Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sabin Triangle expedition

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Today's adventure in Obscure Places Around Town takes us to the Sabin Triangle, the weird concrete area at the corner of NE 15th & Prescott, in inner NE Portland. It seems that, a century ago or so, this spot was once the terminus of a streetcar line from downtown. When streetcar service ended, the now-surplus land was paved over as if it was just an extra-wide sidewalk, and became an awkward and poorly maintained public space. It was also said to attract drugs, crime, and all sorts of urban ills, which is to say it reflected the surrounding neighborhood at the time. Now that the area's rapidly gentrifying, a sketchy-looking spot like this lowers the tone and affects property values. It just isn't going to cut it anymore, and there's a neighborhood project in the works to redesign the triangle as a modern pocket park. Construction hasn't started yet, so these are 'before' photos. So, I suppose, people can stumble across this little blog post years from now and have a chuckle about the Bad Old Days and how bad they were.

Sabin Triangle

Since I just mentioned gentrification, anyone who reads this humble blog regularly is probably expecting a grumpy, snarky rant right about now. The thing that's stopping me is that this is a neighborhood volunteer project, not something handed down from on high by City Hall or the Portland Development Commission. I do have to roll my eyes a bit, though, because this one has all the trappings of a stereotypical upscale Portland Thing: design charettes, architecture nonprofits, earnest local engineering students looking to change the world, etcetera. I suspect a project sponsored by neighborhood churches or the local NAACP chapter would maybe not attract the same level of praise and media attention.

Sabin Triangle

None of the articles I've read have explained who's responsible for maintaining the space once it's renovated. Which is kind of a big deal. Even the current design would be somewhat less unattractive if someone was maintaining it regularly, planting plants in planters, pulling weeds, removing grass growing through cracks in the sidewalk, basic stuff like that. It's not an official city park, so I suppose the work's going to fall on the local neighborhood association, and thus on neighborhood volunteers. So this year, golden. Next year, golden. Five years from now, maybe still golden. Twenty-five years from now, who knows?

Sabin Triangle

Three Figures

I was walking near Lloyd Center the other day, and noticed this collection of large metal figures at NE 13th & Holladay, across the MAX tracks from the Lloyd Center cinemas. I'd never noticed them before, so I snapped a few quick phone photos to see if I could figure out what they were. Turns out the three figures are called, collectively, Three Figures, and RACC has this to say about them:
Mark Bulwinkle’s figures were a gift to Portland from AVIA. Originally sited at AVIA’s Corporate Headquarters, they were re-sited at their current location to appear to be enjoying the green space. Bulwinkle lives in Oakland, CA and is known for his whimsical welded sculptures.
Three Figures

The photos on the RACC page -- as well as the ones at Public Art Archive & CultureNow -- are probably from just after the figures were relocated. The surrounding trees are a lot bigger now, and the figures don't so much enjoy the green space as lurk within it. It doesn't help that the site is a little wedge of land between MAX tracks and an I-84 freeway ramp, with a vast empty parking lot on the other side of the tracks. There are probably other sites around town where the figures would be even more obscure than they are now, but locating them would take a bit of research.

If you started with a copy of the Travel Portland public art map as your guide, you'd be out of luck too. The 2007 edition puts Three Figures in the wrong place, a few blocks west at 11th & Lloyd, while the current map just drops it entirely, along with a number of other artworks around the Lloyd District area. Beats me why they'd do that. Maybe to save space on the print version, I dunno.

Three Figures

As for why the relocation happened, I imagine it's because there's no Avia headquarters in Portland anymore. The company was founded here in 1979, but was absorbed by the Reebok empire in 1987. Which I remember because I ran HS cross country at the time, and I think I wore Avias exclusively. I should point out that I wasn't actually very fast, although I can't really blame the shoes for that. In recent years the brand's bounced around among successive owners, changing hands again just a few months ago. A recent Portland Business Journal article notes that it's become a low-priced shoe brand featured at Walmart. Alas, how the mighty have fallen...

Three Figures

Metabolic Shift

The ongoing project in Local Obscure Stuff takes us to an especially obscure public artwork this time. Metabolic Shift isn't hidden, exactly; it's a set of glass panels on the 12th avenue side of the Streetcar Lofts condo complex, between Lovejoy & Marshall. I've walked past it dozens of times, and I know I've noticed the piece and thought it was a pleasant and attractive architectural detail of the building. I didn't realize it was officially public art (whatever that means) until I saw it on a walking map and went to find it for blog posting purposes.

