Friday, May 30, 2014

Dance Horse

Today's spooky item from outside the Portland Art Museum is Dance Horse by Deborah Butterfield, who has specialized in abstracted horse designs like this.

I admit this thing kind of creeps me out. There's something sort of primordial about it, like a horse from a Lascaux cave painting. But it also looks like a skeleton, or maybe a horse golem made of driftwood.

I like horses, but they can be kind of creepy even in the best of circumstances. They can kill you umpteen different ways, but they usually just a sugar cube. And when you give a horse a sugar cube, you have to hold it just so, because a horse has an enormous mouth full of nightmare teeth, and it could easily bite your fingers off without even noticing. And that's when they aren't casually trampling you, kicking you to death accidentally, bucking you off, or rolling over on you.

I'm reminded of this one time at Boy Scout summer camp. I was trying for Horsemanship merit badge, one of the highlights of summer camp (especially for those of us who weren't really into swimming or target shooting). The main event involved a big group trail ride out away from the camp. I'm not sure how far; it felt like forever but it was probably just a couple of miles tops. By luck of the draw, I'd ended up with a horse that was highly intelligent and held an abiding hatred for all humanity. It kept ducking under low tree branches, trying to knock me off its back. It would even weave off the trail when it saw a promising tree branch off to the side, despite anything I futilely tried to do with the reins. I think I earned my merit badge that day just by staying on.

I'm also reminded of another time at the Oregon coast, years ago, renting horses to ride on the beach. I realize that's a cliche torn from the cover of a bodice-ripping romance novel; it seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyway, that time was actually fine, with a perfectly docile, non-homicidal horse. Except for the flatulence. Equine flatulence is a force of nature, and not one of the more pleasant ones. All the recycling and walking to work and environmental do-gooding I've ever done probably still hasn't made up for the horse methane from that one day at the coast.

NE 8th & Holman

The next stop on the painted intersection tour is at NE 8th & Holman, which has one of the more elaborate designs I've seen so far. A 2011 BikePortland article about the intersection describes the design:

The design itself, created by local artist Zac Reisner, is a four seasons theme. Each leg of the street represents a different season and it’s all tied together by tree roots and a stream in the middle. The animals in the painting — a coyote, raven, raccoon — are all regular inhabitants of the street.

That article links to a time lapse video of the 2011 painting. The intersection's Facebook page says it was just repainted again a few days ago (now being late May 2014), and links to a Flickr photoset of this year's event. My photos were taken just before that, so if you see anything that loo

The Guardian, of all places, has a slideshow of the 8th & Holman intersection, as part of their surprisingly extensive travel coverage about Portland. Their latest piece, about food carts, isn't bad, even if they didn't include Potato Champion (the poutine cart) in their Top 10. I suppose the Guardian squeeing about us is the new New York Times squeeing about us. At least it's the Guardian; it looks like the Daily Mail still hasn't discovered us, so those British tourists don't have us in their crosshairs quite yet.

NE 8th & Holland

The next painted intersection on our tour is at NE 8th & Holland, in the Woodlawn neighborhood, just south of Lombard. This is an odd awkward intersection, where the normal city street grid meets the goofy Woodlawn street non-grid. Some parts of that neighborhood have diagonal streets; here they're oriented normally but not quite in the right place. Thus Holland jogs about a house width north when it gets to Woodlawn, and 8th jogs about a house width east at the same point. That makes for a very wide expanse of pavement here, and it's not a major intersection, so it practically begs for the City Repair treatment. I can't find a project page for this one that explains what the design's all about, but I did find the Kickstarter that paid for it (since the main expense for these things is always paint). I also located a video of the painting party in June 2013, as well as someone's Flickr photoset of the event.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

N. Williams & Russet

The next painted intersection on our ongoing tour is at N. Williams Ave. & Russet St., just north of Lombard, and just a few blocks south of the industrial side of North Portland. This one's also maybe known as "Loveleigh Neighborhood Watch", unless that's just the group that put it together; I'm not entirely sure. I usually just quote from the project page to explain what the design's all about, but this one makes more sense if you have the full About section for context. I've noticed that City Repair web pages seem to come and go unpredictably and the page might vanish at some point, so here's what they had to say:

Our neighborhood is in transition. It has seen illegal dumping, day-time break-ins and theft, drug production and selling, prostitution, gang conflicts. It’s bounded by busy thoroughfares -- MLK to the East, Lombard to the South, Vancouver to the West, and to the North, the railroad, six tracks (some liken the boom and trundle to a heavy day at the coast).

But there is a great potential here -- new families, first homes, neighbors who step forward, at- tend meetings, and contribute their ideas and, most important, their participation. This transition is marked by newly planted trees, children biking, neighbors chatting – and now, a street graphic project.

Our design is simple, a rose (is a rose is a rose, thank you Gertrude) and the cardinal directions formed by leaves. And then there’s the dream: a community garden in an undeveloped street.

Robert Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, wrote about the difference between spectators and participants. Spectators are on the sidelines, watching. Participants are on the field, engaged. Spectators toss their Taco Bell wrappers in the gutter. Participants pick them up.

