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.

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