Friday, January 31, 2014

Henry Carlson Park expedition

This post has been in the works for an uncommonly long time. Sometime back in the mid-1990s, a Willamette Week "Best of Portland" issue had a brief blurb about a tiny, super-obscure, and rarely used park somewhere in Northwest Portland. I tend to remember the oddest bits of trivia, and I happened to remember this item, but unfortunately not the name or the exact address. I thought I remembered something about it being on NW 19th Avenue, or maybe 21st, at least. So I looked around a few times and the only likely (but wrong) candidate I came up with was a landscaped corner of the Good Sam hospital campus at 21st & Lovejoy, as seen in this 2008 post. But I couldn't prove it, and I'd kind of written this off as a mystery from the pre-internet years that I wasn't likely to ever solve. Then just recently I was putting a post together about the In the Tree Tops statues at Lloyd Center, and bumped into an ancient 1990s Best of Portland issue's "Off the Beaten Path" page that has inexplicably remained online all this time. There were a bunch of other items on the page besides the one I'd originally searched for, and one in particular caught my eye. Here's the text in full, in case Willamette Week ever clues in about the ancient pages on its site and nukes them:

Sure, Forest Park is scenic. With its verdant canopy and myriad trails, it makes for an ideal escape from the city. But on weekends, the pacific wooded area in Northwest Portland turns into a 3-D version of ESPN's Extreme Sports. Why dodge the spandex-clad bicyclists whizzing around blind corners when there's a nearby spot that offers true solitude--the HENRY CARLSON PARK at Northwest 19th Avenue and Hoyt Street. Adjacent to the First Immanuel Lutheran Church, this 30-by-30-foot square parcel has no grass and three trees only slightly taller than the average midget. Yet you won't be running into Herve Villechaize here, not only because he's dead, but also because no one ever comes to sit on the brown benches that line a couple of shrub-filled plant boxes, nor does anyone frolic on the brick-laid surface. Aside from the occasional passerby using the trash can--a rare item in Portland parks these days--not a soul will disturb you in Henry Carlson Park, making it a great place to read or just sit and ponder your existence.

I'm quite certain this is the item that I remembered from back in the Netscape days. Tiny, obscure, rarely used, owned by someone other than the city (i.e. the church next door), and located on 19th Avenue. So I put it on my todo list (which is actually an Evernote notebook and a Google map these days), and I went to look for it the first chance I got. It was trivial to find once I knew where it was, but I'm fairly sure I've walked past this spot a lot since the mid-90s, and it never once occurred to me that this was any kind of park at all, much less the mysterious one I was occasionally looking for. There's no sign out front, for one thing, and it's a fairly nondescript little plaza that doesn't attract the eye. There are a few rose bushes in the back, but it's January so they aren't contributing to the scenery right now. It is, frankly, not a fascinating or inviting place. I took the photos you see here, and then stood around for a few minutes hoping for inspiration. I soon decided I'd exhausted the possibilities of the place and there weren't any more photos here waiting to be taken, so I declared Mission Accomplished and wandered off.

As for the name, the only reference I was able to dig up was a 1977 obit for a Henry Carlson who attended the Lutheran church next door. It doesn't explain why they named a sorta-park after him, though. The only other link I could find about the park is the church's 2011 annual report, which budgeted $5000 to refurbish the park sometime between then and 2017. That's a big time window, and not knowing what it looked like in 2011 I'm not sure whether my photos are pre- or post-refurbishment.

But at least I sorted out the longstanding mystery that had been bugging me. Even with the remaining unanswered questions, I'm going to chalk this one up in the win column.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flying Together

Some photos of Flying Together, a sculpture of a pair of birds outside the Oregon History Museum on the South Park Blocks. I've probably walked right past it hundreds of times since it arrived in 1990, without ever really paying attention to it. This time it registered for some reason and that set the well-oiled blog post factory in motion. I'm not really sure how I overlooked it until now, but hey, I've missed worse before. I've said once or twice that one of the big things I like about this blogging racket is that it forces me to pay attention to my surroundings for a change, since ordinarily I'm kind of terrible at that. With a caveat, I guess, that clueing in on one's environment isn't necessarily something that happens all in one go and then it's done. Flying Together being a case in point, obviously.

Anyway, this is another animal art piece by Tom Hardy, who created Oregon Landscape at PSU and many, many other works all over the Northwest and beyond. The Smithsonian survey page for it has a brief description: "Two abstract birds in flight with their wings extended vertically. The upper bird is sideways with its lower wing connecting to the upper wing of the lower bird. The lower wing of the lower bird extends into the base."

The Smithsonian database says there's another Flying Together at Mount Hood Community College, described as "Three wing-like segments attached to a slender vertical element atop a large rock. " I haven't seen a photo of it, but it sounds different from the Park Blocks one, so maybe Hardy only reused the name. The Park Blocks one does look a lot like the only other bird sculpture of his I've covered, the Herons at Howell Territorial Park on Sauvie Island. The Sauvie one has three birds instead of two, and they're a bit more heron-like, but there's an obvious family resemblance. There's another Hardy bird sculpture in the food court at the Lloyd Center Mall; I have photos of it too, but it's a bit further back on the blog post conveyor belt. It'll be here sooner or later, so don't touch that dial.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Oneonta Creek Bridge

Here are a few photos of the historic Oneonta Creek Bridge, which once carried the old Columbia River Highway across the creek of the same name. This bridge was abandoned in place when the Oneonta Tunnel closed circa 1954, and it was used for Oneonta Gorge parking for many years. Parking moved to the far side of the tunnel after it reopened in 2009. It's one of several Karl P. Billner bridges along the road, and like many of the others it uses the "concrete arch & cap" style, one of a handful of design motifs used repeatedly along the old highway, as described in a post on WyEast Blog. The Library of Congress has some vintage photos of the bridge from a variety of angles if you want a better look at it from below, not that it's that spectacular from that angle. It's not one of the major bridges along the highway, but it's a reasonably attractive minor one, and it was designed by the guy who also created many of the highway's more famous and distinctive bridges. So I figured this one merited a blog post of its own too. We'll be hearing more about Mr. Billner in the future when we visit some of his better known designs.

