Sunday, February 09, 2014

Fenwick Pocket Park


A couple of photos of tiny Fenwick Pocket Park, at N. Interstate Avenue & Fenwick Avenue, not far from the Kenton MAX station. This was yet another piece of the public art project around the MAX station, other parts being Paul Bunyan, the blue ox hooves nearby, and some cattle designs at the station platform. The main event here is a set of architectural elements salvaged from the old Portland Union Stockyards building, once located just north of the Kenton neighborhood until it was demolished in 1998. The Yellow Line art guide says:

Fenwick Pocket Park
  • Terracotta fragments came from the Portland Union Stockyards building.
  • A mosaic medallion from the building's entryway was restored and embellished with a border.

I suppose they had to create a separate nano-park for the stockyard stuff; siting it in the same place as the Babe the Blue Ox hooves probably would have been in poor taste.


The stockyards were once a huge regional operation, the largest stockyard in the Northwest, and the major employer in this part of the city, and now they've entirely vanished, gone the way of the old Forestry Center building, the cable car ramp in Goose Hollow, and the giant Richfield sign in the West Hills. A 1956 Oregon State University agricultural bulletin, "The Portland Union Stock Yards, A Case Study in Livestock Marketing" explained how the stockyards operated, toward the tail end of their heyday.

The essential points of the Chicago Stockyards system that have been followed so closely by the other 65 stockyards markets of the United States are: (1) one corporation owns all the pens, scales, and feeding and loading facilities; (2) anyone is permitted to buy or sell but sellers usually employ a commission man who is familiar with the market to do his selling; (3) anyone with proper financial and moral responsibility may engage in the commission business, subject to approval by the United States Packers and Stockyards Division.

In addition to providing a trading place, al of these stockyards still perform their original functions of loading, unloading, feeding, and watering all animals arriving or leaving regardless of whether they are offered for sale. At some stockyards, such as Ogden and SaltLake, more than half of the animals arriving are merely stopped for feed, water, and rest and are then reloaded for other destinations, al without being offered for sale. In contrast, at Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, very few animals are reloaded for other destinations.
detail, fenwick pocket park

A PSU history project about the Kenton neighborhood (in connection with the MAX Yellow Line) explains that the decline and eventual closure came as the industry no longer needed a centralized middleman. The effect on the surrounding neighborhood was predictable.

By mid-century, however, the industry began to change. Centralized stockyards declined in popularity and the businesses that had long defined the landscape and lives of Kenton began to close. In 1966 the Swift Meat Company closed its doors. Just a few short years later, the Portland Stockyards closed after suffering years of declining sales. The once solidly working-class neighborhood fell into decline. Crime increased as businesses shut their doors, and long-time residents moved in search of jobs.

The paper then moves on to some wide-eyed enthusiasm about the coming renaissance of Kenton with mass transit and gentrification for all. Whatever. Anyway, elsewhere I ran across a couple of vintage stockyards photos if you're curious at all. Though obviously photos can't convey what it must have smelled like.


I realize I'm pointing out this fact about cows at my peril; the last time I pointed out that cows don't smell so great, a bunch of angry Facebook people showed up to complain about the fancy city slicker who doesn't know where food comes from. Trust me, my uncle had cows when I was a kid. I know where cheeseburgers come from. Doesn't mean I'm going to pretend cows smell like expensive cologne or fresh cookies baking or something. I mean, go ahead and complain anyway, I won't stop you. I'll even refund every cent you paid me to read this, if it makes you feel any better. Deal?

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