Sunday, August 31, 2014

Above and Below

So I went out to the coast for a couple of days recently, and stayed at the hotel at Salishan, just south of Lincoln City. The hotel dates to 1965 and still has a swanky 60s feel to it, due in part to all the then-contemporary art scattered around the complex. The developer behind Salishan was John Gray, who also developed Sunriver south of Bend, Skamania Lodge in the Gorge, and parts of the Johns Landing area just south of downtown Portland. When not developing resorts, Gray was president of Omark Industries, a forest products equipment maker, and was also an avid patron of the arts, focusing exclusively on local artists. Hence the giant Lee Kelly sculpture outside the old Omark headquarters building on Macadam.

Now that you're up to speed on the background of the place: I'm sitting on the sofa in my hotel room, and I look up at the art on the wall right over me. It's a linocut print with a sort of circus theme, and I notice it's signed by Manuel Izquierdo. Izquierdo is best known as a sculptor (or at least he is to me), and I'm rather fond of his work, so I've tracked down a fair number of his creations around town. I'm not sure I'd ever seen one of his prints before, though, so I figured I ought to snap a couple of photos and, um, create a blog post around it. So this print is titled Above and Below, and is dated 1976. The Portland Art Museum has a copy as well, donated by the artist's estate in 2010, but it's not currently on view.

This post probably involved the least effort ever, on the photo end. All I had to do was roll over and get my phone and take a few photos, without ever getting off the sofa.

Dickinson Park

Our next adventure takes us to SW Portland's Dickinson Park, 18 acres with forests and a large open grassy area, located on a rather steep hillside. I dropped by a few months ago when it was too muddy to get to the forested part, but a page at ExplorePDX has a few photos showing what it's like. The park's open area has nice views to the west and, somewhat incongrously, it's home to a shiny new "Evos Play System", a very fancy new play structure. Willamette Week's Summer 2014 guide dubbed the park "Portland's Backyard Jungle Gym", but pointed out the park still has no restrooms.

The city's owned it since 1993, when it acquired the property from Multnomah County, as part of the county's dismantling of its struggling park system. Apparently the county had never done much of anything with the land, and the city didn't immediately have any budget for the place, so they only began design work for it in 2001. A plan soon came together but initially there was no money in the city budget to implement it. 2006 rolled around, and the city had a temporary budget surplus thanks to the national real estate bubble, so they were finally able to break ground on the park at that point.

At first I couldn't find anything at all about the county's prior stewardship of the park, until I looked at the transfer agreements and realized the county called it "Dickenson" with an 'e', not "Dickinson" with an 'i'. Even then, I found next to nothing about the place dating to that era, but the few things I've come up with seem to indicate the county seriously neglected its park system when it had one. A 1982 letter to the editor complained that the county had effectively defunded the system around that time. By 1986, the county was already anxious to transfer it to the city, which had annexed the land (along with Lesser, Maricara, Orchid St., West Portland, and Woods Parks) in 1979. The city was reluctant to take them over until the county settled up for some disputed sewer construction charges at these parks (as well as at SE Portland's Brentwood Park). The article mentions that the aforementioned parks were all undeveloped and the county had no idea what to do with them. Lesser, Maricara, and Woods parks must have transferred before 1993; West Portland, aka Loll Wildwood never transferred, and eventually ended up as a Metro natural area. The remaining "Orchid St. Park" is unfamiliar. A June 1987 article about the proposed transfer mentions the city had pledged to maintain all but the Orchid St. site as parks, and a previous article about a city-county land dispute over Woods Park mentiosn the Orchid St. park was only 0.3 acres. So I suppose they must have sold it off at some point.

Other assorted Dickinson Park tidbits I ran across:

Temple of Cosmic Love

Here are a couple of photos of Temple of Cosmic Love, a big mural down a narrow sorta-alley off SE 12th., between a New Age counseling/yoga/whatever complex and a kooky dive bar, and about a block east from the Belmont Goats. This is another mural in the quasi-public RACC mural program, and their description indicates it was only inspired by the crystal-gazing side of the alley:

The mural integrates themes related to the wellness center, healing energy, nature and the elements, and focuses on creating a pleasing landscape that helps transport viewers to a peaceful setting outside the daily hustle and bustle.

The website of one of the artists describes it thusly, or at least I think it's a description:

light•weav•ing ⎮līt wēv ing⎮

The harmonic fusion of energy quanta (photons) with matter, in a way which increases the luminous flux of the original matter, producing a spiritually and/or intellectually illuminating effect, especially through the medium of Art.

I admit I have no idea what that's supposed to mean, and I suspect the physicists I know (and I do know a couple of them) would probably have the same reaction. But no matter; we're just here to look at the art right now. It's a very pleasant and attractive design, quite apart from any quantum stuff that may or may not be involved. And just as importantly, it has a really groovy title. As soon as I saw it on the RACC website, I figured I ought to track this one down, just so I could have a blog post with this groovy title. Anyway, next to the mural is a tiny shelter structure in the hippie-hobbit common to City Repair projects, and the website of another of the artists mentions it was painted in 2006 for that year's Village Building shindig.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Burnside Median

Our next thrilling adventure takes us to SW Broadway & Burnside in downtown Portland, specifically to the trees-and-ivy median strip down the middle of Burnside. It turns out this median is another spot on a list of very obscure places I bumped into on the city's website a few years back. Some of those places turned out to be reasonably interesting, so it became a project and I've tracked down quite a few of them in the last few years. The Burnside median didn't sound very promising, though, so I ignored it for a long time. But recently I was in the area anyway, and I figured I might as well take a couple of extra seconds crossing the street, snap a couple of photos, and check it off the list for the sake of completeness. So here we are.

The median project was announced in April 1975, and a variety of reasons were given for it at the time. The city and county claimed it would somehow alleviate traffic congestion and reduce carbon monoxide pollution, since they made room for the median by eliminating the 117 on-street parking spaces along this stretch of Burnside. At the same time it was also supposed to make the area safer and more pedestrian-friendly. I don't know what Burnside was like before the median went in, so maybe all of this is true; I just know that despite the median, this stretch of Burnside still has traffic congestion, and is nobody's idea of a nice pedestrian-friendly zone, much less the thriving district of cafes and small shops that the plan envisioned.