I should point out that right next to the historic bridge is the current Gorge Highway bridge, which isn't exactly brand new either. It probably dates to when the highway was rerouted around the old tunnel, so it's roughly 60 years old at this point, versus a mere 40 year age difference between it and its predecessor. But the newer bridge is not part of the original highway, so nobody pays a lot of attention to it; a lot of bridge websites and so forth refer to the older bridge as "the" Oneonta Creek Bridge even though there's another one right next to it, plus additional bridges for the Union Pacific railroad and Interstate 84 a short walk downstream.

The observant reader might notice I've done posts about the tunnel and the bridge here, but not any about Oneonta Gorge itself, much less the hidden waterfall at the far end of the gorge. It's on my to-do list, it really is; it's just that a trip up Oneonta Gorge requires a bit of wading, which works a lot better in warm weather, and I haven't quite decided which electronics I'm willing to risk getting wet. There's a similar wading situation for Gorton Creek Falls further east in the Columbia Gorge; I've never actually been there, so that's higher up my priority list than Oneonta Gorge, but I plan on getting around to both sooner or later.

Oneonta Creek Bridge

Long before the bridge or the highway went in, Oneonta Gorge was inconvenient to visit. In an 1886 account of a trek to Oneonta Gorge, our heroes convinced the railroad to stop and let them off nearby. They waded up the gorge and were disappointed to realize the hike to the falls was rather shorter than they'd been told. So they switched to fishing for a while, and were surprised (and annoyed) to stumble across other visitors to the gorge. This is an eternal problem in the Columbia Gorge, even when you think you've found an out-of-the-way, obscure corner to have all to yourself for a while.

Oneonta Creek Bridge

Which brings me to a little adventure that isn't really on my todo list to repeat anytime soon. Some years ago it occurred to me that it was strange how little access to the Columbia River there is through this part of the Columbia Gorge. I-84 and the railroad are effectively a wall between all the popular tourist stops and the river. Oneonta Creek passes under I-84 in a big pipe, a culvert really, but one big enough for an adult person to clamber through without crawling or anything. Or at least that was possible circa 1994; I haven't checked since then. In any case, that's what I did, and found there was a big empty sandy beach along the river on the other side. Well, almost empty. I walked downstream along the beach for maybe a mile or so, and ran across a group of people with a little campfire on the beach. I think they might have just pulled off on the freeway shoulder and hopped over the barrier; I'm not sure where they came from, and I'm sure they wondered the same thing about me. Wary nods of acknowledgement were exchanged but I didn't stop and say hi or anything.

Further along, at Multnomah Falls, the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-84 diverge for a bit, and the main falls parking lot sits between them. I'd figured this was a good place to cut inland since you only had to get across the westbound side of I-84, and there was a perfectly nice tunnel under the eastbound lanes so visitors could get to get to the falls. The me of 2014 absolutely does not recommend doing this, but it's what 1994 me did. And then from Multnomah Falls I just walked along the Gorge Highway to get back to my car at the Oneonta Gorge parking lot. I don't recommend doing this either; there's little or no shoulder along much of the road, and passing cars and RVs to worry about. Plus the walk along the road just seemed a lot further than walking along the beach. At one point I did score a discarded cassette tape of mariachi music, which I probably still have around somewhere. All in all I wouldn't recommend it though, even with the random roadside finds. If for some reason you do decide to brave the pipe under I-84, and I'm not saying you should, and I don't know whether you even still can, but if you do, you should probably go back the same way you came and not try to make a big dumb loop out of it like I did.

Oneonta Tunnel

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

garage art, nw 13th & glisan

A while back, I was putting together a blog post about Urban Arrangements, the metal art on the otherwise blank walls of the downtown Nordstrom store. I was poking around the artist's website, looking at other things he'd done, and one photo looked rather familiar. It, and the photos here, are from the Chown Pella Lofts building at NW 13th & Glisan; the building has semi-underground parking, with open mesh windows on the Glisan side. It would probably be rather ugly if it didn't have this series of cheerful metal designs on the outside of the windows. I haven't found anything mentioning a name for the window art, and maybe there isn't one. But I've always kind of liked this one, and I figured I'd pass it along even if I didn't have any interesting trivia to share about it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

In the Tree Tops

Some photos of In the Tree Tops, the pair of bright red figures at NE 12th & Broadway, at an outdoor portion of Lloyd Center Mall. Walking Portland mentions that this was one of the artworks selected by the mall's owners when Lloyd Center was reconstructed in 1990, along with the Capitalism fountain at the mall's SW corner; the Free Flow fountain in the south-side parking garage; the house-shaped display boxes of consumer goods in the same garage; and probably a few others here and there that I'm not aware of. The artist's website just mentions In the Tree Tops in passing in her bio.

Some time in the 1990s (I'm not sure which year), Willamette Week's annual Best of Portland issue proclaimed it "Best Public Sculpture":

In a breezeway between Northeast Weidler Street and Broadway, in what was once part of the Lloyd Center back before its open-air corridors were enclosed by cheap siding, right outside the last Newberry's in town, stands one of the weirdest sculptures in Portland, a city rotten with weird public art.IN THE TREETOPS, or The Radish People, as it's affectionately known, consists of two humanoid figures standing side by side, their red, semi-glossy skin innocently unadorned. On top of their bony, elongated bodies perch gentle, Modigliani-style heads that gaze down tenderly at a house-shaped stone cradled in their long, extraterrestrial fingers. Out of their downturned heads grow lobster-red branches sprouting bright green leaves, and both pairs of skinny legs end in a single, tangled rootball. Are they emissaries from an underground kingdom? Mascots of a vanished Oregon industry? Like some misbegotten gene-splice between Will Vinton and Giacometti, the radish people are at once crude and empathetic, cutesy and mysterious, adorable and horrifying. Mostly adorable, though.

