Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Irving Park expedition

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A few infrared snapshots of inner NE Portland's Irving Park. It's a very nice place, with pleasant landscaping and all the usual city park amenities; it's just that the city has, as a rough guess, a few dozen very similar and equally nice neighborhood parks all around town. If this isn't the closest one to you, I can't think of any particular reason to go out of your way to visit here. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit I stopped here primarily to fill a midsized hole in this humble blog's giant geotag map. Since it's hard to imagine anyone but me caring about that, I popped an infrared filter on the camera in hopes of making the photos a little more unique and semi-compelling.

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The city's "Historical Information" blurb (from the above link) is fairly brief:

The land in the Irvington neighborhood was originally owned by Captain William Irving, who was famous in early Pacific Northwest maritime history. Part of the land occupied by Irving Park was the site of the Irvington Racetrack, one of four defunct racetracks now sporting Portland parks.

I think I can improve on that blurb, with a little help from the Oregonian historical database. A 1904 Oregonian cartoon depicted some colorful and disreputable-looking "typical scenes" at the Irvington racetrack. Horse racing was not the track's only fame however; on June 23rd, 1907, race car driver Barney Oldfield shattered a world land speed record, covering a mile in just 52.4 seconds, which is a bit over 68 miles per hour. A subsequent event didn't turn out so well; the organizers, possibly unaware that it always rains here on the 4th of July, unwisely scheduled a (presumably) dirt track auto race for that day. Of the nine events on the program, they were only able to pull off two of them. Spectators were disgruntled, and Oldfield himself was briefly arrested for "fraud". The charges were eventually dropped, but not before a possibly intoxicated Oldfield reportedly threatened to jump off the old Hotel Portland.

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Just a year later, the track was converted into today's park and surrounding residential district, an area once intended to be known as "Prospect Park". A scandal erupted in 1912 when one of the principals in the Prospect Park Company, recently disabled by a stroke, was (allegedly) defrauded out of his properties by a rival group of real estate investors. I haven't found answers yet to how that case was resolved.

Meanwhile, the old racetrack was apparently also used by the Second Oregon Infantry while preparing to go overseas to the Philippines in the Spanish-American War. So it's not that the park and the surrounding neighborhood lack for historical anecdotes; it's just that they aren't the fashionable sort of historical anecdote. Rich people fighting over land. Auto racing. War. No hippie music festivals or IWW rallies or scandalous performance art happenings seem to have occurred here. Not yet, anyway.

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