More recent ideas in urban planning suggest that fast-moving streets without on-street parking are precisely the thing you don't want if you're trying to create a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Oh, and English ivy is now recognized as an invasive species, and the city prefers that you not use it anymore for anything ever. Although so far they haven't gotten around to ripping out existing plantings of the stuff along roads and in city parks, since that would involve spending money they don't have.

Matrix Hill Park

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It's time for a rare suburban adventure here on this humble blog. We're headed to Beaverton's Matrix Hill Park, a high point on Cooper Mountain just off Murray Blvd., directly uphill from the new mini-Walmart. The Walmart location was previously a (late, lamented) Haggen grocery store, and long before that it was a rock quarry owned by the Cobb Rock Co. The steep cliffs left over from the quarry days result in sweeping views to the south and east. Granted you're just looking at miles and miles of suburbia, but you can see quite a lot of it from here. There's a bit of a view to the north too, but you're better off going to nearby Sexton Mountain Meadows Park if you really want a better look at the suburban jungle of central Beaverton.

Since it's out in the 'burbs, Oregonian coverage is spotty at best, so I only have a few bits and pieces of info about the place. If the database search function is to be believed, Portland's paper of record has mentioned it precisely once, in May 2001, in an article about volunteer efforts in Beaverton-area parks. However an OSU Extension newsletter from 2010 says the park had just opened to the public. That seems odd, but maybe the Tualatin Hills parks district owned the land for a long time without officially opening it to the public. I'm not really sure, but the path up to the viewpoint looks pretty new, so it's certainly possible. The park district's September 2011 board agenda includes a capital projects list, showing they were spending about $40k per year on renovations here at the time. And a Winter 2010 Metro newsletter showed lots of volunteer events to pull invasive blackberry bushes here.

The park's also mentioned briefly in a 2013 US Fish & Wildlife study, "Willamette Valley Conservation Study: Nature-based Recreation and Educational Opportunities and Underserved Areas Assessment", but it's simply listed as "Existing opportunity identified in spatial data", which I think means they noticed it on a map and didn't investigate it further.

What I really want to know, and what nobody is telling me, is where the name "Matrix Hill" comes from. It's obviously not a native Indian name, nor is it likely to be a pioneer-era name. The first mention I've seen of the name was in 2001, which is a couple of years after the movie The Matrix came out. I'm really hoping it's not named after the movie. I mean, my first guess would be that some clueless polo-shirted real estate developer of the 80s or 90s wanted to build on the hill, and came up with the name independently because he thought it sounded high tech and upscale. This seems plausible because developers are always a rich source of cheesy place names.

But just suppose the park district had asked the public for suggestions, circa 2001 or so; maybe they put the suggestions up for a public vote, and allowed online voting. And suppose that a group of Matrix fanboys decided to troll the vote, and the district was somewhat less than tech savvy and never caught on to their l33t h4x0r script kiddie sk1llZ, and the rest is history. I have zero evidence to back this idea up, so it doesn't even count as a proper theory. But at minimum it would make a great urban legend, so feel free to repeat it if you want to. Be sure to add that we're lucky "Matrix Hill" eked out a win, as a rival tribe of fanboys was rigging votes in favor of "Park-Park Binks".

Ivon Park

Here are a few photos of SE Portland's miniscule Ivon Park at 47th & Ivon, just south of busy SE Division. The park is essentially a small corner lot that ended up as a playground instead of a house and yard, and the space is just big enough for some play equipment. The equipment looks fairly new, possibly added within the last couple of years. In recent years the park has also been a regular stop for Sunday Parkways bike events. I unfortunately don't have an origin story to share about this place. The city says it was created in 1989, the same year as Piccolo Park, but I've never seen it mentioned in connection with the Mt. Hood Freeway. I don't see news stories about it in any other capacity either. Maybe it's just that, until quite recently, SE 47th was just too far from downtown, and Division just too unfashionable, for the Oregonian to bother reporting on the area.

SE 32nd & Ankeny

Our next adventure is a visit to yet another spot from the obscure municipal list of obscure places I've been tracking down now and then. As with the last couple of places from this list, the spot we're visiting now is basically a bit of traffic control landscaping. At SE 32nd & Ankeny, the curb bulges out to prevent eastbound auto traffic from continuing on past 32nd; cars have to make a right turn and go north to Burnside instead, although there's a pass-through bit so bikes can continue eastbound. SE Ankeny was seen as a key bicycle route as far back as 1984, when it was included in something the city called the "Central Corridor Bicycle Route". It's not clear to me whether the plan involved actual marked bike lanes, or just some road signs indicating it was a designated bike route. A 2007 city document on bikeway construction standards explains that what we're looking at here is called a "semi-diverter", because it only blocks traffic in one direction. It also mentions that this was one of 17 semi-diverters around the city at the time, so it's not clear to me why this one's on the list and the others aren't.

It helps, in terms of scenic-ness, that there's an old historic church next to the spot. The building was once home to Portland's Central Presbyterian Church. Around 1980 it was home to something called "The Bible Church", and it was later part of Union Gospel Ministries organization (which is sort of a religious social service agency for the homeless) circa 1989. In 2014 it seems to be primarily a wedding venue and event space. Which honestly is a big improvement over being a church, if you ask me.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Piccolo Park

Photos of SE Portland's tiny Piccolo Park, just south of Division between 27th & 286h. It's a tiny place with a cameo role in one of modern Portland's creation myths, the successful fight against the proposed Mt. Hood Freeway. The freeway was supposed to branch off the Marquam Bridge near OMSI, and head east from there, first along a path between Division and Clinton Streets (i.e. right here), and then along Powell further east, continuing to I-205 and beyond to the distant new eastern suburbs the plan envisioned. Despite the name, it would not have gone anywhere near Mt. Hood. This proposal came on the heels of several other ill-conceived freeway projects (Marquam Bridge, I-5 along the eastbank waterfront and through North Portland, etc.), and this one turned out to be the last straw. There was a huge public outcry, and after years of wrangling the city and the state highway division (now ODOT) finally abandoned the idea. The federal grant money for the freeway was repurposed to build the eastside MAX Blue Line, and the rest is history, and we're still patting ourselves on the back for it close to 40 years later.