I've never heard anyone call it "The Radish People". Maybe that was a short-lived fad. I was about to say "The Radish People" was also a cheap 50s Sci-Fi movie, but I was probably thinking of "Attack of the Mushroom People". An honest mistake on my part.

This is about all the info I've got for you, but I did come across a fair number photos other people have taken of In the Tree Tops. It seems to attract passing cyclists a lot, for whatever reason. Here's a selection:

Vincent, Waiting for Alice

In SW Portland's Pendleton Park, a giant 8' rabbit statue watches over the playground. This is Vincent, Waiting for Alice. It's yet another Keith Jellum sculpture; at this point I've lost track of how many of those I've covered here. I'm honestly not seeking them out particularly, but I keep running into them everywhere, all the time. In any case, he has a blurb about Vincent, Waiting for Alice on its RACC page:

In Louis Carroll's “Alice in Wonderland,” Alice is lured into her journey by the site of a white rabbit that keeps dashing out of sight, just beyond her reach. At one point in the tale, Alice finally encounters the white rabbit that is late for a party given by the duchess. However, the rabbit has misplaced its gloves and fan and sends Alice to retrieve them. As an adult, I still delight in the playfulness of this story and see it as a metaphor for pursuing one's dreams - even when the dream seems beyond one's reach. May your imaginations run wild in the pursuit of dreams!

Designing a giant Lewis Carroll rabbit is probably harder than it sounds; you have to avoid anything that remotely resembles a character from the Disney version, because lawyers, or any Warner Bros. rabbit character, because other lawyers, and you also have to avoid making a terrifying Donnie Darko rabbit. Ok, a scary Donnie Darko rabbit statue actually sounds kind of awesome, but there would be Concerned Neighborhood Parents if you tried that, especially in this part of town. And then you'd get insufferable indie film dudes making pilgrimages here from across the globe, bored significant others in tow, which is not exactly an improvement over neighborhood kids having a normal fun day at the park.

I don't really have any more material about this particular rabbit, but YouTube is full of random video clips about giant rabbits, Carroll-esque or otherwise, so here's a brief selection.

Dr. McCoy's run-in with a giant Alice in Wonderland rabbit (which is actually a robot), from the original Star Trek episode Shore Leave

Donnie Darko:

The aforementioned Donnie Darko rabbit. Apparently he's named "Frank".

"White Rabbit", the Jefferson Airplane song. (Pssst! It's about drugs! *clutches pearls*)

And, most terrifyingly of all, a bit of vintage Easter ragtime piano from the Lawrence Welk show, because the 70s were a dark and primitive time.

Dwight S. Parr Park

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I was out in deep westside suburbia last weekend running some errands, and I stopped for lunch at a teriyaki place I used to frequent back when I lived out there. I'd forgotten there was a tiny park next to the restaurant; once I noticed that, I figured I ought to take a couple of quick photos and see what I could could come up with about the place. Dwight S. Parr Park (a.k.a. "Dwight S. Parr Woods Natural Area") only comes to 0.63 acres, and the entire park is a stand of old, tall conifer trees, with a short path winding around between them. Taking the trees into account, it's possible the park is actually taller than it is wide.

Dwight S. Parr Park

From what I can tell, the park's named after Dwight S. Parr Jr., former president of Parr Lumber, and son of the company's founder. The missing parts of the story here are a.) How a postage-stamp sized chunk of forest came to be preserved while suburbia sprawled out all around it, and b.) How it came to be named after a lumber and building supply CEO. Spidey sense says there might be an interesting story here, but it happened in the 'burbs so the Oregonian didn't cover it, and Beaverton's Valley Times doesn't seem to have online archives available. Apparently the UO Library in Eugene has the Valley Times on microfilm, but that just seems impossibly inconvenient; I don't even know what year to search for, for one thing. So if you happened to come across this humble blog and can fill in some of the missing parts of the story, feel free to leave a comment below. Thx. Mgmt.

Dwight S. Parr Park

Prowform and Propform

A few photos of Prowform and Propform, a pair of public artworks at the Prescott St. MAX station. Prowform is a construction of tubes and vanes at the north end of the station, designed to sorta-resemble the prow of a ship (allegedly), while Propform is the rusty propeller shape in the nearby "Prescott Biozone". Said biozone is of the region's seemingly endless demonstration projects around trying to mange stormwater in an artsy and upscale sort of way. The city's Bureau of Environmental Services maintains a list of such projects, which describes Prowform and Propform thusly:

Brian Borrello and Valerie Otani, Artists; 2004 These sculptures, inspired by the historical ship building industry on Swan Island, are artful representations of the history of the area, as well as innovative approaches to managing stormwater.
MAX Yellow Line art guide says of the two, "A stainless steel "ship's prow" gathers rainwater and funnels it to a greenspace.", and "A rusted steel propeller sculpture flowers amidst a swirling pattern of grasses."

I'm not sure what the process was for choosing an overall theme for each MAX station. Generally they're supposed to reference the local neighborhood somehow, and they picked the maritime industries of Swan Island for this one. That's a reasonable choice. So far, so good. But they also had to include a positive environmental / educational message about stormwater management, for whatever reason, and figure out how to mash the two ideas together. These two themes don't have any obvious synergies, which may be why we ended up with a pair of nautical-themed downspouts. I'm not sure what else they could have made and still stayed within the prescribed themes, quite honestly.

