Monday, May 12, 2008

Lotus Isle Expedition

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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).

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