The original freeway plan was explained in a March 1972 Oregonian article "Residents of Southeast Portland to Help Plan New Freeway". The list of negative impacts is almost comical: Ugly concrete ramps to the Marquam Bridge visible from Ladd's Addition. Homes and schools bulldozed in the name of progress. Dirt. Noise. No way to cross the freeway in a lot of places. But think of all the exciting benefits: Maybe a greenspace next to the freeway or something. Maybe a bike path if they decide to build one someday. An exciting new shopping mall along the freeway out towards I-205. Oh, and maybe a pedestrian footbridge over the freeway at 28th, i.e. right here. Curiously, the article goes on to discuss mass transit options for the area, and mentions the idea of building a new transit-only bridge near the Marquam Bridge, which is precisely what's being built right now for the new MAX Orange Line. Go figure.

Anyway, by the time the freeway was canceled, the state had already started eminent domain proceedings for the freeway right-of-way. Along Powell, between about Foster Road and I-205, the little parking areas along the south side of the road are on land that was condemned and acquired for the new freeway. Closer in, Piccolo Park is one of very few leftovers of this effort. (There might be others, but this is the only one I'm aware of.) The site of Piccolo Park would have been under the westbound lanes of the freeway, I think, since it's just a few houses south of Division. There were once five houses here, before they were demolished in the name of Progress that never arrived. After the cancellation, ODOT held onto the land, which sat in limbo for about another decade.

Finally in October 1986 neighborhood activists convinced the city to take the land off the state's hands. The city had been resistant to the idea, as they had a policy at the time against adding tiny new parks. The parks bureau was persuaded to make an exception here as the neighborhood had very little greenspace of any kind, and this seemed to be the only viable chance to add a city park in the area.

At the time, and in subsequent early planning stages, everyone referred to it as "Hosford Park", and it seems to have gone by this name unofficially during the years ODOT owned and ignored it. The name changed at some point between then and 1989 when the newly funded and landscaped park officially opened to the public. A 1988 article about playground improvements at nearby Abernethy School also mentions the upcoming new park, but doesn't name it, so the name may have been in flux at that point. I haven't come across any explanation of the name change, but I imagine it would've been to avoid confusion with Hosford Middle School, a couple of blocks due north on the other side of Division. That would make sense, and I'm all in favor of avoiding naming collisions when possible. Regarding the eventual name, one theory I've seen points out that "piccolo" is simply the Italian word for "small", and it may not have anything to do with the tiny, super-annoying musical instrument. I want to emphasize this point in case anyone thinks it would be hip and ironic to show up here en masse and have a piccolo-playing Segway-riding flash mob or something. I just want to be sure people know that doing this would look unsophisticated, telling the world you had no idea it was an Italian word. Just imagine how embarrassing that would be.

Anyway, the park is just big enough for a playground, which was the whole idea when the neighborhood lobbied the city about it. There are some artsy touches here and there, some of which I only noticed in other people's photos after I was there. A small "Friends of Piccolo Park" was formed in 2012 to raise $7000 for a water fountain here. Which I suppose is an appropriately small goal, since this park only exists thanks to a revolt against massive grand plans.

SW Dosch Park Circle

While I was trying to take photos of the little sorta-park at SW Dosch & Boundary, I turned onto a side street (SW Dosch Park Lane) to get some photos from another angle. The road continued into the Dosch Estates subdivision, and I ended up turning around at a small traffic circle. I took a couple of photos of it since it was kind of cute in a twee sort of way, and I had my phone out anyway, so here they are.

In retrospect I'm not sure I was supposed to be there; on the way out I noticed a "Private Road" sign, and PortlandMaps shows the road being part of a couple of weird gerrymander-y tax lots owned by the local HOA. The map still seems to show the street as a public right-of-way, although I might be misreading it.

So... in case Officer Friendly is reading this, these photos were created in Photoshop using advanced skills I've since forgotten and can't demonstrate to you; the place(s) that may (or may not) be depicted in these photos may (or may not) actually exist, as far as I know, or don't know. Also it's possible the post about the sorta-park nearby may (or may not) have ever happened. That one might be Photoshop too, as far as I know, or don't know.

SW Dosch & Boundary

Our next obscure city park is one of the more mysterious ones I've run across. I was poking around on PortlandMaps, as one does, and noticed a little chunk of city-owned land at SW Dosch Rd. & Boundary St., a narrow parcel mostly taken up by a stream that runs through it. The map entry for it says it belongs to the City Auditor's office, which isn't unusual for city parks. Particularly for undeveloped places the city can't afford to do anything with, doesn't know what to do with, or has just forgotten about. I'm always up for a new and obscure place, so it went on my big omnibus todo list.

So the key thing about this spot is that it's a narrow overgrown lot with a short stretch of stream running through it. It seems completely undeveloped, and just upstream of it is an adjacent parcel, also wild but owned by the adjacent Dosch Estates homeowners association.

I'm not entirely sure what this place is for, or what it was meant to be, but I've found a few clues. The plans for a 1957 sewer project (around the time the area was first subdivided as "Forest Acres") show this lot prominently labeled as "PARK". So my working hypothesis is that it was supposed to be a city park, or maybe a piece of a larger city park, and the project just never came together for some reason.

Much later on, a 1993 city list of stormwater facilities refers to this spot as a "detention basin", and notes this creek is part of the Fanno Creek watershed, which the city's been trying to protect. So it's not as if the place is useless; it just doesn't have a lot to offer the casual human visitor, unless maybe it's blackberry season.

The Dosch Estates subdivision's main street is Dosch Park Lane, but there's no actual Dosch Park, unless maybe the land we're looking at here was supposed to be it. One of the houses along Dosch Park Lane is the historic Henry E. Dosch estate; the rest of the subdivision used to be the grounds of the estate, before it was subdivided in the early 1980s. (A page at ExplorePDX has a walk/run route through the subdivision, with a couple of photos of the old Dosch house and the surrounding area.) So today's Dosch Estates replaced the old Dosch estate, a twist on the usual procedure where a subdivision is named for what it replaced.

Henry E. Dosch has appeared here once before, as the wealthy benefactor who donated the pair of Fort Sumter cannons in Lownsdale Square. In that post I described his life as

"Your basic 'German bookkeeper immigrates to US just in time for the Civil War, joins up, has adventures, gets wounded, leaves the Army, heads west, has adventures, does a stint as a Pony Express rider, ends up in Portland, goes into business, eventually retires, spends later years as an amateur horticulturalist, when not managing exhibits at World's Fairs around the globe.' type story".
He sounds like the Victorian era's "Most Interesting Man in the World". If only he'd owned a hot air balloon or maybe a submarine, and used it while wearing a monocle and top hat, it would have been perfect. Even his house has its own Wikipedia article, albeit a fairly short one. It's not really that extravagant of a house, by the standards of that era, and it lacks the usual turrets and mansards and so forth. Or at least it's not that fancy above ground. Maybe there are catacombs underground, or a secret lab for "horticultural experiments" or "revenge against the world" or something. It just sort of stands to reason.