It's odd that we have an actual genre of stormwater-themed art here. Maybe I'm the only person who thinks that, I dunno. In recent decades the city's Bureau of Environmental Services (the delicately-named sewer agency) has tackled the multi-billion-dollar Big Pipe and other big-ticket capital projects, and the 1% for Art rules apply to them as much as anyone else, so I suppose that makes for a large pot of money to draw from. For that kind of money we could probably have gotten ourselves a giant gold statue of South Park's Mr. Hankey, or maybe some Futurama sewer mutants, but for whatever reason the city prefers art that focuses strictly on the boring rainwater side of their business. Like Prowform and Propform, Eye River near OMSI has a focus on our heroic struggle against the endless, pitiless rains. Memorial Inscription near PSU isn't water-themed itself, but it's part of a mini-plaza that also includes educational displays so college students can learn important truths about the rain, our friend, constant companion, and eternal adversary. Or whatever.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Hooray for Hollywood

I was wandering through the Hollywood District recently, taking photos of a few items on my todo list, which you'll see here sooner or later. Since I was in the area anyway, the public art map on PortlandMaps listed something called Hooray for Hollywood nearby, and it turns out to be a set of stained glass windows at the Hollywood public library. Generally speaking I'm not sure that stained glass is in scope for this little project of mine, but it was on the way, so I figured I'd walk past and take a couple of quick photos. The RACC page for it includes a brief description from Peter Mollica, the artist:

"I think of these windows as colored glass companions to the books. I hope that during visits to the library, patrons will begin to see forms in the windows that remind them of things they have seen or thought about in the rest of their lives."
Hooray for Hollywood

His page about Hooray for Hollywood has a few more photos of parts I missed. Apparently he's rather well known in the stained glass world. He has a Wikipedia bio (which includes photos of other works of his), and Amazon carries his textbooks teaching stained glass techniques. I didn't know any of this, which just goes to show how little I know about contemporary stained glass, I guess.

Oregon Korean War Memorial, Wilsonville

A few photos of the Oregon Korean War Memorial, in Wilsonville's Town Center Park, one of a small number of Korean War memorials around the state.

You might notice that, along with the US, Oregon, and POW/MIA flags, the memorial flies a United Nations flag. The flag's there because the war was fought under the banner of the United Nations Command, and the same UN organization is technically in charge of forces in South Korea to this day (though in actuality it's only been US and South Korean forces for decades now.) To be honest, a big reason I stopped was to see whether the UN flag was still there or not. Shortly after the memorial opened, there was an ugly episode of right wing hysteria about the UN flag flying at the memorial, with the usual Bircher mutterings about one-world government and so forth. There doesn't seem to have been a repeat of the episode, or at least it hasn't made it into the Oregonian since then.

Arch with Oaks

If you live or work in Portland's western suburbs, you've probably driven the Sunset Highway more times than you can count. And at least one of these times, you were probably stuck in traffic next to the giant steel archway next to the eastbound lanes of Sunset, just east of the Cornell/158th exit you probably should have taken to avoid this traffic snarl. If you were really bored, you might have wondered what the deal is with this arch. It's even possible you're stuck in traffic right now and you're googling the arch on your phone. Anyway, today's your lucky day, other than the whole traffic nightmare obviously. This arch is called Arch with Oaks, and it belongs to the surrounding Cornell Oaks Corporate Center business park. It was created in 1986 by Lee Kelly, a prominent local sculptor since time immemorial. There are a lot more works of his around Portland, mostly closer to downtown; I've covered enough of them here that I've added a 'kelly' tag to the posts to keep track of them all. Despite that I wouldn't characterize myself as a fan, for the most part. I'll make an exception for the arch, though. I actually like this one.

The Smithsonian art inventory page for it (the first link) says it's 30' high. Kelly's website says it's either 38' or 48' feet high depending on which page you're looking at. I'm terrible at guessing heights, but the 38' number feels about right.

A September 11th, 1986 Oregonian article about Arch with Oaks explains that the developers opted for a giant arch sculpture instead of a traditional sign as a sign of "quality", to attract a better sort of tenant to their shiny new business park. Plus it was a gift to the community and a symbol for the entire Sunset Corridor. It probably didn't hurt that the arch cost them $100,000 in 1986 dollars, while an ordinary sign was estimated to run around $130,000. Pretty sure everyone loves to talk about quality and aesthetics when it's saving them $30k, roughly the price of a new BMW 3 series back then.

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It took a while to figure out how to visit Arch with Oaks. It sits astride a creek in a open area in the business park, north of Greenbrier Parkway next to the FOX 12 TV studios. I came by on a weekend morning, parked in the studio's visitor parking lot, and took a lightly used walking trail over to the arch. It turns out there's actually a "Private Property, No Trespassing" sign right next to the arch to discourage people from standing under it, I guess, although I didn't notice any taser-happy security guards lurking around while I was there. Your mileage may vary, obviously. (Oh, and there's apparently a geocache somewhere nearby, if you're into that sort of thing.)

Oh, and not to be pedantic here, but most of the trees near the arch are willows, not oaks. There are a couple of oak trees next to the office building on the opposite side of the creek, but they aren't a prominent presence around the arch, so the name seems just a little misleading. Maybe there were more oak trees here before this part of the office park was built out. Sort of like the old cliche about subdivisions being named after what they replaced ("Aspen Grove", "Pacific Vista", that sort of thing).

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Second Growth

Here are a few photos of Second Growth, the art at the Albina/Mississippi MAX station. It follows a common design in recent TriMet art: A visual riff on the local neighborhood, set on top of a pole so casual vandals can't reach it. I think I'm going to start calling these things "lollipops". Anyway, TriMet's yellow line Art guide describes the concept behind the station:

Wayne Chabre created symbols of the indomitable spirit of the community.

