Tuesday, May 27, 2014

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.

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