Waud Bluff Trail

Here are some photos from Portland's short, steep, and shiny new Waud Bluff Trail, which connects the north end of Swan Island to the residential area above, near the University of Portland. The trail's only about 1000 feet long, but with an average 10-13% grade, and at the bottom there's a footbridge over railroad tracks, and there are steep stairs on the other side of the tracks. (The footbridge gets a post of its own, because, um, them's the rules here.) There's a further 700 feet of flat trail between the footbridge and the dead-end street next to the Coast Guard base.

There's a nice in depth article about the trail at BikePortland; when I visited, nearly all of the other people there were biking up the hill. The article follows the trail downhill, in the opposite direction to all the cyclists I saw, who were doing the climb and looking very determined about it. I hope none of them were expecting cheering crowds or KOM points at the top.

So there's a nice view of Swan Island and downtown from along the trail, which is the main reason I visited. The city thoughtfully installed a couple of turnouts so you can stop for the view and not be in anyone's way, which is what I did. And if you're riding the hill, the turnouts are a chance to get off your bike and give up and wait for the team car to come pick you up. While all the other cyclists ride by and roll their eyes and giggle as they steamroller their way up the hill like it's nothing. At least you get to laugh last when they inevitably test positive for EPO or 'roids or something.

East Marine Drive Trail

Today's adventure takes us to the east end of the Marine Drive Trail, which runs along the south shore of the Columbia River much of the way between Gresham and industrial NE Portland, with gaps for a few marinas and houseboat communities. Other parts of the trail have appeared here before: Once for the west end of the trail, east of NE 33rd at Broughton Beach, and again for a disconnected segment further west near the Oregon Slough Railroad Bridge.

This area merits a separate post because a.) It's a nice scenic spot, well east of the other two locations, and b.) The stretch from NE 158th east to near 185th is owned by Metro instead of the Port of Portland. I don't think there's a sign or any sort of notice when you hit the boundary between the two areas, and they look basically the same, with the river on one side and Marine Drive on the other. It's possible I'm the only person who cares about this stuff, and even I only sort of care, but hey.

This stretch of shoreline was once part of the underfunded, mismanaged Multnomah County park system, until that system was divided up among Metro and the cities of Portland and Gresham back in 1994. (I located a list of those properties, or most of them, a while ago; it's posted on the Mason Hill Park post ). Back in circa-1994 the county listed it as the "Philippi Property". Which isn't a great name , but Metro's GIS system used it up until recently. That system now refers to it as "Columbia River Shoreline B", which isn't much of a name either, particularly since I looked all over the place & didn't see a Shoreline A. So I'm just going with "East Marine Drive Trail" because that's at least a reasonable description of the place

NE 28th & Weidler

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Our next adventure takes us to a triangular park-like space at NE 28th & Weidler, right next to the Hollywood Fred Meyer store. There is play equipment and swings, and a few benches, and a path meandering through it. There's no sign explaining exactly what it is, though, or who owns it. Which is a shame because there's an interesting story here.

This area isn't actually a public park, but rather is owned by Fred Meyer (or, strictly speaking, Kroger, its Cincinnati-based parent company), and it's the result of a compromise deal when the store went in back in 1990. The store (built on the site of the old Hyster forklift factory) was quite controversial at the time; neighbors claimed it would bring traffic problems and change the character of the Hollywood District, and generally felt it was just too suburban and car-oriented and simply wouldn't fit here. The little park was intended to be a buffer area between the store's parking lot and the residential neighborhood next door. More recently, the play equipment and park furniture were replaced in 2011 as part of a larger renovation of the store.

It does kind of seem like a missed marketing opportunity here. Imagine signs on the play equipment and outdoor furniture: "Kids can't get enough of this? Buy one for your backyard! On sale right next door! Free box of wine with every purchase, because assembling it is half the fun." Maybe they just don't sell the right sort of play equipment and outdoor furniture to make that feasible. Maybe it would be doable if there was a Home Depot or IKEA here instead. Or maybe the neighborhood's still too touchy about the store existing at all for this to be a good idea.

Les AuCoin Plaza

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Photos of Les AuCoin Plaza, the landscaped surface portion of the Washington Park MAX station. There's a big sign giving the name, but I've never heard anyone call it that. I've never heard anyone call it anything, honestly. Despite all the paths and terraces, there's not really a good reason to come and hang out here, unless maybe you're waiting for an elevator to the underground MAX platform. And the only time you might have to wait for an elevator would be if a zoo concert just let out, or maybe right after the zoo closed on an especially busy day. So it's a nice space, but a little-used one.

When the westide MAX Blue Line opened in 1998, an architecture writer for the Oregonian talked up the virtues of the place

Farther west on the line, Washington Park Station finds the romance in a mechanical process. The station sits at the midpoint of a 3-mile tunnel, drilled from both directions through 16-million-year-old basalt 260 feet underground. The two granite wheels that ground the tunnel met in a "kiss" at the station.

The kiss, explains Murase, caused an allegorical "emotional explosion," symbolized by a circle of basalt slabs at the station.

More stone columns landed in the Les Aucoin Plaza just up the steps from "the kiss." Landscaping in the plaza and below took its cue from the zoo and followed a dry, upland theme. Katsura trees flutter their heart-shaped leaves and ornamental grasses dance softly with lavender, juniper, yarrow, spirea, rosemary and cotoneaster.

The plaza's named for Rep. Les AuCoin, who represented Oregon's 1st congressional district (including much of the westside MAX route) from 1978-1993. He played a big role in getting federal funding for the project, and so they named part of one of the stations after him. Likewise, the last station on the line, out in Hillsboro, was named in honor of Sen. Mark Hatfield, who had recently retired in 1996 after nearly half a century in Oregon politics. AuCoin is very much alive and blogging; I met him once as a young Cub Scout, and I always thought he was a decent guy. I'm pretty sure I voted for him in 1990 (the first time I was old enough to vote), and then in 1992 when he ran against now-infamous Senator Bob Packwood. In that election, it turned out The Oregonian (our local newspaper) knew about Packwood's shenanigans well before the election, but sat on the story to avoid "ruining his career". The public only found out later when the Washington Post broke the story.