Our neighborhood is being occupied by participants. OCCUPY LOVELEIGH!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Today's object from outside the Portland Art Museum is the smallest of the lot, unless there's an even smaller one I haven't noticed yet. Marie Louise Feldenheimer's Rhododendrons is a small bronze panel on a wall in the museum's outdoor sculpture court. I hadn't noticed it before, but it's been outside the art museum since at least 1978, which tells you something about my powers of observation, or lack thereof.

I wasn't familiar with the artist so I did a bit of digging. It seems she was a local heiress, born in 1894, whose father and uncle owned a Portland jewelry business. Her name first appeared in the paper in the society pages, and then she moved to New York City to study art, before eventually returning to Portland. A 1925 article showcased some Egyptian-influenced granite sculptures she'd recently created, Egyptian being all the rage at the time. These were purchased by "American Museum of New York", whichever one that is. The Smithsonian art database is no help in this case, since the only work of hers it lists is Rhododendrons. The RACC database also lists a Bust of Willem van Hoogstraten, conductor of the Oregon Symphony from 1925 to 1938, now located at the Performing Arts Center. Her work was the subject of a 1985 retrospective at the museum, in honor of her 90th birthday.

On the Oregon coast, south of Seaside, is popular Ecola State Park. Adjacent to the state park is the densely forested Elmer Feldenheimer State Natural Area, named for Marie Louise Feldenheimer's brother. A 1990 Oregonian profile of her explains that she'd donated the land in his memory. This was one of a number of philanthropic conservation efforts she was involved in, including Nature Conservancy projects at Tillamook Head, near Ecola State Park, and preservation work on the Olympic Peninsula with the guy who later started Ecotrust (the group behind the renovated Ecotrust Building in the Pearl District). Feldenheimer passed on in 1993 and left a large bequest to the state park system.

I'm not really in the business of praising rich people. If they're going to exist, though -- and I'm not entirely sold on that point -- they could do a lot worse than creating some art and doing a bit of philanthropy. I'm fairly sure this was the exception to the rule back in the mid-20th century, and it's certainly not very widespread now either. Some of our present-day oligarchs really and truly want to be Bond villains (and I won't list the guys I"m thinking of, because they have lawyers and worse), while others just want their own reality shows (and usually get them).

In the unlikely event that you're a real-life rich person and you're reading this, you've already passed the first test. The fact that you're here means you're far more sophisticated and discerning than most of your peers. So consider sending the kids to art school. Maybe donate to a museum or the state park system, or a local university. They'll happily put your name on something; you'd barely even need to ask. Any one of these things lasts longer than a family fortune does, even with today's crazy-low inheritance taxes. People will speak fondly of your wise and generous nature, and not ask impertinent questions about how you got all that money in the first place. Sorry, that slipped out. I mean, it helps you put your best foot forward, in the eyes of future historians, as well as random internet people of the future who have whatever replaces blogs fifty years from now. I can't really explain why that would be important, but I'm pretty sure it is.

Freda's Tree

The next painted intersection in our ongoing tour is at NE 56th & Stanton, a design known as "Freda's Tree", located a few blocks north of Sandy Boulevard and the big George Washington statue. The project page for this intersection says it "commemorates a magnificent chestnut tree that was at this corner for nearly a hundred years." There's also a leave-a-book, take-a-book free libray kiosk next to the intersection, also part of the City Repair effort. I hadn't brought a book to trade, so I didn't take anything. It didn't seem fair otherwise, me being a tourist from outside the local neighborhood.

Ralph Friedman's 1993 The Other Side of Oregon has the story of Freda Frauendorf and the chestnut tree. Apparently she and her husband moved to the area circa 1908, when it was still a howling wilderness, more or less, and there they stayed while the neighborhood grew up around them. She was an immigrant from the Black Forest of Germany, which she said explained her need to keep planting trees. She'd planted quite a few over the years, and the giant chestnut tree was the last surviving one of the bunch. A neighbor dubbed it "Freda's Tree" and the name stuck. Mrs. Frauendorf had taken to greeting the tree with a "Hi, Freda" when she walked by.

The story first appeared in an Oregonian profile of Mrs. Frauendorf on October 31st, 1972, with the headline "Woman watches tree grow for 50 years". You couldn't get away with a headline like that anymore; your editors would change it to something like "This lady planted a chestnut tree. You won't BELIEVE what happened next!!!". I'm not saying journalism as a whole was better four decades ago, but the headlines were somewhat less of a high-pressure sales job.

The tree was still standing in 1987, when it was nominated for Portland's Favorite Tree for that year. The paper ran this rather twee contest in connection with the 1987 Rose Festival, but that seems to be the only year it was held. Freda's Tree lost out to a redwood tree around 860 SW Vista Avenue, probably due to all the Californians voting. Since the contest hasn't been held again, and (unlike Freda's Tree) the tree's still there, and since the Oregonian is supposedly our fair city's official paper of record, I guess the redwood still reigns as Portland's Favorite Tree. But I suppose that's a matter for a separate blog post.