  • A bronze, tree-like vine flowers with forms representing the arts of the area.
  • Bronze benches incorporate images from neighborhood industries.
  • The community map by Chabre and Jeanne McMenemy features lyrics of songs from cultures of historic importance to Albina.
  • Works by Jacob Pander and Bill Rutherford are reproduced in porcelain enamel on steel.

Second Growth is the bronze tree-like vine. The artist's website describes it:

This piece celebrates the history of the surrounding neighborhood, where jazz clubs flourished in the 20s & 30s; an area that is now largely industrial, but which continues to re-imagine itself. It is home to such diverse enterprises as a brewery and an art glass factory, two of several businesses that are represented in the sculpture.

Chabre also created Connections at the county office building on Hawthorne, which I rather liked. There's an obvious family resemblance between the two pieces.

A Daily Journal of Commerce story about Second Growth says "The piece of art – a plant bursting from the pavement and flowering into musical and art icons – is designed to symbolize the surrounding area’s urban renewal rebirth after years of battling neglect and racism." This interpretation is sort of... problematic. Redemption via urban renewal is not, strictly speaking, what really happened to NE Portland. Not during the heyday of urban renewal in the 60s and 70s, and not now in the era of transit-driven gentrification. I realize the DJC is a business paper focusing on the construction trade, but still. When the PDC bulldozers came to this part of town, they were not greeted as liberators. Call me crazy if you want, but I like to think that historical accuracy still matters.

Water, Please

The Water, Please sculpture sits along the Willamette River at Portland's Water Pollution Control Laboratory, just south of the St. Johns Bridge. Despite the name, it's actually kind of a swanky looking building, and I wouldn't mind having an office there, at least if I was in the water pollution business. The sculpture, naturally, has a water theme. RACC describes it thusly:

This piece frames the essential and eternal relationship between man and water. The sculpture establishes a parity between a drop of water and a human being, both of which emanate ripples of effect and consequences on each other.

This sounds incredibly groovy, but I admit I'm not really seeing it, myself. Maybe you're supposed to bring your preferred mind-altering substance along, in order to really dig the whole parity between people and drops of water thing. In any case, the sculptor also created Drivers Seat, which appeared here way back in 2007.

The half-raindrop part of the sculpture appears to double as a picnic table, with the inner ripples serving as seats. They're just curved pipes though, so it's not exactly the world's most comfy picnic spot. I guess it's an opportunity to suffer for art, if you're into that sort of thing.

Bishop's Cap

Some photos of Bishop's Cap, the giant rock formation on the Gorge Highway just east of Shepperds Dell Falls. If you search for info about it, much of what you'll see are old vintage photos and postcards from the early 20th century. Couple of reasons for this. First, the rock is much less visible than it once was, as logging is no longer allowed here and the surrounding forest has grown up around it. Second, gazing at unusual rock formations doesn't enjoy the same vogue it did a century or so ago. These are the same reasons the once-famous balancing rock at Coalca Landing, south of Oregon City, is largely forgotten now. Likewise the "Pillars of Hercules" at the overlook near Bridal Veil Falls. There are a couple of exceptions in the gorge: Rooster Rock has its own state park (although it's more famous for its clothing-optional beach), and Angels Rest is one of the rare major trailheads that isn't named after a waterfall. But for the most part the Gorge's rock formations and their melodramatic Victorian names have been consigned to the history books. (Crown Point was once called "Thor's Crown" if that gives an idea of how melodramatic these names often were.)

Bishop's Cap

For those of you who weren't paying attention in Catholic school, an actual bishop's cap is called a "mitre". Based on the old postcard views of the rock, I guess there's a resemblance, in the sense that they're both sort of rounded and taller than they are wide. Oregon: End of the Trail, a 1940 WPA-produced tour guide, insists it was also known as "Mushroom Rock" at that time. That name doesn't seem to have endured, probably because the rock looks nothing like any mushroom I've ever seen. Besides, a name like "Mushroom Rock" just isn't melodramatic enough for the Gorge.

A 2011 study for the state's Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee (which is different than the Columbia Gorge Commission) noted that views from the old highway were increasingly blocked by trees and bushes, and proposed that a short list of protected "viewsheds" be established where vegetation could be removed to protect the view. The area around Bishop's Cap was on the short list for protection, but it's not clear what the current status of this proposal is. If the proposal involves chopping down trees so drivers could get a better look at an enormous rock, I'm not sure I'd be in favor of that, to be honest.

Bishop's Cap

Bishop's Cap featured in a November 1949 Oregonian article "Tourist Treasure for Oregon" about the state's many scenic wonders and how we might lure more out-of-state visitors to come see them, which suggests it wasn't completely obscured by trees at that point. The "Mushroom Rock" name also showed up in the Oregonian once, in the February 12th, 1922 paper, in something titled "A Song of the Columbia River Highway", by C. Louis Barzee, a history teacher at Benson High School. There's no music provided to go with the words so I assume by "song" they meant "epic poem". I can't really offer an opinion about its merits; my eyes keep glazing over at the sight of a poem that long, and I can't seem to read enough in one sitting to decide whether it's any good.

The place names might not have faded out of public awareness if rock climbing was more popular in the Gorge. Looking at all the sheer cliffs and spires and so forth you'd think it would be, but it turns out the rock itself is crumbly and treacherous, "rotten" in rock climbing parlance. There are a few spots where it has some popularity: Broughton Bluff at the far west end of the Gorge, and Rooster Rock, but overall it seems to be kind of a rare activity, at least that I'm aware of. Those are the only two places I've ever seen people climbing, at any rate. I found one trip report (with lots of photos) from someone who climbed St. Peter's Dome a bit further east in the Gorge. They were obviously a group of hardcore climbers and the report sounds like they have no intention of ever going back there ever again. Let me go ahead and say that if you ever see a post here about the top of St. Peter's Dome, or any of the similar pointy bits around the gorge, and I haven't made it explicitly clear that it's a guest post, you should assume I've been hacked and alert Google or the authorities or somebody.