Oregon had a spate of naming things after living politicians during the 1990s and early 2000s, but that seems to have cooled in recent years, after we learned Neil Goldschmidt's dirty little secret. I always thought this was a bad idea, and I'm still amazed that we avoided naming anything important after Goldschmidt (and thus avoided having to rename it hastily, especially if it was a school or something). Either that was sheer luck, or the people in charge of naming things had heard the rumors about him. TriMet seems to have dodged a bullet by naming things for Hatfield and AuCoin (and not, say, Packwood, or Goldschmidt, or David Wu, or...). I still think it would've been better to wait for future historians to weigh in, though.

NE 17th & Thompson

A few blocks west of our last semi-adventure (the mini-roundabout at NE 24th & Thompson) is another spot on the obscure municipal list of obscure places I've slowly been exploring. This one is a sort of landscaped traffic barrier, turning NE 17th into a cul-de-sac on the south side of Thompson St, keeping cars from busy NE Broadway from blundering onto the Irvington neighborhood's genteel streets. There are a few other traffic control widgets of various types in the area, and they're remarkably effective without really seeming to be. While walking along Thompson St. it occurred to me that I'd never actually been through this part of Irvington before. I'd been along Broadway more times than I can count, but while driving around in the area I always seemed to end up going around the residential part of Irvington rather than through it, even when straight through would be the most direct route. It wasn't until I walked through looking for places on this list that I realized all this detouring was intentional on the city's part. Obviously someone at City Hall is smarter than they look.

So the deal here is that Irvington is known to be an upscale sort of neighborhood, but you may not realize just how upscale and old-money-ish parts of it are if you haven't wandered through. It even has its own historic private tennis/social club. I'm fairly sure that, not so long ago, I saw a map someone had created showing Portland city commissioners' residences over many decades; it may have been back to the early 1900s when the city adopted the current, sometimes controversial commission-style city government, with all commissioners elected at large and thus free to live anywhere in town. It was not an even distribution, or a random one, to put it mildly. Irvington was one of several clusters, as I recall. Maybe it's a more voter-friendly address than living somewhere high in the West Hills, off the normal street grid, apart from the peasants. Or maybe it's the other way around, and living in the middle of the city prompts people to get involved whereas living in the West Hills doesn't. Beats me. Unfortunately I've looked but haven't been able to find this map again. I'm not just imagining I saw it, am I? Feel free to leave a comment if you know the one I'm talking about and have a link to it.

Anyway, for some reason in addition to the trees and flowers there's a big wood carving of an eagle head here, and it looks like it's been here for a long time. I didn't see a sign or a signature, and I don't know who created it or why it's here, and the internet isn't helping with clues. If I knew those things, the eagle head would get its own separate blog post, because them's the rules.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

NE 24th & Thompson

Several years ago I ran across an obscure city document (don't bother clicking, it's been offline for months now) that listed a bunch of very obscure places the Portland city parks bureau had played a role in managing or planning. I tracked down a few that turned out to be interesting: The Vernon Ross Veterans Memorial, most of the various "East Park Blocks" around Portland's eastside, a number of little mini-parks in the Alameda and Healy Heights neighborhoods, and various other things. So tracking these places down eventually became another of this humble blog's many weird little projects. In an unusual bit of foresight I included the full list in a 2011 post (which I did because I didn't have anything else interesting to say about the place), so this mini-project has kept going despite the original document falling off the interwebs.

A lot of the remaining items on the list either no longer exist, or the description's so vague I can't figure out where to look. Others are things that I passed on because they didn't seem very interesting or worthwhile at the time.

Which brings us to our next destination, the mini-roundabout at NE 24th & Thompson, in the Irvington neighborhood. Not that long ago I specifically said I wasn't going to cover these mini-roundabout things; there are dozens, maybe hundreds of them all over town, which is too many, and they aren't really individually distinctive. A couple have appeared here because they're in the center of a painted intersection, but generally this is still a solid rule. I'm making an exception for this one because it's on the aforementioned list. Or at least the intersection's on the list, and the traffic circle is the only likely candidate for something the parks bureau might have been involved in. I have no idea why this one was on the list and no others were, since it looks just like all the others. Maybe it was the first one. I don't have any documentation or any particular reason to think so, but it's the only hypothesis I have other than sheer randomness. This is the point where I shrug and say I don't write these lists, I just go where they tell me to go, and the matter is entirely out of my hands.

This little circle does have its own page (albeit a very bare-bones one) on a site called Roundabouts Now, which bills itself as "Your Exclusive Source of Modern Roundabouts Information". Which does seem to be an accurate slogan in this case. In a way I'm glad that site exists. I dunno, I guess it feels reassuring when I find something that's gone further down a nerdy rabbit hole than I have. So far.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Japanese Maple Trees with Rocks

Some photos of Michihiro Kosuge's Japanese Maple Trees with Rocks, at the entrance to the Oregon Dept. of Transportation offices at NW 1st & Flanders. The artist's statement explains:

My idea was to use various sized rock columns to create a relationship with the existing elements of the site: the maple trees, the glass entry and the area around the building. The installation of the natural basalt columns was integrated into and activated the site. The placement of stones unify the area visually and affect the way visitors move through the space. The varying sizes and the semi-circular arrangement of rocks provide people with places to sit, mingle, walk, and (hopefully) enjoy the entire installation.

The main group of basalt columns identifies the building and invites visitors to follow the installation inside. I hope workers and visitors will interact with the spatial environment and will be aware of the trees and architecture, the area around the building, and their own relationship to the stones.

I didn't realize that some of the rock columns extend into the building until looking at the photos in the Public Art Archive page (first link, above). So that's kind of a fun touch, I guess. Plus I suppose the Japanese maple trees in the title are the actual maple trees around the 1st Avenue side of the building. I'm referencing a Public Art Archive page for info about the sculpture because (like Valley) it doesn't have an RACC page. I suppose because ODOT is a state agency, and thus RACC wasn't involved at all in the project.

