, which at present is an extremely confusing and overloaded jumble. Go stare at a map and think about this problem for a while and your brain starts to ache, without coming up with anything that resembles a good idea. If you take a step back and think about what proper connections between downtown, I-5/I-405/Sunset, Barbur, and Macadam on the westside; and the eastside's McLoughlin, Powell, Division, and points east and south... well, it seems (to me) like the real fix would be to build a new bridge over the river, which would be Very Expensive. They're planning to do that for the next MAX project, as it turns out, but they're quite adamant that it'll be for rail, bikes, and pedestrians only. I don't know if that's for financial reasons, or ideological ones, or some combination of the two. In short, the tunnel stays for now.

whats the time (Arthur St. Tunnel)

The only other link I encountered about the tunnel was my earlier post, as it turns out. A while back I submitted the photo in that post to the uber-cool "Entrance to Hell" group on Flickr. Apparently they turned it down as insufficiently hellish. Bastards. Anyway, it's part of my "Arthur St. Tunnel" Flickr set here. FWIW.

Arthur St. Tunnel

While searching the interwebs, I also bumbled across a post about various local underpasses (but not this one) at "PDX Pop Now!" on UrbanHonking. Seems the author's project is to hang around odd spots around town and interview passers-by. An interesting notion, certainly, although if anyone had so much as appeared, much less spoken to me, in the tunnel I'd have just run away. Perhaps not the bravest possible course of action, but hey. If to avoid being shot or stabbed or eaten by the natives, I must also avoid being interviewed by art students, that's a sacrifice I'm afraid I'll just have to accept.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lotus Isle Expedition

View Larger Map

Today's jaunt takes us to the alluringly-named Lotus Isle Park, tucked away in a quiet residential corner of Hayden Island (ok, Tomahawk Island, technically), a bit east of I-5 and the Jantzen Beach mall.

lotus isle park

The park turns out to be a small finger of land between two houseboat communities, facing a quiet side channel of the Columbia. There's a play structure, a paved path through the park, some picnic tables, grass, and a few trees. It's nice, certainly. A good place to take the kids if you live nearby. A fine place to walk the dog. Great for a picnic, if the weather ever improves someday. But why the exotic fancy name?

You'd never guess by looking around, but this wasn't always a quiet residential neighborhood. Back in the 1920's the area was home to a real, live amusement park named -- you guessed it -- Lotus Isle. Not to be confused with the better-known Jantzen Beach amusement park, which was further west on the island where the mall is now.

lotus isle park

PDXHistory has a great article about the amusement park. (There's a Wikipedia article too, but it's mostly based on the PDXHistory piece.) It's a great story, complete with an actual elephant rampage, among other things. As the article explains, nothing has survived of the park itself. All that's survived are a few rotting pilings from a long-vanished streetcar bridge. Yes, an actual bridge just for streetcars. That ought to give today's transit-junkie community a little thrill. Here's all that's left:

marina & old trestle, lotus isle park

Not exactly the ruins of Pompeii, huh? A page at Lewis & Clark's Columbia River has a few photos of the old trestle with a bit more history. The photos are better than mine -- I only had my little Canon A520 compact back when I took these. In fact the main reason I ended up at the park was that I was headed to the Jantzen Beach Circuit City to go DSLR shopping, and I took a wrong turn and noticed the park as I wandered around. FWIW. The Lewis & Clark site also has a page on Tomahawk Island and the old amusement park.

I must be a generation or so too young to really grasp why some people get all nostalgic and misty-eyed about old amusement parks. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that; it's just that I can't relate to it. By the time I was old enough to beg for things I'd seen advertised, the Disney leviathan was already well on the road to world domination. (Which actually occurred fairly rapidly, once everyone had a TV; it's a small world, after all.) For anyone who's into old amusement parks, here are details on the roller coasters, pipe organ, and carousel, lovingly catalogued for posterity by fans for other fans.

winter trees, lotus isle park

lotus isle park

In any case, here are a few other assorted mentions of the place from around the Interwebs:

  • The present-day park shows up in this 2005 post on Urban Adventure League.
  • Somewhat brief recollections of the park in an oral history.
  • More history about the park from The Webfooters
  • A mention on this page, connected with the World of Darkness roleplaying game. This is the same RPG that sited a vampire lair atop Kelly Butte. Which is entirely plausible if you ask me.
  • A blog post with a photo of today's park at dusk.
  • A history page for the new Salpare Bay condo development, not far away on the north shore of the island.
  • A reference (scroll to the bottom to find it) to a Vancouver Columbian article about the short-lived streetcar between Portland and Vancouver. The streetcar ran on the aforementioned trestle to get to the island, and then traveled the rest of the way on the Interstate Bridge. Which was obviously far less busy than it is now.

Oh, and the rest of my Lotus Isle photos are here. Again, FWIW.

Updated 12/1/12: Offbeat Oregon now has a great article about Lotus Isle, (including a photo from yours truly).