N. Syracuse & St. Johns

Here's another painted intersection, this time out toward the far end of St. Johns, at N. Syracuse St. & St. Johns Avenue. The big City Repair project map says it's called "Syracuse St. Rockstars", while the project page says that's the name of the group that created it. Whatever it's called, the description says it "represents how through the changing of the seasons our relationships with each other transforms and deepen with the St Johns bridge intersecting the four seasons." Because you can't make art in St. Johns without including the St. Johns Bridge somehow; I'm fairly certain there's a municipal ordinance to that effect.

I like to check the library's Oregonian database for these intersection posts, just to see whether anything exciting ever happened at this spot. I only have one item to pass along this time. A brief item in the March 30th, 1943 paper noted that two young police patrolmen had been suspended, and were awaiting a disciplinary hearing, due to their involvement in a brawl with two other men right here at this intersection. Apparently the two off-duty officers went to a dance elsewhere in St. Johns, then stopped by a residence around here, where they ran into two guys they'd arrested earlier. A fistfight ensued, unsurprisingly. The article says the men "made up and shook hands" afterward and everyone left, but one of the cops later went to the hospital for an injured kidney, which seems to be how their bosses found out about the altercation. Oops.

So maybe, the next time they repaint this intersection, they should consider adding a bunch of fistfighting cops to the design. I'm not sure that would mesh with the existing design very well, but it would certainly liven things up a bit.

Monday, May 26, 2014

PSU Secret Putting Green

Today's secret Portland spot is a weird one. The Portland State campus is home to a tiny putting green, at the west end of SW College Street, tucked away behind some research greenhouses. It's next to the Peter Stott Center, a university athletic facility, but the university's guide to the place doesn't mention anything about a putting green. Which makes sense, I mean, I'm not a golfer or anything, but it doesn't exactly look like a world-class facility. It's astroturf, for one thing, and there were weeds growing up through the hole when I looked at it, which would never fly at Augusta National. The scenery isn't much either: Greenhouses, a blank brick wall of the Stott Center, and I-405 traffic right next door.

A 2002 PSU Vanguard column describes the writer's love for the putting green, not for the golf, but for the seclusion:

The Putting Green may be filled with the sound of traffic and annoying insects, but I have never actually had to get out of the way of someone golfing there, or doing anything else for that matter. It sits just south of Stott Center, and boasts a lovely view of two or three highways. I would not hang out there too late at night if I cared about my personal well being, but if I cared about my personal well being, I wouldn’t have enrolled in summer session in the first place. Regardless, when I sit at the Putting Green, no one asks me to sign a petition. No preachers damn me. No rock bands set up between me and the rock doves. No dogs, no salesmen, and no friends: I love the Putting Green.

(The other out-of-the-way spot he mentions, which he calls "Top Ramen", is the old Fourth Avenue Plaza, which was torn out a few years ago to make room for the university's new engineering building.)

The first time I dropped by to take photos of the place, there was a guy studying there, and he seemed startled to see another person wander by. So I bailed and came back later, because I wanted photos without any people in them, because it doesn't look properly obscure and forgotten when somebody's sitting there with his nose in a linear algebra textbook. (It might not have been linear algebra, I didn't actually check.)

In 2004, PSU's Student Gardening Committee saw the underused space and lobbied to turn it into a community garden. That didn't go anywhere, as the Stott Center insisted they used it now and then as "overflow space". The student gardeners ended up with a lot at 12th & Montgomery instead, which seems like a much nicer spot for gardening than the putting green site, without all the trees and buildings blocking out the sun.

More recently, this spot figured in ChronoOps: Survive the FuturePast, a student-created augmented reality iPhone game set on the PSU campus. Apparently the plot involves time travel, and hunting for a "green technology" artifact, and avoiding mysterious enemies. Which ends up being a walking tour of the PSU campus, basically. It mostly showcases the endless sustainability projects around the campus, but ventures behind the greenhouses for a bit of sci-fi dystopia. As the creators' paper puts it, "Through juxtaposing scenes of modern technology with long-forgotten projects (a desolate putting green, or old landscaping now overgrown), ChronoOps delivers a visceral and lasting experience." Sadly I can't try the game out because it's iOS-only, and I'm on Team Android. But hey, if there isn't an Android version, how good could it be, anyway?

Sedro-Gilbert Intersection

Our next City Repair painted intersection is at N. Sedro & Gilbert, near Lombard & the St. Johns railroad gulch. A description of the design, from the project page:

Come join our diverse neighborhood as we build community and transform our intersection into a beautiful graphic of the Tree of Life. In helping us plant this graphic seed of life you will be part of a much larger movement that is transforming our neighborhoods into diverse, rich sources of connection and support.
Our street graphic is inspired by the Tree of Life which stands for many things but definitely includes Love, Hope, Dreams, Smiles, Laughter, Family, Memories, Community...

I'm sorry to say that once again most of the photos are upside down. I hadn't seen the description before tracking it down, and honestly I thought it was supposed to be a nature-themed peace symbol-ish sort of design. The design makes a lot more sense as a Tree of Life though.