The Smithsonian inventory page (linked above) describes it as "Abstract sculpture consisting of a white wall panel adorned with cutouts of circles and ovals in various colors, flanked by two black wall panels adorned with cutouts of circles and ovals in white". The artist's website includes it on a Selected Works page, along with a number of other glass works located around the Northwest, several performance pieces, and assorted other projects such as her design for the 2012 Rose Festival's "Festival of Flowers" in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift Metabolic Shift

Sewallcrest Park expedition

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I was rummaging through some old photos recently and realized I had a few from SE Portland's Sewallcrest Park, particularly of the community garden there. Like Irving Park, it's the sort of neighborhood park I usually don't bother with here: It has ball fields, a playground, an off-leash dog area, and so forth, and it's perfectly nice and pleasant and a great thing to have in one's neighborhood, but as far as I know there isn't anything particularly unique about it versus all the other neighborhood ball field/playground/dog parks around town.

I do have a few historical tidbits to pass along, at least. Nothing quite so exciting as Irving Park's role in early auto racing history, but hey. The land purchase for the park was announced in a brief blurb on December 8th, 1940:

32 Lots Bought In Sewall Crest

For park purposes, the city of Portland last week acquired from Edward C. Sewall 32 lots situated in Sewall Crest.

The properties include 22 lots between SE 31st and 32nd avenues and ten lots east of 32nd, all between SE Market and Harrison streets.
Sewallcrest Park

So first, a bit about who the park is named for. Edward C. Sewall (assuming I have the right one) was born and raised in Portland, and was head of the otorhinolaryngology (i.e. ear, nose and throat) department and a prominent researcher at Stanford Medical School until his 1940 retirement. His 1957 obit doesn't mention anything about Sewall Crest, so I'm not absolutely sure it's him. But his is not a very common name, and a doctor investing in a little real estate on the side would not be exactly surprising.

It seems Sewall was prominent enough that the there's a photo of him in the National Institutes of Health's "Images from the History of Medicine" archives. A few hits come up for various works of his without doing a medical literature search: He wrote a 1909 favorable book review of the new 5th edition of Politzer on the Ear, a then-standard work by the founder of modern ear medicine. A 1915 Journal of the American Medical Association mentions Sewall presenting a paper on surgery of the pituitary gland via the nose, which was apparently a hot new cutting-edge technique at the time, and modern variations on the approach are still common today. I'm sure I could dig up a lot more if I cared to try searching medical literature, but that would probably take this blog post too far afield. The Sewalls don't appear to have lived in Portland at any point after he joined Stanford, but they showed up regularly over several decades in the Oregonian's society pages when visiting friends and family here. As of 2004, there was an endowed Edward C. and Amy H. Sewall Professor of Otorhinolaryngology position at Stanford Medical School.

In any case, apparently "Sewall Crest" (two words) was the name of the surrounding housing development. The park, and the nearby elementary school that was built later, have seemingly always been called "Sewallcrest", one word. Beats me why.

Sewallcrest Park

The park showed up in the Oregonian roughly once or twice per decade in the years after its creation. In October 1950, an article titled "City Planning Future Parks" gave a laundry list of proposed improvements, funded by a parks levy passed the previous year. The article stated that "no significant additional development" was expected in the coming year for several playgrounds around the city, including the Sewallcrest one. It's not clear from the article exactly what amenities the park had at that point.

Later, in May 1961, a citizen ballot initiative was announced which would have built several new community swimming pools around the city, including one proposed for Sewallcrest Park. The chief petitioner on the proposal just so happened to work for a contracting firm that, wait for it, built swimming pools. Which is truly an amazing coincidence, if you think about it. There seems to have been no further mention of the proposal in the paper, so it's not clear if it even made the ballot. Obviously it didn't pass since there's no such thing as a Sewallcrest Community Pool. One of the other proposed pool sites was SW Portland's Gabriel Park, which finally got a pool and fancy community center in 1999, thanks to a 1994 ballot measure.

The park expanded slightly in 1971, with the purchase of another vacant lot, this time thanks to an "open spaces" grant from the federal Department of Housing & Urban Development. In 1974 the Open Spaces program was consolidated into the present-day Community Development Block Grant program. Apparently federal HUD money can still be spent on this sort of project; it's just that there's far less money available than there was in 1971.

The community garden arrived in 1972, and apparently was the first one in the city. A young Portland Community College employee had seen something similar in England, and worked to, uh, transplant the idea here, just when the idea of living off the land and growing one's own food had become fashionable again. By 1979, there was already a long waiting list to get a community garden plot. In the present day, I've heard stories of people waiting over a decade for plots in certain parks to become available.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Union Station Pedestrian Bridge

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Today's installment in the ongoing bridge project takes us to Portland's historic Union Station, where an arched footbridge crosses the railroad tracks, connecting the station itself with the Yards at Union Station apartments across the tracks, and the waterfront beyond them. The Yards apartments were built on the site of an old Northern Pacific Railway freight terminal; the Portland Development Commission (which owns the train station) began redeveloping the site in the late 1990s. So the bridge presumably went in around that time. I don't actually have a lot of info to share about the bridge itself. There are lots of photos of it, of varying degrees of artsiness and quality, but the reader can search the interwebs for those just as well as I can. Articles about Union Station or the Yards project are generally "Ooh, trains!", or "Ooh, urban renewal!", and the presence of a not particularly large footbridge doesn't seem to have aroused a lot of interest of its own. Until now, I guess.

