Sunday, September 09, 2012

San Rocco Procession, Boston

While wandering around Boston's North End back in July, I happened to stumble across the annual San Rocco procession. This is a Sicilian Catholic event in which a statue of San Rocco (or St. Roch, if you prefer) is carried through the streets, accompanied by two brass bands, and dancers in traditional Portuguese dress. The procession stops every so often, the bands alternate playing a few tunes, and spectators step forward to pin dollars on the statue. Eventually the parade arrives at a local fraternal hall and everyone goes inside, including San Rocco. I'm not sure what happens then, but I assume food and wine are involved somehow.

As a nonbeliever (and non-Sicilian), I was initially unclear on what the event was all about, but I ran across a couple of posts at that helped clear this up. This post explains what the festival is and includes a bunch of photos, while the second post includes an entertaining short video with some of the music and dancing.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Griffith Park, Beaverton

Griffith Park
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Today's adventure takes us out to the 'burbs, to Beaverton's Griffith Park. You're probably wondering why we're leaving the city and venturing out to the 'burbs, and wondering whether it's the start of an alarming trend. So no, I haven't sold out to the man or anything, or at least not any further; I was merely shopping in the area and happened to stop at a thrift shop across the street from the park just in case they had any vintage camera stuff or old computers or anything (they didn't). The park was across the street, so I figured I'd take a minute and snap couple of photos and then see if I could throw a post together and try to make this part of Beaverton seem halfway interesting. Which remains to be seen.

Griffith Park

The park is a sort of irregular oval shape in the center of a suburban office park that includes Beaverton's city hall, across Beaverton-Hillsdale from Fred Meyer. One weekend in late June it hosts the annual Taste of Beaverton festival (which I've been to at least once), and there are concerts every so often, and it seems to be an outdoor lunch spot for office workers when the weather cooperates. I haven't seen it in midwinter, but given the bowl shape of the place it's bound to be a mud pit. It was probably a lake or a marsh at one point, back before anyone -- or at least anyone with power -- cared about wetland protection. The bowl shape also makes the park "problematic" as a possible site for public art, according to the city's Public Art Master Plan, which may explain why there apparently isn't any art there.

Griffith Park

I can't find much in the way of contemporary or historical info about the park, unfortunately, not even any hints about who it's named after. This is probably because it's way out in suburbia and therefore mostly off the Oregonian's radar, and so far I haven't come across an online archive of Beaverton's Valley Times newspaper anywhere. So the first mention of the park in the Oregonian is from July 1979. The Tualatin Hills parks district had just purchased the historic Jenkins Estate on Cooper Mountain, and it turns out that the purchase was enabled by redirecting some cash that was originally slated for a fountain in Griffith Park. Which is funny because I was just thinking that the park needed a fountain. Now we know why it didn't get one. So yeah, that's pretty much the only semi-interesting historical anecdote I've discovered so far.

Griffith Park

The results of a Google image search are basically unrewarding too; despite specifying "Beaverton" in the search, most of the photos you get back are of the vastly larger and more famous Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Which I guess makes sense. Beaverton's one does make an appearance in an interesting blog post of dusk and nighttime photos from around Washington County. Not sure I'd go so far as to call the photos "esoteric", but someone's making an effort, at least.

Griffith Park

Another blog post I ran across mentions that some online maps insist the middle of Griffith Park is a mysterious place called "Beburg". I can actually field that one; "Beburg" is a railroad designation for the tracks around central Beaverton. As far as I know, the name has never been used outside of the railroad industry and the railfan community. If you're into that sort of thing, there are lots of photos around the net, both current and historical. A few examples here, here, here, here, here, and here. The USGS seems to have picked up on the name and decided it's an official 'locale', namely the triangle of land bordered by the rail lines, highway 217, and Beaverton-Hillsdale, of which Griffith Park is roughly the center. I agree this isn't a very colorful origin story. I absolutely agree it'd be a much better story if Griffith Park was the site of an ancient lost city, or maybe a lawless town of the old west, and the very name "Beburg" struck terror in the hearts of the region's citizens. It'd be great if Griffith was a noble sheriff, or knight, or something, and he brought Beburg's infernal tyranny to an end once and for all, and the smoking crater where Beburg once stood is now an idyllic park named in his honor. It would be a great legend, and Washington County's really short on great legends, so feel free to use it if you think your audience will buy it.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Lillis-Albina Park expedition

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Today's adventure takes us to North Portland's Lillis-Albina Park, which is sort of your basic neighborhood park: Baseball fields, playground equipment, and picnic benches. I usually don't bother with places like this, but this one offers an excuse to dive into the Oregonian archives and read up on the guy the park's named for, and this turns out to be a fairly interesting topic.