Roseway Intersection

Here's another of Portland's painted intersections, located at NE 77th & Beech, a few blocks south of Sandy Boulevard. A City Repair project page for it calls it "Roseway Intersection" (Roseway being the surrounding neighborhood), and describes the design:

The first of hopefully many Roseway projects to come! Our intersection is located on 77th and Beech, a soon to be developed Neighborhood Greenway (Bike Boulevard). We will paint a street graphic on the intersection to create a new com- munity space. The design represents the art-deco era of the houses and buildings in our neighborhood and, of course, the many roses of Roseway!

A neighborhood association bulletin reports this intersection was first painted in June 2012. I didn't realize it was an Art Deco rose design when I took the photos, so they aren't all facing right side up. Feel free to rotate your monitor as needed.

Clifton Street Park Block

This is a story about two of Portland's South Park Blocks, one lost, the other forgotten. The city describes today's park as the twelve blocks along Park Avenue, between Salmon (on the north end) and Jackson (on the south end), ending at the overpass over Interstate 405. Older accounts are slightly different; to pick one example, Oregon, End of the Trail, a Depression-era tour guide from the WPA Federal Writers Project, said there were 13 South Park Blocks, stretching from SW Salmon to SW Clifton. Clifton Street might not ring a bell, so I've embedded a map above. As you can see there, the missing thirteenth block between Jackson and Clifton was where I-405 is today. The overpass that replaced it is wider than it needs to be and includes a series of concrete planters, which usually aren't maintained very well. I suppose that was done as a token replacement for the lost park block. The city parks website fails to mention anything about sacrificing a park block to the almighty freeway. I don't suppose it's an episode they really feel like talking about. More surprisingly, so far I haven't found anything in the Oregonian database about it either. I would have thought it would have generated a few letters to the editor, at least, but if so I haven't seen them.

I did find the original 1964 agreement between the city and the state highway department, in which the city agreed to hand over the land, and further agreed to be responsible for the landscaping on the overpass, in order to "restore thereon as a park as much of the area as is possible on the structure", while the state would be responsible for the overpass itself. So when nobody's trimming the weeds on the overpass (which is the usual state of affairs), at least we know who's neglecting it.

The downtown street grid bumps up against the West Hills just south of I-405, but there are a couple of short segments of SW Park that briefly continue south of Clifton St. One dead-ends into the Park Terrace apartment complex, while the other continues at an angle to Lincoln St. The apartment complex takes up much of the space between the two, but the city parks bureau does own a triangle of land bordering Clifton. It must've been considered part of the South Park Blocks before I-405 ate its neighbor and orphaned it, even though it's small and apparently wasn't included in anyone's count of blocks. It kind of reminds me of Ankeny Park, the oddball North Park Block just south of Burnside, but this one's way more obscure. If the South Park Blocks now officially end at Jackson, and this little place no longer counts as part, I'm not sure what name to call it; I went with "Clifton Street Park Block" in the title, since that's at least a reasonable description.

The orphan park block has looked well-maintained whenever I've been by there, so it's not as if the city's completely forgotten about it, even if they've kicked it out of the exclusive South Park Blocks club. I suppose they just don't know what to do with the place. If I might offer a suggestion, the "mainstream" South Park Blocks include statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Why not continue the theme here? An obscure park block could be a good home for an equally obscure presidential statue. Franklin Pierce, say, or Chester A. Arthur, or Gerald Ford. Or for extra credit, one of the Articles of Confederation presidents (John Hanson, say), or one of the Continental Congress guys. Hopefully with a plaque explaining who the lucky honoree was.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Upper Hall Street Triangle

Today's adventure takes us to the West Hills just outside downtown Portland. SW Hall St. becomes Upper Hall St. just west of the nameless city park at 14th Avenue, and Upper Hall St. winds its way up the hill before morphing into 16th Avenue. Halfway up, the street makes a tight hairpin corner, which is where these photos were taken. The 'Triangle' of the title is the narrow bit of land on the inside of the hairpin turn. You'd normally expect a location like this to contain a tall, skinny million-dollar modern house, one that won all kinds of awards for working with a difficult site. This particular spot is public right-of-way, though, I suppose to keep it from being a totally blind corner. It's not really a city park or anything, but it's public, so I suppose you could set up a tripod here if you're willing to risk your camera on a slope this steep.

Surprisingly, I haven't found a lot of photos of the city taken from here. An image search on "Upper Hall Street" turns up nothing but real estate photos of ostentatious million-dollar houses. I suppose that makes sense, but the library's Oregonian database indicates this swankiness is a fairly recent development. An August 1934 news item described the community of modest houses along Upper Hall St.:

In passing you may have noticed the "Artists' Colony" which hugs the steep hill just below the hairpin curve on upper Hall street. It's quite an interesting colony, but there are no artists there right now, even though every place is occupied.

Twenty years ago Mrs. A.C. Wells Brown built the small, attractive lodges, 12 in all. They line three different "streets," made of thick plank, on three different levels, and the connecting links are up-and-down steps. The colony commands an excellent view of Portland, and were it not for an intervening apartment house, 'way down near Multnomah stadium, the cliff dwellers might see all the games and parades which take place there.

Everybody has a minute flower patch. All the cliff people work in downtown stores and offices, Mrs. Brown said, and the place is very quiet and orderly. No artists around to kick up didoes and make a Greenwich Village out of it.