Kingsley Park expedition

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One of the things I like to do here is track down strange and obscure places and things around Portland. Ok, that's actually the majority of what I do here. Over time I've realized my idea of "strange" is maybe not the standard one. If you're here to scout locations for a travel show about "Weird Portland" or "Historic Portland", you will find plenty of material here, but you'll also be scratching your head a lot wondering what on earth I was doing at such-and-such a place and why I wasted my time going there and writing about it. This is one of those times, I'm afraid. I've never made it a goal of mine to visit every single city park in town. Most of them are your basic neighborhood park, with a baseball field or two and maybe some playground equipment. Some have an interesting history behind them, like Irving Park in NE Portland, but (at least as far as I know) most don't have a lot to offer if you're looking for the strange and obscure.

Kingsley Park was intended to be another nice, mundane place like that, albeit a small and remote one. It's part of the Linnton neighborhood, in the far northwest corner of Portland, on US 30 a few miles beyond the St. Johns bridge. The park was donated to the city in 1925, a gift from E.D. Kingsley, president & general manager of the West Oregon Lumber company. Linnton was already a mix of residential and industrial land by then, and the park sat between Kingsley's West Oregon sawmill, and an Associated Oil plant. The article explained Kingsley's reasoning behind the donation:

In presenting the new site to the city Mr. Kingsley declared that he had been planning the move for years to provide proper play facilities for Linnton's increasing child population. Children heretofore have been forced to play in the streets or around the industrial plants of the district.

"Day by day I have seen little ones playing by the roadside with automobiles tearing by at 40 or 50 miles an hour," said Mr. Kingsley. "My blood has run cold at the thought of what might be the outcome. In fact, only a short time ago two lads were run over by a reckless driver, and there have been numerous other accidents."

At present the park is simply a small flat grassy area without any facilities, at least any that I noticed during my brief stop there. The only entrance is a sort of narrow driveway that angles off from the entrance to the huge oil tank farm next door. The photo above is looking down the driveway toward the park. In early 2013 the local neighborhood association applied for a city grant to improve (or re-improve) the place:

The request by the Linnton Neighborhood Association is for funds to develop Kingsley Park a 1.14 acre facility located in Linnton. The land was donated to the City of Portland in 1924 for use as a park and playground facility and until 1971 had playground equipment. The request is intended to provide for fencing, plants, trees, a pathway and for grading of the land. The fencing will be along the side of the park that is parallel to the train track—to reduce the risk of injury to children while playing in the park. This is the only facility of its kind in the Linnton neighborhood. Highway 30 is the west boundary of the park and the east boundary is the rail road line. The proposed fencing would create the north and south boundaries.

A $27,000 grant was awarded in August 2013. In addition to the improvements mentioned above, the neighborhood association is investigating putting in a community garden. Apparently the ground's been tested and judged safe for food production, despite being between an oil tank farm and a fiberglass plant.

In addition to the loss of playground equipment, the park's also lost area over time. Part of the park was shaved off in 1962 as part of widening US 30.

The land between Kingsley Park and the river is an empty industrial brownfield area. It's owned by the fiberglass plant nearby, and I don't know what the future holds for it. Whether it would be redeveloped with a new industrial use, or possibly as open space, or possibly it's too contaminated to do anything with. Right now Linnton is in the weird situation of being an old, historic river community with no public river access at all. I have no idea whether public access to the river is possible here, but the local neighborhood association is lobbying for it. The Port of Portland's Terminal 4 is directly across the river, so the view would be unsatisfying for anyone looking to commune with nature, but it would afford an unusual perspective, and there would be a lot of huge passing ships to watch.

Montgomery Circle

Today's adventure takes us to the Riverplace neighborhood, on the Willamette at the south end of downtown Portland. If this was a normal website, we'd be here to review a restaurant, or rant about the real estate market, or maybe take up rowing or something. But no, we're here because of a traffic circle. Seriously. I'd sort of realized after the fact that I'd already done posts about several of the city's few traffic circles without it being an actual project. I don't think there's an authoritative list of them anywhere, but we don't have a lot here, and I think I may have covered most of them already without even trying. So I figured, why not do a couple of others and collect the whole set?

If you've ever watched the Tour de France, or most any European bike race, sooner or later the peloton encounters a traffic circle. Usually the riders split and take both sides around the circle, joining back together on the other side. The race usually cuts to a helicopter shot at this point because it's a cool visual. If you watch long enough, you'll notice that each circle typically has something in the center to make it unlike all the other circles in town: Art, a fountain, trees, roses, an Arc de Triomphe, that sort of thing. So there's an aesthetic component to this little undertaking, at least some of the time.

Which brings us to Montgomery Circle, at the corner of SW Montgomery St. & River Drive, next to South Waterfront Park. It's not really a busy intersection, and it's just two streets meeting at a right angle, so -- like most of the other traffic circles around town -- it's here to look decorative and upscale-European rather than to solve a genuine traffic flow problem. Visiting Europeans probably think this is hilarious, and they're just too polite to mention it.

Other traffic circles in town:

This is not counting the miniature traffic circles the city likes to install as traffic calming devices. They aren't really individually distinctive and there's just way too many of them. It would be like writing about each speed bump around the city. That would be way too far down the rabbit hole, even for me.

Before anyone chimes in to try to out-pedantic me, I'm using the term "traffic circle" in a generic sense here. So long as it's a round-ish bit of road, surrounding a round-ish bit of non-road, I'm using "traffic circle" regardless of exactly how its traffic control works. Transit nerds and bike nerds get really wound up about this stuff. It seems that if there aren't yield signs for traffic entering the circle, it's actually a "roundabout", a completely different animal, and roundabouts are more European and generally the One True Way, if only our fair city would give them a try. Etcetera, etc.

flowers, ultraviolet flowers, ultraviolet

Monday, January 06, 2014

Mosier Creek Falls

A few photos of Mosier Creek Falls, in the small Columbia Gorge town of Mosier, between Hood River and The Dalles. Mosier Creek and its waterfall are in a narrow canyon on the east side of the town, with houses lining most of the canyon. The setting is unique for the Gorge, and looks more like the Bend area than parts of the Gorge further to the west.