The city parks website describes the place thusly:

Until 1947, this was known as Albina Park, since it is in what was once the City of Albina. In 1941, some residents requested that the park be renamed Mike Lillis Park. Michael Edward Lillis was a police officer on the Albina Park beat who was well-liked in that neighborhood. He had been a strong advocate for the park and the children in that area. Other neighbors felt that the park should keep its original name. In 1947, there was a compromise and since then the park has been named Lillis-Albina Park.

Lillis-Albina Park

The more I read about Officer Lillis, the more he sounds like a stock character from a corny old black and white movie: The kindly Irish policeman who looked after the neighborhood's juvenile delinquents, like something right out of "The Little Rascals". His obituary in the October 10, 1941 Oregonian sang his praises:

Lillis, who was born in Portland on Christmas day, 1880, moved against Albina's high rate of juvenile delinquency by joining with business men in organizing the Central East Side Portland Community club, which now has more than 500 members among the district's youngsters.

He was the principal force behind the successful drive for a community house, where the children of the district could be entertained, and was working by day and dreaming by night at the time of his death for a park, complete with all the facilities for amusing his young pals.

His greatest day was graduation day at Elliott school, when he signed all the diplomas with gold ink.

Lillis seldom, if ever, took a delinquent boy to court, preferring to sit down with the young accused and straighten the matter out "man to man". Parents often sent their children to him for advice, which always flowed freely and wisely from the "blue knight".

Halloween, once a night of terror in Albina, was turned into an evening of fun and frolic by the smiling Irish patrolman, who got all the youngsters together in the community house, where he served cider and cookies.

"Mike Lillis was my idea of a good policeman," Mayor Earl Riley said. "By courtesy and cooperation with the people on his beat he commanded respect and support of all. While he was the law in Albina, he was at the same time a part of the community, a leader and a worker for general and individual improvement. He will be missed not only by the district but by the police department."

Christmas day found the officer busily engaged in providing for the district's needy, but it wasn't only on Christmas that he treated the youngsters. He was always "good" for a piece of candy or some ice cream.

The next day's Oregonian continued the kind words, with an editorial and a cartoon in his memory.

In later years several reader testimonials about Officer Lillis appeared in the Oregonian's pages:

A letter published December 26th, 1949:

It was with real satisfaction that I read that the city council has named the recreational area at N. Russell and Flint, "Lillis Albina" park.

Every time I traverse Vancouver avenue at the Eliot school crossing I conjure up the memory of that smiling burly Irish "cop" as he escorted the youngsters across that safety lane with solicitude and many a kindly word.

It is only a few paces from there that on many occasions we held court in a small office down an alley way and many are the lads who were saved from going to court by an informal hearing and admonition.

If he were living today he would rejoice over the advent of Micky Pease and the Pal club to that section. Your cartoon of October 11, 1941, drawn by Ralph Lee entitled "There'll always be Mike LIllis" is one of the treasured items in my scrap book.

John G. Kilpack

Another letter, dated June 19th, 1981:

I read with a great deal of interest your articles on the Portland Police Bureau, especially about problems in the Albina district. I wonder if the bureau might be smart to do a little research into its past.

I came to Portland in the mid-1920s, and Albina had problems then -- the Poles, the Finns, the Danes, the Germans -- never a dull moment. There was one difference -- Police Officer Mike LIllis.

In his many years in that district, the courts routinely paroled many people to Lillis, and it's hard to say how many he helped on his own.

He was a soft-spoken, compassionate man. His friends were many, and he was held in high regard by all. There's a park named in his honor (LIllis Albina Park, North Russell Street and Flint Avenue).

In these two-fisted opossum-throwing times maybe the bureau would do well to read its own history. What it is doing is not working.

Harold Luebke

Lillis-Albina Park

So, I'm an incorrigible cynic, and I when I run across a story this sappy and old-fashioned-sounding, I immediately wonder what the rest of the story is. You can't have a police career that's just nothing but juvenile social work, right? I figured there's bound to be a more complex story here somewhere. But if there was, it went unreported by the local paper of record; the Oregonian basically shows a long unblemished career of tireless do-gooding. Some examples:

Folly Bollards

If you live or work in downtown Portland, you've probably walked past the "Folly Bollards" sculptures without even noticing them. They're tiny busts of comedic figures from around the world, set on low posts on either side of Main St. at the Performaing Arts Center, between Broadway & Park Ave. They're of relatively recent origin, created in 1998 by local artist Valerie Otani. Longtime Gentle Reader(s) of this humble blog might note that she also co-designed the public art at the Prescott St. MAX station (among other things), including the Prescott Biozone nano-park. Ok, so you almost certainly don't remember that, but I never turn down a chance to link to a 5 year old post. It sort of makes it look like I have a master plan for this humble blog, and have some sort of clue about what I'm doing here.