There were amenities that would be welcome in any hip Portland neighborhood in 2014. From a Stuart Holbrook "Down Portland By-Paths" column a few days after the previous item:

On a bluff overlooking the city on upper Hall street some friend of man has built a small settee where one may sit and view Portland from the Heights to the buttes and hills east of the city. Carved on the bench, no doubt by its kindly builder, is a welcome to the weary traveler. In plain Gothic characters the legend says "If you are tired Rest yourself."

With a friend I sat on the wayside bench a while and marveled at the broad panorama which unfolded before our eyes. When we got up to leave my friend, a most pedantic fellow, paused to read the inscription. "He should," he announced, with a trace of severity in his tone, "He should have placed a comma between 'tired' and 'rest.'" I hope there will be plenty of commas in my friend's obituary. You can't tell what even a dead pedant will do when aroused.

This cozy state of affairs lasted for a few more decades, but in 1962 the city Bureau of Buildings decided The Village wasn't up to code and tried to condemn and raze the buildings. The city later stayed the razing order, as the owners and occupants were making good-faith efforts to bring the place up to code. I note that the first story called The Village an "artists' colony", while a month later it was a "controversial collection of 'shacks'". In February 1963, the owners reversed course and asked the city for a zoning change, in order to demolish the eleven existing residences and build twelve modern new ones. The city decided this was incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood and denied the request, though the owners were offered a compromise zoning change that would allow six new homes instead. At this point the Oregonian was calling The Village a "group of low-income rental residences". The place mostly vanished from the paper after that, though a December 1963 article on what Mayor Schrunk did over the preceding year mentions that "condemnation of The Village" was one of the crises he'd weathered during the previous twelve months. When not weathering crises, Schrunk also "challenged the mayors of Detroit and Los Angeles to a footrace to Salem -- the winner to get the 1968 Olympics", which is a whole other story.

Polina Olsen's Portland in the 1960s: Stories from the Counterculture (2012) spends a few pages on The Village, with photos, sketches, and reminiscences by former residents. The architect Pietro Belluschi lived in The Village in the 1920s, and Manuel Izquierdo called it home at one point as well, along with various other artists, musicians, and general Bohemians. In the book's account, the Columbus Day Storm is what really finished off The Village. The news stories don't mention this, but it seems quite plausible. Edit: The book says no such thing, and I misread the account. See comment by the author below.

In any case, it doesn't appear that the proposed redevelopment ever happened; instead, the Village was replaced by a single rich-person house on a large lot, because of course that's what would happen.

This wasn't the only controversy along Upper Hall St. in the early 1960s. Further up the hill, where it becomes 16th Avenue, developers proposed to build a huge 21 story apartment tower. Due to the hairpin bend in the road, this site was directly uphill of The Village, if I'm reading things correctly. This proposal ran into zoning difficulties at City Hall, compounded by angry neighbors who didn't want their views blocked. An August 1961 article about the controversy included a panoramic photo from the back deck of a leading anti-tower campaigner, in case it wasn't already clear where the paper's sympathies lay. This article had the tower site at 16th & Montgomery instead, downhill of the previously mentioned site, but still in a very view-blocking position. The paper then editorialized against the building in October. There are a few mentions of the proposal in the following months but no further news; that must have been the end of the proposal, since there are no 21 story buildings anywhere near this spot today.

In other news from the same era, a harrowing car accident happened here in April 1962, apparently right at the hairpin corner. A sedan was trying to park, but the brakes failed, and the vehicle rolled backward, jumped a curb, and plummeted off the cliff. Amazingly, the car got hung up in a tree, which kept it from falling another 150 feet down to SW Montgomery St. The three young men inside escaped without injury.

The area doesn't appear in the Oregonian very often after the mid-1960s, but a 1984 item mentions that a recent book Around Portland With Kids had proclaimed Upper Hall Street part of the best sledding route in Portland, which is kind of terrifying if you've seen how steep it is, and that's without the blind hairpin corner and 150+ foot cliff. This must have been just before the modern era of personal injury lawsuits really got going. I don't even have a real legal department, and I still feel like I need to tell everyone that Legal says, no, begs of you to please not sled here fer chrissakes. Just in case, and all that.

Untitled, NE 72nd & Fremont

Today's adventure in local art takes us to yet another obscure, rusty Lee Kelly sculpture from the early 1970s. Today's example (which I found in the Smithsonian art inventory database, and nowhere else on the internet) is simply called Untitled, and it sits outside a US Bank branch at NE 72nd & Fremont, just south of Sandy Boulevard. The location is quite a busy area, but the sculpture is surprisingly hard to see. It's set back from the street, near the bank drive-thru window; it's really quite small, by Kelly's usual standards; and the rust color makes it blend in with the surrounding landscaping. On closer examination, it's obviously a smaller sibling (and as it turns out, a predecessor) to Leland One, a big Kelly sculpture in my neighborhood that I've snarked about here a few times, by which I mean more than a few times.