I don't recall there being a sign for the falls specifically, but they're easy to find once you know the trick. If you're heading east on the old Gorge Highway from central Mosier, you'll pass over the historic Mosier Creek Bridge. Immediately across the bridge, on your right is the local pioneer cemetery. Look for a park bench that doubles as the cemetery sign. You want to park somewhere in this area, and then walk through the cemetery, generally following the creek/canyon upstream. Be sure to heed the warning signs about rattlesnakes. I didn't see any when I was there, but they do exist in Eastern Oregon, so better safe than sorry and all that. Before long the trail will lead you to a view of the falls from above.

The falls rush down a steep rock face but don't plummet straight down like some waterfalls do. This means it's possible to raft or kayak down the falls without necessarily crashing bow-first into rocks at the bottom and being horribly mutilated, assuming you're skilled and/or reckless enough to try such a thing. It's not something I have any personal interest in ever doing, but there are insane videos on YouTube if you're curious.


The Oregon state office building near Lloyd Center is home to Ideals, an odd and spooky little statue at the corner of NE 7th Avenue and Oregon St. Its Smithsonian art inventory entry describes it as:

Standing female-like figure in the form of a hooded drapery garment with no visible figure inside. The proper left arm is raised.

The sculptor, Muriel Castanis, was known for this sort of figure. Her technique involved draping resin-coated fabric over store mannequins, and removing the mannequin once the resin had hardened. The finished product was typically a bronze duplicate of the original form. A search for other works of hers in the Smithsonian database shows that many of the others look quite similar to Ideals. The Portland Public Art blog griped about this some years ago. I don't entirely buy that argument. It's not that rare for an artist to stick with a technique that's led to a steady stream of commissions and sales in the past. This may be more notable here because Castanis's style is so distinctive. Generally whenever you're doing bronze castings of something, there's a possibility of making more than one copy of the same design. You can either call that "commercial" and sneer, or accept it as part of the nature of the medium. I guess I don't feel particularly harmed by other cities having their own draped-fabric, invisible-figure sculptures, and I don't see how one is devalued by the existence of others, either identical or similar, unless we're talking in a purely monetary, supply-and-demand sense. And in that case, if the local one isn't for sale, who really cares whether the others are sufficiently rare and expensive? I'm just not seeing the point there.

Her 2006 New York Times obit points out that Castanis was self-taught (which the art world generally sees as a Bad Thing), and only took up art in earnest after raising a family (which I understand is also a Bad Thing, at least in the more traditionalist, male-dominated parts of the art world). The gatekeepers seem a bit puzzled how someone like this managed to sneak into their clubhouse, and, moreover, make a living at it.

Her most famous works are probably the "corporate goddesses" atop a Philip Johnson skyscraper in San Francisco. At one point these and other works of hers were hailed (or derided) as major works of postmodernism, full of Classical references emptied of their traditional meanings. Standing outside a government office building, it looks like it's been put there to make some sort of statement, like the blindfolded Justice statues of old, but there's no specific meaning intended here; that's the whole point. By buying Ideals, the state was tracking the cutting edge (or at least the current fad) in the contemporary art world, which is something that we almost never do here. This is especially surprising so soon after the city's unhappy experience with the Portland Building. Art movements and trends come and go, of course, and postmodernism is no longer the irresistible shiny object it was twenty years ago. Back then, I once took an entire college class dedicated to the notion that postmodernity was going to overturn everything we knew about the social sciences as well as the arts. Nobody really talks about that anymore. It's probably just as well, although I did get an 'A' in the class and it would be nice to think I went to all that trouble for an idea with a longer shelf life. (Although at the time I was sure those PoliSci classes on the politics of the USSR and Warsaw Pact would be valuable too.) In any case, Ideals isn't contemporary anymore, and it's not yet old enough to be interesting from an art history standpoint. Maybe in another generation or so, the people who decide what's officially important will stumble across the weird buildings and paintings and statues of the late 80s and early 90s, and someone will write the definitive book, and suddenly major museums and collectors will be crazy for the stuff. That's what usually happens, anyway, and I don't see why it would be any different for a movement that proudly embraced the idea of art as commodity.

But do I like Ideals? Yes, I think I do. I posted an Instagram photo a while back calling it the "Ringwraith Statue of Liberty". That sounds kind of pejorative, but I didn't really mean it that way. The strange thing is that it seems a lot less spooky in person than it does in photos. That might be because it's sort of hobbit-sized in real life and doesn't seem all that ominous at that scale.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Plaza Square, St. Helens

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St. Helens, OR, is home to the historic Columbia County Courthouse (1906), which (uniquely in Oregon) has an honest-to-goodness courthouse square out front. St. Helens City Hall sits nearby, the town's main street runs along the far end of the square, and Columbia View Park on the river is steps away on the other side of City Hall. The whole arrangement goes way past cute into serious twee, at least if you ignore the ugly 1960s addition next door to the original courthouse. I wouldn't be surprised if the word "Mayberry" gets used a lot here. I don't think I've ever actually seen an episode of the Andy Griffith Show, so I can't vouch for the pop culture reference myself. Ralph Friedman's In Search of Western Oregon (1990) says it has the "sleepy look of an Andy Hardy movie". I haven't seen any Andy Hardy movies so I can't personally vouch for that either. To go with a more Generation X pop culture reference instead, it actually reminds me of the Courthouse Square set used in the Back to the Future films, although the courthouse itself looks nothing like the one in the movies.