Kosuge's work has appeared on thee pages a couple of times before, namely Continuation on the transit mall near the Hotel Modera, and Composition in the sculpture court at the Portland Art Museum. Usually when I get to the third work or so by someone, it's time to add a tag for the artist's name so people can find all of them easily, so I've taken care of that now.


Here are a few photos of Valley, a bowl-shaped sculpture in front of the OSU Food Innovation Center, on Naito Parkway between 9th and the Broadway Bridge. It doesn't have an RACC page, I suppose because it was created for a state agency, not the city or Multnomah County. Its Public Art Archive page (see previous link) tells us it was created by Janet Lofquist in 1999, and gives a brief description:

This view presents a contextual setting for the outdoor sculpture, Valley, which consists of an inverted, concave cone that hovers just above the ground amidst four unfinished boulders. The convex base of the cone hangs above it, off to the side, and it appears to double as an awning for the entry way to the Food Innovation Center.

The artist's website has a few photos of it, and describes it (along with a companion piece inside the building):

Both pieces contain sculptural elements that not only refer to the context of the facility, food research and marketing, but also reflect the Oregon landscape and its rich agricultural heritage. Surrounded by landscape plantings, a large vessel/funnel form occupies the plaza area. Elevated by basalt boulders the sculptural forms allude to the topography of the region, suggesting valley and mountain, orchards and forest.

I gather this center works on food processing, packaging, market research, and related stuff, and it's intended to be a resource for local businesses. So if you're a couple of hipsters who want to start a cutting-edge pickling business, you talk to someone here first, or that's the idea. I suppose if you invented tomacco, or soylent green, and wanted to astound an unsuspecting world, you'd come here too, and they'd help you. They worked on Tofurkey, so I wouldn't put it past them.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Salishan Beach

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Here are a few photos from a deserted Oregon beach in mid-August. That doesn't sound possible, does it? To understand what's going on here, I have to give a little background first. Oregon's famous Beach Bill reserves all beaches along the Oregon Coast as a public right-of-way; in fact beaches are legally a state highway, though obviously they don't function as one. (This legal quirk is why it fell to the state highway commission to famously dynamite a beached whale back in 1970.) The right of way only extends up to the normal high tide mark, so while the beach itself is public, access to it is a whole other story. Particularly since the coast is also full of gated communities, and casual interlopers typically aren't really their thing.

The Salishan Resort sits on Siletz Bay, a few miles south of Lincoln City. Parts of it date back to the early 1960s, just before modern environmental laws really got going. The resort includes a hotel as well as a big gated community of funky 1970s and 1980s vacation homes, and the whole complex is built around a golf course. A small shopping area and spa along US 101 were added later. The gated community fronts on several miles of public beach, including a stretch of houses that runs much of the length of sandy Salishan Spit. Those houses probably wouldn't stand up under a tsunami or a really serious storm, and you certainly wouldn't get environmental approval to build them today, but it must have seemed like a great idea back in the 1970s. Anyway, you have a situation where the long stretch of beach here is publicly owned, but the road to the beach is gated and mere mortals aren't allowed through it.

It turns out that the beach here isn't entirely inaccessible, if you know the secret. And don't worry if you don't know the secret, because I'm about to tell you. There's a short, easy trail to the beach that begins right next to the Salishan shopping center, between it and the spa complex. The trailhead is unmarked other than a "No through traffic" sign, and looks like a service road or something. I don't know if the developers were legally obligated to provide a trail, or they did it on their own to ward off a lawsuit, or precisely what terms the trail was constructed under, but they clearly weren't obligated to advertise the existence of a trail, and they don't. I only know about it because I was staying at the hotel; the front desk there will explain how to get to the beach, but you have to ask.

If you find the trail and follow it, you quickly come to a fork in the path: Golf carts straight ahead, "Nature Trail" to the right. You want to take the nature trail here. It runs along a hedge-topped levee between the golf course and Siletz Bay, which also serves as a windbreak for the golf course. Part of the way it feels like you're walking along in a tunnel inside the hedge. Continue along the trail and you get to a forested section, and eventually you come to a clearing next to Salishan Dr., the main road through the subdivision. Just off to the left, there's an intersection with Sea Dunes Rd., a brief bit of road that takes you to the beach access point. Take the walkway over the dunes and you're at the beach, and it's quite possible nobody else will be there. I'm sure it helped that it was 58 and foggy the day I visited, and the shopping center had closed for the day, but I doubt the beach ever gets very busy. From here you can walk south toward the Gleneden Beach area, or north to the tip of the spit. At that point it's a stone's throw across a narrow channel to Lincoln City. The channel is the entrance to Siletz Bay, though, so I suspect trying to swim across would be a deeply unwise choice.

Powell Grove Pioneer Cemetery

The intersection of NE 122nd and Sandy resembles a freeway interchange, with an overpass and cloverleaf ramps between the two streets. If you look closely, inside the curve of one of these ramps is a collection of headstones. This is the tiny one-acre Powell Grove Pioneer Cemetery, which was here first, dating all the way back to 1848. For the first century or so of its existence the surrounding area was rural, and it only appeared in the paper when a new resident arrived.

In December 1949, after a century as a privately run cemetery, relatives of people buried here asked the county to take over maintenance. Undoubtedly this seemed like a great idea at the time, but county ownership may have paved the way for a lengthy court battle that began a few years later.

In 1953, moving to suburbia was the hot new trend, and everyone's favorite downtown stores decided to follow. Fred Meyer proposed a new store at 122nd & Sandy, their first venture outside the downtown core. The intersection was already a busy one, and the announcement envisioned "modernizing" it to provide better access to the new store. The paper described the proposal as the "first decentralization by a major downtown department store", which seems to indicate there weren't any Meier & Frank stores outside downtown then, nor any branches of the other long-vanished department stores that once graced downtown.

Or it would have been the first such store if the plan had gone through quickly. However discussions dragged on for a few years as the parties tried to work out the details, including road access to the store site. In 1957 the county announced a plan to move the cemetery elsewhere, to make room for a nice modern freeway-style intersection: "Dead Asked to Move Over - Cemetery In Way of Plan to Expedite Traffic". Relatives of the deceased weren't so keen on the idea, and a courtroom battle ensued over the next few years. An August 1960 article about needed repairs at the cemetery mentions the ongoing court fight, as well as a new proposal to include the cemetery inside one of the cloverleaf ramps, which is what eventually ended up happening.