As with Leland One, the highlight here is the set of orange enamel panels on the front, which were created by Bonnie Bronson, Kelly's wife. The catalog for a 2011 PNCA retrospective of her work mentions this Untitled briefly in passing, but doesn't include a photo. The only solo work of hers I've covered here (so far) is Nepali Window near SW 4th & Alder downtown, which I was quite a fan of.

I keep pointing out I'm not a huge fan of Kelly's work, yet for some reason I keep tracking these things down anyway. It's totally fair to wonder why I keep doing this. I suppose the sheer snark value is a big reason, but I think it's also that most of these sculptures have lapsed into utter obscurity over the last few decades (perhaps rightly so) and there aren't any photos of them on the net, and they don't appear on the usual walking maps and tourist guides and public art brochures. So the odds are pretty good that I'll have yet another top Google ranking for something nobody on earth will ever search for. That's kind of been a staple of this humble blog since way back in 2005. I've never claimed to be a hipster, but you could say I've been into stuff you probably haven't heard of since before it was cool. Locally sourced, too.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Soldiers & Sailors Monument, Boston Common

A few photos of Boston's Soldiers and Sailors Monument, atop a low hill in the middle of Boston Common. It's a big allegorical Civil War memorial, like the later and more ornate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Cleveland's Public Square. A page at Celebrate Boston describes the monument's allegorical odds and ends and what they all represent. CT Monuments laments graffiti and vandalism at the monument, and points out a nearby World War I monument made from a converted sea mine, which I'm quite sorry I didn't notice when I was there. Historical Digression talks about the monument a bit and moves on to Martin Milmore, its sculptor. Milmore died young at age 38, and was memorialized by Daniel Chester French's famous Death and the Sculptor, which may actually be better known than Milmore himself these days. French is best known for his Abraham Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial, and he also created the Minute Man statue at the Old North Bridge in Concord, MA.

Public Art Boston's info page for the monument notes that "In honoring ordinary soldiers and sailors, rather than military leaders, this work set an important precedent adopted by the designers of subsequent memorials." and points out that it's available for "adoption" in the city's Adopt-a-Statue program.

On the point about this memorial defining a style for future ones, I came across a paper in the Spring 1988 Journal of American Culture, "Martin Millmore's Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on the Boston Common: Formulating Conventionalism in Design and Symbolism". It looks interesting but unfortunately it's paywalled, and I'm not a Real Historian who can get it through a university library, and JSTOR does't have it, so -- peon that I am -- I can only see the first page. So this is the part where I put in a plug for Open Access publishing. Here's the first paragraph, in the spirit of fair use, since that hasn't been abolished yet:

The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on the Boston Common, designed by Martin Millmore and erected 1870-1877, is one of several types of memorials elevated after the Civil War. The characteristics of this monument, its configuration and iconography, were influenced by popular ideas and eclectic stylistic trends in post-Civil War America. The shaping of this type of monument was especially influenced by the popular tastes of the period. An analysis of the style, sources, and imagery of the design offers insight into the ideologies, the formulating conventions of the age, and the role of the artist in satisfying the prevalent demand for military monuments as art within the public domain.

Without really intending to, I've ended up with a handful of posts here about Civil War memorials. Beyond this one and the one in Cleveland, I've also got Southern contributions to the genre in Edgefield, SC and Tupelo, MS, as well as Portland's own very humble contribution, a couple of puny surplus cannons in Lownsdale Square. So I figured I'd go ahead and add a "civil war" post tag, so it's one stop shopping for visitors who just can't get enough of the Civil War for whatever reason. I don't get that, personally, but I like to feel I'm providing a valuable service here, even when I find it inexplicable.

Johnson Lake expedition

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Today's adventure takes us to another obscure city park along the Columbia Slough. If you take MAX to the Portland Airport (or I-205, I guess), you'll see a big ugly factory a bit north of the Parkrose-Sumner station, and a lake directly north of the factory, right next to the freeway. This is Johnson Lake, home to the city's "Johnson Lake Property", which covers roughly the eastern third of the lake plus some shoreline on the north shore. When I say today's adventure takes us there, I mean in a very broad sense; these photos were taken from a moving MAX train, and I'm not sure what if any public access there is to the lake. The word "Property" in the park's name is usually a clue that it isn't really set up to welcome visitors. (See also the Jefferson St. & Munger Properties in the West Hills, for example.)

As with other places of the "Property" variety, the city's list of park amenities is just the boilerplate "Includes natural area". Unlike the others, though, the page continues with a rather extensive history section. As the story goes, a century ago Johnson Lake was a popular local recreation spot, with swimming, boating, and even a dance hall (although the dance hall burned sometime in the 1940s). I don't have any colorful stories of the era to pass along because the Oregonian database doesn't mention Johnson Lake until the 1980s or so, I suppose because it was too far out of town for the paper to care. Longtime residents remember those days fondly, though. But then, in the 1950s, a giant Owens-Illinois glass plant moved in on the south shore of the lake and began discharging some sort of sludge or goop into the water. And because this was the Good Old Days, there was nothing anyone could do about it. Understandably, recreational use of the lake declined after that.

