Monday, August 10, 2009

Chimney Park expedition

chimney park

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Today's adventure takes us north again, to remote little Chimney Park, just off Columbia Boulevard up toward the top end of North Portland. This is pretty much the far edge, or slightly past the far edge of "inhabited" North Portland; everything north of here on the peninsula is either industrial or wetland, and just across Columbia Boulevard is the former site of, well, I'll get to that in a moment.

chimney park

I've been meaning to do a post about this park for a while now, because the place a fairly curious history. Or more precisely, the weird building in the middle of the park has a fairly curious history. The sign out front calls it the Stanley Parr Archives Center. Until next year, this remote, obscure location is home to the city government's central archives. It's a fairly sturdy-looking building, but surprisingly it wasn't built for this purpose. Some years ago, right across Columbia Boulevard was the old St. Johns Landfill, and the archives building was once the city garbage incinerator. Seriously. I am not making this up. Ironic! The jokes basically write themselves. Insert yours here, if you like.

chimney park

Up until a few years ago, the building used to have a tall chimney (hence the name of the park) left over from its career as an incinerator. Eventually the powers that be decided the thing wasn't safe and tore it down. So no actual chimney in Chimney Park. Doubly ironic! Or at least kind of peculiar, or something.

A while back the Tribune ran a Stumptown Stumper explaining the name, so naturally they included a photo with the old chimney, if you're curious what it looked like. The book Vanishing Portland includes an aerial photo of the incinerator, circa 1940.

The Center for Columbia River History has a few pages about the history of the landfill, starting here. And here's an Oregon DEQ page about the park, detailing what they know about chemical contaminants at the site, presumably holdovers from the incinerator days. If I'm reading it correctly, it sounds as though the area really hasn't been tested that extensively. Which is surprising considering the whole incinerator thing. Maybe people figured it was better not to know. Knowing this sort of thing tends to get very expensive.

chimney park

The place originally got on my radar for a separate and unrelated reason, though. Many maps of Portland show the park being home to something called the "Portland Public Astronomy Center". I'd never heard anything else about the place other than seeing it on maps, so naturally I was curious. It seems that back in the 70's there was a serious proposal to put telescopes here for public use, but it never actually happened. So it's curious that it continues to show up on new maps all these decades later.

Haven't been able to find out very much about this "public astronomy center" thing, which I guess is understandable since it never actually existed. I did run across a 2004 Rose City Astronomers newsletter that includes an obit for a guy who spearheaded the effort. And references to two documents the city has about the proposal -- the documents aren't online, but they are available in... wait for it... the city archives. Ironic!

chimney park

I probably ought to mention the one thing that actually brings visitors to the park, the one thing that interests the general (i.e. non-geeky, non-pedantic) public, which is that much of the park is a designated off-leash dog area. I'm not really into the whole large dog thing, myself, but I understand that a lot of people are, so I figured I ought to mention it. The city has a PDF map of the off-leash area, and there are pages about it at Portland Pooch and BringFido, plus a post on Javafoto. So there you have it.

chimney park

I mentioned earlier that the archives are moving soon. In fact they'll be moving downtown to PSU next year some time. While we're on the subject, which we sort of are, here's a rather fascinating interview with the City Archivist, and a photo inside the archives with an assistant archivist.

No word yet on what's next for the building after the archives hit the road. This being Portland, the obvious answer -- to the point of being a cliche -- is to turn it into a McMenamins. Which isn't a terrible idea, although considering it's in the middle of an off-leash dog area, maybe a Lucky Lab would be more appropriate (plus I like their beer better). Mmmmm..... beeeeeer.....

uv dandelion, chimney park

But wait, there's more! While I was meandering around taking the photos you see above, I realized that the lawn was full of dandelions, and I thought I'd try to take some ultraviolet photos of them. They didn't really turn out all that well, and I didn't think they merited a post of their own. But I figured I might as well tack a couple onto the end here. Consider them an intermediate result in an ongoing effort to maybe-someday get a result I'm happy with. As for what they're supposed to look like, check out here and here. Clearly, I have a way to go yet. I suspect I may have to abandon any notion of doing this without a tripod, for starters.

uv dandelion, chimney park

uv dandelion, chimney park


Daniel Ronan said...

I like the summation you got going on here! Hope to see more of this in the future on other topics!

dimitri said...

The portland public astronomy center was an attempt to convert the smoke stack into a solar telescope and have astronomy classes, telescope making, museum, and other interest related to astronomy for all ages and grades. Bosch and Lomb gave the group a 24" reflector that required refurbishing. Eventually the city decided to use the site as a records storage center. The center then began seeking a site for the telescope in the Goldendale area. This too proved unattainable. The telescope was then donated to OMSI.

Alivya said...

Hi there,

I go to this park with my dogs almost everyday and sometimes at night. The building has people at it all hours of the night and it has always creeped me out.
Anyway, I really enjoyed all the info you posted regarding this building and park. I've often wondered why it was called "Chimney Park" and had no idea there used to be a land fill across the street. Super interesting stuff... Thank you!