A narrow path meanders its way around the square. Titled "down the trodden path", it commemorates the journey of the Lewis and Clark expedition along the Columbia River.

The square is home to the city's municipal Christmas Tree each year, and -- more unusually -- hosts a pumpkin lighting in early October to mark a month of Halloween festivities. Apparently the city started this tradition after Halloweentown, a 1998 Disney film, was filmed here. The town's a popular filming location, actually; several locations around town were used in the original Twilight film, and the Governor's Office of Film and Television markets the town as a good shooting location.

For those of you who come here for the really pedantic stuff -- and I like to imagine you exist -- I have a couple of items for you, namely the ever-popular questions "What's it called?" and "Who owns it?". Just going by internet search results, people seem to just call it the town square, the courthouse square, or the Plaza a lot. The streets on the north and south sides of the park are labeled "Plaza Square", so I'm assuming that's the official name & going with that for lack of anything more definitive (although the park's a rectangle and not a square, technically). I don't have anything more definitive because it's not a St. Helens city park as you might expect; the county GIS system says the county owns it, but it's also not listed as a regular Columbia County park either. I imagine it's just considered part of the courthouse grounds or something. The only relevance of this being that it sort of falls through the cracks, internet-wise, and I don't have as much material as I otherwise would. I did find the lists of city and county parks while I was searching, so at least I've got those filed away for the next time I'm in the area.

Liberty Bell, Portland City Hall

If you walk past the 4th Avenue side of Portland's City Hall, you might notice a replica Liberty Bell installed on the north end of the grounds. There's an interesting history behind it, so it seemed like it was worth a blog post. For those of you from outside the US, and those who slept through US history class in grade school, the original Liberty Bell is a large bell commissioned for the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) in 1752. Various apocryphal stories have grown up around it, particularly that it was rung on July 4th, 1776 to mark the Declaration of Independence. It's become famous for that event (which didn't actually happen), and for the long jagged crack that renders it unusable as a bell. As far as historians can tell it played no actual role in the American Revolution, but all the same it's been a national symbol since before the Civil War.

In the years between 1885 and 1915, the Liberty Bell was sent around the country several times on publicity tours, until concerns about wear and tear, souvenir-hunting, and additional cracking brought an end to its touring days. On its very last trip, the bell traveled west, headed to San Francisco's Panama-Pacific Exposition. A public petition drive led to the Liberty Bell making a brief five-hour stop in Portland on the morning of July 15th, 1915. The train arrived at Union Station, the bell traveling in its own special rail car. In those days there was still a railroad line up 4th Avenue, so they simply switched the bell's car to a local locomotive and hauled it up 4th to the Multnomah County Courthouse, where it was displayed to the public for a few hours. There was a parade by the state militia, and the city welcoming committee did its best to entertain the dignitaries traveling with the bell. When its stay concluded, they hauled the bell back to Union Station and its regular train, and it left town, never to return.

Nearly 50 years later, a retired local businessman decided the city needed its own Liberty Bell replica, and started a fundraising campaign to buy one. He had been under the impression that no exact duplicates of the original existed, and was surprised to learn that Salem had gotten one (along with the capitols of other US states & territories) in the early 1950s. He was undeterred, however, and Portland's bell arrived in June 1963, just before the 4th of July. The bell was slightly banged up on arrival. It came with a 25 year warranty against breakage. These two facts strike me as odd for a deliberately broken bell. The bell also arrived without the city having a clear idea of where it was going to go. Several sites were proposed, notably the now all-but-forgotten World War II memorial at Memorial Coliseum. After a year of handwringing they decided to leave it at City Hall. A year later, a plaque was added nearby honoring Henry J. Casey, the retired businessman whose idea this was.

This bell had a very short career, however. On the night of November 21st, 1970, a bomb exploded in Portland's City Hall, shattering the bell and heavily damaging the city council chambers. (Photos of the damage here and here.) No deaths or serious injuries resulted, however. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, and no arrests have ever been made. News accounts generally assume there was a political motive of some sort, with 60s radicals the default suspects. And that's one possibility, certainly. But it could just as easily have been someone with a more personal beef at City Hall. Anger over a big building code fine, say, or denial of a requested permit, or a grievance over taxes. Or it could have been someone just obeying the little voices. At this point we'll probably never know for sure unless someone makes a deathbed confession.

In 2006, the City Hall bombing was referenced by a traveling art project, The School of Panamerican Unrest:

The topic of Helguera's panels and discussions changes with each location. On Tuesday evening, Helguera—along with a panel that includes Red 76's Sam Gould, Harrell Fletcher, and Ian Greenfield (Lightbox Studios and the Oregon Bus Project—will engage in a panel discussion on The Portland Liberty Bell: Questions on Civil Disobedience. "On Nov. 21, 1970, a powerful bomb exploded behind Portland's City Hall, and arguably destroyed the State's bronze replica of the Liberty Bell. A urban myth that the Portland Liberty Bell was destroyed has never been fully dispelled, along with the open mystery of who carried out this and other terrorist acts—although it was largely suspected of students and civilian activists. This discussion explores that historic moment in Portland and the US and will include a discussion civil life and unresolved social or political conflict."

In any case, the city soon resolved to replace the original bell. This time there were issues with the bell being cast improperly (that is, a deliberately cracked bell was alleged to have been made incorrectly), and the city and the bell foundry argued over it for three years while the bell sat in storage. It was finally unveiled in Terry Schrunk Plaza in 1975. The city ended up paying $6000 for the replacement bell, a $2000 discount due to the manufacturing problems. This is cheaper than the $12,000 original bell, probably because over a ton of the original bell's metal was recycled into the new bell. In recent years, the replacement bell was moved across the street back to the City Hall grounds where it now stands.