It didn't happen immediately, though. The court battle continued, and in November 1961 the county and local boosters tentatively won the fight to move the cemetery elsewhere. Several months after that, an article referred to the "present site" of the cemetery, indicating nothing had changed at that point, and then... nothing. It's as if they went to all the trouble to win the right to dig people up and move them, and then dropped the matter without actually going through with it. I can't even find any references saying they decided not to do it after all; they just stopped talking about it, and that was the end of the matter.

A few of you longtime Gentle Reader(s) might remember this photo from another post back in 2008, before I'd really gotten this blogging-about-places-and-things schtick down properly. Who am I kidding, nobody remembers trivial stuff like that. It's just that somehow it feels like I should disclose it when I reuse an old photo for a new post. I'm not sure why; it just feels more sort of integrity-esque this way.

Laurelhurst Gates

Our next adventure takes us to the edge of the Laurelhurst neighborhood, the frontiers of which are guarded by seven stone gates. Laurelhurst was created as an extra-swanky subdivision back in the early 20th Century. To keep it that way, the neighborhood came with a very restrictive set of covenants. One rule prohibited businesses within the area, as well as all residential uses other than single-family detached houses, and houses could not be sold for less than $3000, which was a lot of money back then. Another rule, the most notorious of the set, banned minorities from owning property anywhere within Laurelhurst. I'm not sure whether the rules also banned Jews, Catholics and freethinkers; some covenants of the time did and others didn't.

In any case the developers also put up fancy sandstone gates along major roads as they entered the subdivision. They were even lighted at one point, although the lighting system hasn't worked for decades now. Calling them gates is maybe overstating the case a bit; they look kind of gate-like but only extend over the sidewalk, and they don't provide a way to block the sidewalk, much less the street as a whole, and there's nowhere for armed guards to sit and demand ID from everyone trying to enter. So they're at best a larval form of the modern gated community. The neighborhood association now prefers to call them "Laurelhurst Arches", and certainly they sound less exclusionary that way.

There were originally eight gates, but one at NE Peerless Pl. & Sandy Blvd. was demolished at some point. A Plaid Pantry convenience store now stands where it once was, though the neighborhood association states a long term goal of replacing the lost gate, as well as restoring the lighting someday. This post has photos of two of the seven survivors, namely the pair at 32nd & Burnside, but a post at History Treasured & Sometimes Endangered includes photos of all the gates, including a few from 1910 when they still fronted an area of empty lots.

As far as I can tell (by which I mean "I searched the net and various databases"), the identity of whoever designed the gates is lost to history. If it had been a prominent architect or sculptor of the day, Laurelhurst real estate ads (which featured the gates prominently) undoubtedly would have mentioned it as a selling point.

Gold Award Garden Fountain

Our next adventure takes us back to the Rose Garden in Washington Park, and once again we aren't looking at flowers. I was at the Rose Garden a few months ago taking photos for a couple of art posts (the Shakespeare relief, the Currey bench, and the Royal Rosarian statue), in the non-flowering off season to avoid the crowds. One of the garden's various sections is a "Gold Award Garden", a collection of past grand champion award-winning roses, some dating back to 1919. As I walked by, I noticed there was a little fountain among the non-blooming celebrity roses, so I took a few photos of it, along with a Vine clip to show the fountain running.

The garden only dates to 1969-1970, when local high society people (a.k.a. the sort of people who worry about these things) decided the rose garden wasn't doing a proper job of preserving past winners for posterity, and after various fancy-dress luncheons and fundraiser galas the whole thing came together. Newspaper accounts from that time just mention the fountain in passing, which I guess makes sense. The Rose Society's page about the garden (linked above) just says "Dorothy knew this needed an expert for design and layout and she chose what she considered the best. The board agreed with her Selection of Wallace Kay Huntington noted landscape architect to design the Gold Award Garden." Huntington is a prominent architect and architectural historian, and he was still consulting with local architecture firms as of a few years ago.

Moore Island

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Our next adventure takes us to the Columbia Slough's Moore Island, separated from Wright Island by a muddy channel, surrounded by mudflats, and not even accessible by an illegal scramble across a busy train bridge. Like Wright Island, the whole thing is city owned, and it's managed as a nature reserve, with salmon-friendly "Large Woody Debris structures" (i.e. old logs, anchored in place) coming to its shores in the next few years. Long story short, I have basically nothing interesting to pass along about the place, and what little I do have already showed up in the Wright Island post.

Portland's Moore Island is not to be confused with West Linn's Moore's Island at Willamette Falls, bordering the old locks. Moore's Island is entirely industrial, and there are "catacombs" carved in the rocks beneath the old paper mill, patrolled by giant nutrias. That sounds like a more interesting place than Portland's muddy slough island, although sadly I don't know the right people or have the right lockpicking skills to get a look at it in person.

Wright Island expedition

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Today's adventure takes us to what's likely one of the less-touristed spots in the Portland city park system. Wright Island, is an island in the middle of the Columbia Slough, south of PIR and the Heron Lakes municipal golf course, entirely surrounded by mudflats, and reached only by a Union Pacific railroad bridge. You might need a hovercraft to get to the island, or a kayak, hip waders, luck, and a phone to call 911 when you get stuck. Or you could try to scramble out onto the train bridge, avoiding trains and railroad cops, and rappel down to the island, hopefully leaving a rope in place so you aren't stuck there forever. Or I suppose you could go by helicopter if you have one, or know someone who does. I'm afraid I played it safe (as usual) and just took photos of the island from across the slough. So I've never actually been to Wright Island, but I've seen it and taken photos of it, which is probably sufficient for internet purposes. The city's 2009 vegetation unit survey for the island mentions that it had recently been home to an extensive homeless camp, so there's obviously got to be some way to get there, if you're sufficiently motivated.

The city owns it primarily as a nature reserve, not a visitor attraction. Recent plans indicate they want to anchor logs ("Large Woody Debris structures", the city calls them) around the island, and around Moore Island, just east of here, to enhance baby salmon habitat.

Technically only the east half of the island is officially a city park. Railroad right-of-way runs down the middle, and the western portion is primarily Bureau of Environmental Services, with a smaller bit owned by the City Auditor's office. In practice the ownership situation is probably not a very important detail, but it was the only interesting detail I saw on PortlandMaps. And I'm resorting to PortlandMaps at all because, as far as I can determine, Wright Island hasn't been mentioned in the Oregonian even once since the paper's founding back in the 1860s. So I don't know when the city acquired it, or why, or any fun historical anecdotes. It's possible the city inherited it from Vanport City after that town was lost to the 1948 Vanport Flood, but I don't have anything concrete to back that up.