State environmental testing revealed elevated PCB levels in the area, as well as various other fun substances. A "Projects & Programs" pdf from the Columbia Slough Watershed Council describes various remediation projects that have taken place over the last decade, including a 2008 "pollution reduction facility" on the south side of the lake, built jointly by the Bureau of Environmental Services and the glass company; native turtle population studies beginning in 1999; and a 2012 sediment cap to isolate contaminated lake sediments, which supposedly fixed the lake, at least to the state DEQ's satisfaction. A 2012 Draft Feasibility Study for cleaning up the Portland Harbor Superfund Site cited the earlier and much smaller Johnson Lake cleanup as a precedent on how to handle a couple of technical details. I'm not a biologist, nor am I an EPA regulation expert, so don't ask me to explain what that's all about.

Before we all shake our fists at the horrible glass plant, it's worth pointing out this isn't just any old glass plant, it's a beer bottle plant. It's said to produce a million bottles a day, and the odds are pretty good that your local microbrew bottle came from here, and was made from recycled glass. And for that we have Oregon's Bottle Bill to thank, in part, because it results in a high quality supply of used glass, separated out from plastic and other recylables. Back in the 1950s this plant probably made bottles for your grandpa's beloved Blitz Weinhard or Lucky Lager. So two of our regional obsessions, local beer and saving the world, are sort of in collision here.

Various other environmental items popped up while searching for info about Johnson Lake:

  • The lake is mentioned in a study on freshwater mussels of the Columbia Slough. One of the studied sites was Whitaker Slough, a side branch of the Columbia Slough that drains Johnson Lake and flows into Whitaker Ponds. The study found that freshwater mussels in Whitaker Slough tended to be older than in other parts of the Columbia Slough, and they hypothesized that recruitment of juvenile mussels might be a problem here, or might have been a problem until recently.
  • A study on native turtles of the Portland area found very few at Johnson Lake. The authors don't have a definite explanation as to why, but they speculate that the poor aquatic conditions can't be helping.
  • The sycamore maple trees around the lake are an invasive species, apparently.
  • The lake lies within the Columbia South Shore Well Field, Portland's backup drinking water supply when Bull Run is offline or can't meet demand. Here's a Mercury article about a bike tour of the well field. I should point out the city draws underground aquifer water, not surface water, and icky stuff on the surface doesn't necessarily mean icky stuff at well depth. It still seems kind of ooky though. The city does have a program to protect wellhead water quality, but it seems to be focused more on septic tanks and new accidental spills versus existing, persistent contaminants like the ones here.
  • Surprisingly, fishing is technically legal here, so long as you don't eat the fish. Boating is off limits, however, since much of the lake is still privately owned. The notion of swimming in the lake didn't even come up in that discussion thread, but I'd imagine you aren't supposed to do that either.

Despite all of this, Johnson Lake is a neighborhood park in an area that doesn't have many parks, and the local neighborhood association's trying to make the best of it. Their website calls it a "hidden gem", and they've organized volunteer cleanup efforts focusing on trash and so forth. Which is great, but I'm not sure what's really doable with the place beyond general habitat restoration. It's a park centered around a lake, but visitors probably shouldn't touch the lake, and the surroundings are mostly industrial and not very scenic. This sort of limits the possibilities. So maybe a nature trail would work here, maybe a birdwatching spot or two, assuming the lake attracts birds. I found one report of a possible "American x Eurasian hybrid widgeon" sighting there, but generally it doesn't seem to be a popular spot right now. And no, I don't know what a hybrid widgeon is; I'm going to assume it's caused by the fun lake chemicals, sort of like Blinky, the three-eyed fish on the Simpsons. Hey, it's a theory.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Flows and Eddies

Here are a few photos of Flows and Eddies, the public art scattered around the Smith & Bybee Wetlands. Flows and Eddies is the name for the overall project, which is divided into a few sub-groupings, each of which in turn consists of a few individual sculptures. Two of these groupings are represented in these photos:

Ecology Stones

Forms found in the natural habitat of the lakes are carved in monumental scale basalt boulders, creating a “teaching landscape” that awakens viewers to the rich plant and animal life that surrounds them.

Mussel Shell

A large carved stone based on the fresh water mussels found in the lakes marks the entrance to the canoe launch. The lines of a mussel’s shell mark the years of its life. A second mussel shell paving stone is etched with the dates and cycles of time of important events in the history, prehistory and natural history of the lakes, making note of the ‘deep time’ found in wild places.

Not pictured are Habitat Reefs, Habitat Trees and Seasonal Encampment, mostly because I have no idea where they are. Smith & Bybee Wetlands is a huge place, and the art seems to be scattered a bit randomly all over the park.

Flows and Eddies is a fairly recent addition to the park, only arriving in 2004. Like Drawing on the River beneath the St. Johns Bridge in Cathedral Park, it was actually funded with One Percent for Art money from the still-unopened Wapato Jail. The jail borders a remote corner of Bybee Lake near the old St. Johns Landfill, and as you might imagine it doesn't welcome casual visitors. The then-sheriff figured it was silly to spend the public art money at the jail where nobody would ever see it, so a few outside projects were funded instead, including this one.