Union Station Pedestrian Bridge

I'm not sure I would have bothered with this little bridge either, photogenic as it is, but I've run a bit low on interesting local bridges and I think I may have to lower the bar on what sort of bridge merits a post here. Considering that the last couple of bridge posts have essentially been for overpasses over I-84, I suppose a reasonably attractive skybridge is interesting enough as well. For me, I mean. I never get a lot of reader feedback on this sort of thing, so it's hard to judge how far down the rabbit hole is too far.

Union Station Pedestrian Bridge

I've already run with this idea enough to know there are a few other pedestrian bridges over railroad tracks around town: There's one at the east end of the Steel Bridge, connecting the Esplanade with the Convention Center / Rose Garden area. At least three in SE Portland: A new one for the Springwater Corridor, and two older ones at Brooklyn St. & Lafayette St. A just-opened one for the Waud Bluff Trail on Swan Island. And probably others here and there. So I dunno, maybe all of those are to-do items now too. I walked over the Lafayette St. bridge once or twice back when I lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood. It was kind of old and rickety, as I recall, so that was kind of exciting. It reminded me of the scary bridge in the classic film noir This Gun For Hire, but smaller and without film noir people shooting at each other, at least while I was there.

Union Station Pedestrian Bridge Union Station Pedestrian Bridge

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Grand & MLK Viaducts, Sullivan's Gulch

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A recent post here covered Portland's 12th Avenue Viaduct, a very obscure sorta-bridge designed by a famous engineering firm. While I was taking those photos, I also took a few of the Grand Avenue & MLK viaducts over Sullivan's Gulch, on the off-chance they were designed by the same firm. I'm still not sure whether that's true or not; signs on both indicate they were built by Seattle's International Contract Company circa 1907, but nothing indicates who designed them. The city archives has a pamphlet by the construction firm about the Grand Ave. Viaduct and other recent projects of theirs, but it unfortunately isn't online. I suppose I could put in a city records request for it, but I'm not sure I'm quite curious enough to make that worthwhile. The city appropriated money for the two bridges in June 1904, to the tune of $55,000 for the Union Avenue (now MLK) one, and $45,000 for the Grand Avenue one. During the same session, the city council also voted to limit automobiles to eight miles per hour within city limits. One councilman reasoned: "You can't drive horses over six miles an hour, why should those machines go any faster? Nobody but millionaires and sports use them, anyway."

Regardless of who designed the two viaducts, they're still kind of interesting. As with the 12th Avenue viaduct, people tend to think of them as ordinary freeway overpasses, but they were built long before Interstate 84 went in. (See, for example, this 1938 photo at Vintage Portland.) Old, somewhat historic, and very obscure structures, hiding in plain sight, with people constantly driving on and beneath them, and having no idea what they're looking at. My being fascinated by this sort of thing is probably how I ended up running this weird little humble blog almost nobody reads.

Grand & MLK Viaducts Grand & MLK Viaducts Grand & MLK Viaducts MLK viaduct MLK viaduct

Fountain for Company H

Today's adventure takes us back to downtown Portland's Lownsdale Square again, this time to an ornate century-old drinking fountain on the 4th Avenue side of the park, which the city describes as:
Another memorial dedicated to the men killed in service in the Philippines, Fountain for Company H, was installed in 1914. It was donated by the mothers, sisters, and wives of the men in Company H of the Second Oregon Volunteers. John H. Beaver, an architectural draftsman, won the honor of designing the limestone fountain and a $50 prize in a citywide contest.

This is yet another of the city's numerous Spanish-American War memorials, which include the Soldiers Monument at the center of Lownsdale Square, the Battleship Oregon Memorial in Waterfront Park, and a monument in Lone Fir Cemetery. (The latter is primarily a Civil War memorial, but includes a nod to various other conflicts up to 1903 when it was built, including the Indian Wars.) I've heard that yet another monument exists somewhere in the West Hills near the VA Hospital, but I don't know a lot about that one.

The fountain was unveiled on September 2nd, 1914. Much of the Oregonian article about the dedication is the text a poem read at the dedication, an earnest prayer for peace. It's worth noting that World War I had begun just a month earlier.

Fountain for Company H Fountain for Company H Fountain for Company H Fountain for Company H Fountain for Company H Fountain for Company H Fountain for Company H Fountain for Company H