I'd walked past the little heads countless times before I noticed them and wondered what they were. I'm actually a big fan of this sort of thing: The Folly Bollards don't demand your attention, but there's a lot of detail to see if you're inclined to stop and look. A brief post at Portland Public Art mentions them, less snarkily than usual. Which I get; the faces are kind of cute and it's hard to be snarky about something this small. It would seem kind of mean, somehow.

Anyway, here's a list of the various heads and who or what each one represents:

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Sauvie Island Bridge

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Today's installment in the ongoing bridge project takes us up to the shiny new Sauvie Island Bridge. This bridge opened in 2008, replacing a 1950 bridge that didn't hold up under truck traffic. (PortlandBridges has a photo of the old & new bridges together when they briefly existed side by side.) I never got around to walking across the original bridge; word is that it wasn't really a fun experience, though, so I wouldn't exactly call this one of my main regrets in life. I'd meant to at least go up and take a few photos while both the old and new bridges were stil there, but I was on a deadline at the time and didn't quite get around to it. Again, would have been interesting, but not a lingering source of regret.

Some people have criticized the new bride for still only being a two lane bridge. This was actually deliberate; the thinking was that if transportation on and off the island became too convenient, and too much road capacity was in place, there would be irresistible pressure to rezone Sauvie Island and turn it into yet another cookie-cutter commuter suburb.

I don't always buy into urban planners' worst case scenarios, but I'm pretty sure they're right about what would happen here. Sauvie Island is so close to downtown Portland that you could even make a reasonable argument that development there would be preferable to building way out in Sherwood and Damascus and North Plains. Shorter commutes, less gas burned, less CO2 emitted, better transit options, and so forth. Before anyone flames me for saying that, please note I'm not actually arguing in favor. I don't have a strong opinion either way; I'm just saying there's a reasonable argument that isn't just based on the greed of venal developers. There would also be obvious downsides: US 30 would become a major commuter route, so there'd be highway upgrades and maybe a new MAX line (since a big new car-only development would never get the ok here), and certainly this bridge here wouldn't be up to the job. That would all be expensive. The island's also no stranger to flooding, so there might be levee upgrades in the cards, plus the potential cost of rebuilding after another 1996-style major flood. And obviously more suburbs would mean the loss of farmland, the eternal bogeyman of the planning community. People sometimes get kind of touchy-feely when talking about Oregon farmland and their romantic attachment to it, but I do think that's a legitimate cultural value, not to be lightly tossed aside.

In any case, it's a two lane bridge for a reason. Unlike the old bridge, though, the new bridge has wider landes and adequate sidewalks, making this installment of the bridge project pretty uneventful. I parked at the TriMet park-n-ride lot just on the island side of the bridge, walked across, crossed the street, and walked back, and now I can say I've done it if the subject ever comes up. It usually doesn't, but the story might be useful someday in case I'm trying to bore someone at a party or something. I saw a few cyclists but didn't meet any other pedestrians while I was walking across; there really isn't much right on the mainland side of the bridge except a houseboat marina, and on the island side there's just the TriMet lot and the island general store. So it's really convenient if you need to walk over and grab some brewskis and jojos and lug them back to your houseboat without being flattened by a truck full of cucumbers. Still, I approve of the nice wide sidewalks just on general principles.

So, as is often the case, I don't have a plausible form of peril to offer up for the "not dying" angle on this bridge. If you aren't familiar with that from earlier bridge posts, the idea is that I try to offer at least one helpful safety tip about how not to meet with a horrific demise while copying my latest astonishing walking-across-the-bridge-and-sometimes-back adventure. Some say these safety tips are of, uh, varying degrees of helpfulness. I, of course, beg to differ. Be that as it may, the one serious danger I see here is the part where you cross the street on the mainland side of the bridge so you can walk back on the other side. Which you're doing because you're trying to exactly copy what I did, for some peculiar reason. Traffic isn't that heavy on the bridge most of the time, but it picks up around October because Sauvie Island is where everyone takes their kids to pick out Halloween pumpkins. Then you get traffic jams, endless minivans full of pumpkin-addled first graders, driven by harried parents who just might run you down in a moment of inattention. Maybe the driver will be looking down at his or her phone, complaining about the crazy traffic to their idiot friends from high school on Facebook, and suddenly thump, you're a statistic. If the impact itself doesn't get you, the sheer irony will. So the nice people over in Legal said I had to at least try to discourage you from walking over the bridge in October, or at least on weekends in October. Or if you absolutely positively have to do this on a Saturday morning in late October, at least consider not wandering right out into traffic. Because there might be a minivan out there with your name on it, and that's just a terribly undignified way to go. Ok?

Thx. Mgmt.