If you like these, you might also check out Urban Hydrology on the transit mall at Portland State University. Like Flows and Eddies it's a collection of nature-inspired Fernanda D'Agostino sculptures, but they're based on electron microscope images of diatoms. It's possibly my favorite of the new crop of transit mall art that arrived with the MAX Green Line. For whatever that's worth. If Google results are any indication, I may be the only person on Earth who pays attention to this stuff.

Courthouse Square, Edgefield SC

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Here are some old photos from the Courthouse Square in Edgefield, South Carolina. These photos are from the late 90s and show the town as a sleepy little rural county seat. It was a short day trip from Augusta, and the town was undeniably cute, but there just wasn't a lot to do once you were there. Google Street View indicates it's become a lot more twee since then. When your town square looks like a movie set, this sort of thing is bound to happen sooner or later, especially when you're a reasonable day trip distance from Atlanta. Moreover, given the rate of urban growth in Atlanta, Edgefield will probably be absorbed as a distant eastern suburb within a decade or so. I'm only half joking when I say that.

Anyway, yes, that obelisk in the center of the square is a Confederate war memorial. And yes, that's a statue of local son Senator J. Strom Thurmond next to it. Apparently -- and I was unaware of this until now -- there's a tiny etching of a cockroach, er, "Palmetto bug" hidden under Thurmond's right coattail. There is probably no polite way of looking for it, however.

Thurmond and his staff excelled at bringing home the pork to South Carolina, and Edgefield County in particular. The locals showed their gratitude by naming things after him, and since he was in office an uncommonly long time, they started to pile up after a while: Parks, roads, dams, schools, everything. You can't throw a rock without hitting something named for him, but then an outraged local will shoot you, so doing this is not advised. Thurmond even has half a lake named after him. There's a large reservoir on the Savannah upriver of Augusta that Georgia knows as Clarks Hill Lake. That's the name it was built under, but South Carolina later renamed their portion of it to be Lake Thurmond, and the dam as J. Strom Thurmond Dam. Georgia, not sharing South Carolina's enthusiasm for the man, declined to follow suit. You can always tell which side of the river someone's from by what name they call the lake.

Ala Wai Park & Canal

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Today's tropical adventure takes us to Honolulu's Ala Wai Canal and the adjacent city park & golf course. The canal surrounds Waikiki on three sides, separating it from the rest of the city. Until the 1920s, Waikiki was a low, swampy area. The canal was built for drainage, and was originally supposed to cut all the way through and make Waikiki an island. This had the lucrative and not entirely accidental side effect of making Waikiki prime real estate.

Unfortunately the canal's become famous for poor water quality and environmental problems; it's even been dubbed "Hawaii's Biggest Mistake" in some quarters. In 2006, major flooding caused a sewer line failure, resulting in millions of gallons of raw sewage being dumped into the canal. Several days later, a man fell into the canal, developed a massive bacterial infection, and died. So yeah, not so great. An ugly black emergency pipe installed after the floods was only just removed last May after a permanent replacement for the failed sewer line came online.

Despite all that, the canal is a popular rowing venue. I suppose because Hawaii doesn't have a lot of calm inland bodies of water, so it's either row here or row in the ocean.

The park is nice. When I visited it was full of joggers, kids at baseball practice, rowing clubs, people just enjoying the afternoon, and very few tourists. I don't think tourists cross the canal very often, and the park seems to cater to locals almost exclusively. It even has a huge community garden, for high rise dwellers who don't have room for their own gardens. The Diamond Head side of the park is a municipal golf course, unfortunately. Or fortunately, if you insist on playing golf for some reason.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Pics: St. Augustine, FL

Here's another slideshow from St. Augustine, Florida. You've already seen Castillo de San Marcos and the Flagler College campus; this slideshow is everything else, or at least everything else I have photos of. The historic City Hall, various old churches, and a few city streets in the touristy Old Town area. Sadly I had to drive back to Cocoa Beach that afternoon and couldn't explore the city's frozen daiquiri bars or go on a cheesy "ghost hunting tour" or anything. So I'm pretty sure I didn't get the full St. Augustine experience, for good or ill. I suppose I could go back again, although at this point I've finally seen the old fort, and Vegas is a lot closer if I just want a giant daiquiri.

Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida

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When I was in Florida back in 2011 for a Mars rover launch, I made a side trip up to the town of St. Augustine to visit Castillo de San Marcos, a centuries-old Spanish fort I'd tried and failed to visit on two previous occasions. Since I was there anyway, I wandered around the historic (if heavily touristed) downtown for a bit, taking photos of anything that looked old. One of the highlights of the area is Flagler College a small private liberal arts college built around the former Ponce de Leon Hotel. The ornate hotel building is nowhere near as old as the Spanish fort; it was built in 1888 by railroad oligarch Henry Flagler, in a sort of Spanish-Moorish fantasia style. I didn't go inside to look around, but apparently the interior is a bit over the top as well. The building's actually a concrete structure, with electricity designed in from the beginning. Which is a bit more forward-thinking than you'd expect for the year 1888. As you might imagine it's on the National Register of Historic Places, a fake-historic building that's become historic in its own right with the slow passage of time.