Monday, May 26, 2014

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.

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