Sunday, November 03, 2013

Colonel Summers Park expedition

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A photoset from Portland's Colonel Summers Park & Community Garden, at SE 17th & Taylor. I've gotten into the habit of saying I don't bother with neighborhood parks like this, where most of the park is devoted to ball fields and play equipment. But the community garden is fairly photogenic, and there's a little history to pass along, so I'm going to make yet another exception, like I did for Irving and Sewallcrest Parks earlier. Before we get to the history bit, some info about the park's standard-issue features, since those are what almost all visitors who aren't me come here for. The park includes basketball and tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and a covered picnic area. It formerly offered a wading pool for kids, but like the ones in other parks around town it was permanently closed in 2010 due to state health regulations. There's a neighborhood campaign to build a splash pad to replace the old pool.

Because this is the middle of a very hip part of town, it also attracts things like adult dodgeball, bike polo, and assorted as-seen-in-Portlandia activities. Years ago, coworkers and I used to come here on Friday afternoons and hit a volleyball around, which is one sorta-sport that hipsters still haven't discovered somehow. It was fun, but you had to watch out because dog owners weren't always that meticulous about cleaning up after their pets, and there was always a chance of finding a little grenade lurking in the grass if you weren't careful. Ah, memories.

As this is inner SE Portland, the park has also hosted Food Not Bombs and Occupy Portland events in recent years.

The southwest corner of the park contains a small memorial to the park's namesake, Col. Owen Summers. He was widely regarded as the "Father of the Oregon National Guard" (even our National Guard says so), and he was best known for his service with the 2nd Oregon Volunteers in the Spanish-American War. The same obscure conflict memorialized by two memorials in Lownsdale Square, another in Waterfront Park, yet another in Lone Fir Cemetery (though it's primarily a Civil War memorial), and probably others elsewhere. That war was an ugly episode in our national history, and it's kind of embarrassing that Portland built monuments to it all over town.

Summers himself was said to be a decent guy, and the Oregon volunteers came home before the guerrilla war in the Philippines got going in earnest. Still, I'd be perfectly happy with renaming the place back to "Belmont Park", which is what it was called until renamed in 1938 in a fit of patriotic fervor, for the war's 40th anniversary. The park was rededicated on September 13th, 1938, as part of the city's war anniversary festivities. The Battleship Oregon opened at its "permanent" waterfront home the same day. Although that turned out to be far from permanent, thanks in large part to the day's top news story, the infamous Munich Agreement that enabled Nazi Germany to annex the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. The juxtaposition of the two stories is kind of mind-boggling. In any case, page 7 of the paper was a full page of Spanish War festivities photos, including one showing the dedication of the Summers memorial plaque. A page 5 story covered the dedication in more detail. As far as I can determine, Summers had no connection to this particular spot, and it's not clear why the city selected this park to name after him rather than one of the others around town.

I can't tell you a lot about the memorial plaque itself. The inscription says it was created by someone named Daniel Powell, but I can't find much in the way of info about him. The Smithsonian art inventory mentions one work by someone named Daniel Powell, located at Bok Gardens in Lake Wales, FL, co-credited with 15 other artists. I don't know if it's him, but the dates are potentially correct. A history page for the Oregon Society of Artists lists him as the organization's president from 1942-44, and describes him as "High school teacher. Sculptor, sketch artist." An April 14th, 1945 Oregonian article on the Society's Spring Art Show mentions him:

This year the society, in addition to showing paintings, drawings, and small sculptures, will exhibit two sculptures of heroic size, one of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and one of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, completed in the Sabin high school art classes under the direction of Daniel Powell, society member who is art instructor at that school.
I haven't found any record of what happened to these student-built heroic sculptures after the art show. "Sabin High School" was a short-lived boys' alternative high school program based at Sabin Elementary School, 1939-1947, which was formerly part of Thomas A. Edison High School.

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