Note that Portland's Wright Island is not to be confused with the much larger (and equally inaccessible) Wright Island off the coast of Antarctica. If I had to choose between the two, I'd probably pick the Antarctica one as a Bond villain lair, mostly because the Portland one is just too small for a proper evil base. Although on the other hand Portland's island offers a (somewhat) better climate, and is close to the Hayden Meadows/Jantzen Beach area for when one needs to stock up on lair supplies, and one's henchmen will have an easy commute down from the 'Couve. So there are advantages and disadvantages either way, I suppose.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kenton Art Benches

The next stop in the ongoing public art tour is conveniently just down the street from the previous stop, Poder de la Mano, the giant hands-n-book thing on Denver Avenue in the Kenton neighborhood. The Kenton Art Benches are by the same guy, are also on Denver Ave. near McClellan St., and they elaborate on themes from the "main" sculpture. From the RACC page:

Designed in collaboration with Greenworks PC, artist and third-generation stone carver Mauricio Saldaña created seven Art Benches located on street corners along Denver Avenue. Each bench features a carved image derived from the nearby sculpture Poder de la Mano, also by the artist. Each image highlights unique elements of the neighborhood both past and present.

Saldaña also created Rico Pasado, the cute bear sculpture in Jamison Square, as well as Vida y Esperanza, the squirrel & tree stump at Mt. Talbert Nature Park near Clackamas Town Center. If I had to rank them (and I do realize that's kind of a gauche thing to do), I'd say bear, then squirrel, then benches, finally hands. The hands kind of creep me out, to be honest.

Poder de la Mano

Our next item on the ongoing public art tour isPoder de la Mano ("Power of the Hand", I think) by Mauicio Saldaña, in the Kenton neighborhood at N. Denver Avenue & Kilpatrick St. The inevitable RACC description:

Poder de la Mano was created as a tribute to the Kenton neighborhood. A hand holds an open book which is carved with images depicting the history of the area and its people. It includes well known building facades such as the Kenton Firehouse, the Masonic Temple, and the Kenton Hotel, as well as whimsical and imaginative details that showcase the uniqueness of neighborhood. The images were inspired by community and neighborhood meetings and can also be found on nearby benches also carved by the artist.

So the subject matter this time around is "local neighborhood landmarks". Neighborhoods usually just do a mural if they want to celebrate the local old buildings and whatnot (see the one in Buckman for example), but Kenton went for something a bit more permanent. Or the city did on the neighborhood's behalf. When this went in, the city's then-mayor lived somewhere nearby, and gentrifying the area became a high municipal priority during his term in office. Hence the giant stone hands holding a giant book illustrated with a few of Kenton's mildly interesting old buildings.

The curious thing here is that the sculpture looks to be of sturdier construction than the buildings it depicts. It's entirely possible that it will outlast its subject. I'd be willing to bet money it survives at least one of the buildings shown. It's just that none of us are likely to be around when it's time to settle this bet. The main natural predators of stone sculptures are acid rain, vandals, art thieves, and fashionable good taste, and the latter is probably the main threat here. I could see the city, circa 2034, deciding it's just too cheesy to keep (by 2034's exacting standards) and consigning it to a dusty warehouse, or trading it to the aliens as a native handicraft in exchange for some sort of advanced technology. It could happen.

Green Silver

Couple of photos of Green Silver, an art installation on a rooftop corner of the Trenton Terrace Senior Center, across the street from North Portland's McCoy Park. The description from its RACC page:

A double-row of aluminum panels depicting Northwest evergreen forests are illuminated with LCD color lighting between panels and that sits on top the NE corner tower of the building, facing the adjacent park. The lighting color is programmed to reflect different seasons and holidays. The lighted sculpture creates an aerial landmark for the building both day and night, and pays tribute to the resilience of the senior residents at the former housing project.

Sadly I only have daylight photos of it, so we're not getting the full effect, but both the RACC page and the artist's website have nighttime photos so you can see what it looks like then. His website notes that he also created Spiral Path with Moon and Stars, the moon-and-star designs scattered around the park, as well as Glass Leaves inside the senior center.

So that's about all I know about this one, as there isn't much on the net about it. It doesn't even have a proper RACC page; the page I linked to above is a portfolio page for artists pre-approved to work on new RACC projects. I'm not really sure what the criteria are for something to merit a full database entry vs. just being a portfolio item. I'm mildly curious, but it's probably a very boring reason relating to ownership or funding sources or something along those lines.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Jewels of Portland

At the southwest corner of downtown Portland's O'Bryant Square, there's a small building with brightly-painted mural panels on its sides. One panel says the panels are called Jewels of Portland and were created by Amy and Ilona Stoner, in cooperation with the city parks bureau. It has images of various local landmarks, and namechecks even more of them, I suppose for tourists visiting the world-famous food cart pod across the street.

This went in around 2008 when they renovated the square a bit, mostly to remove some 70s-era open-sided shelters that attracted homeless people, something that city hall finds intolerable. The brick structure the murals are on houses ventilation and electrical systems for the park's underground parking garage, and until the renovation its sides were just black louvered vents, if I recall correctly. So the mural panels seem like a decent upgrade from that, even if they are just painted sheets of plywood. I assume the garage still has adequate ventilation after boarding up these vents. Hopefully that was a design consideration. In any case, the murals feel like an inexpensive temporary patch on the place, until the city has another go at redoing the park.

The city has big but currently unfunded plans to essentially nuke and pave O'Bryant Square (or unpave, as the case may be) as part of the circa-2005 "Three Downtown Parks" plan, the other two being the all-new Director Park (the only funded one of the three), and tiny Ankeny Park, on Burnside at SW Park Avenue.

A recent Portland Tribune article wrings its hands about the unfunded rehab project, but also pushes the old "needle park" meme about the square, which is a bad rap I've never really understood. I'd agree that the current park design isn't fabulous, and I'm not necessarily opposed to remodeling. I wish they'd keep the park's Fountain for a Rose in any future design, and hopefully take some design cues from the park's current groovy 1970s look, because I'd hate to see any net loss of municipal grooviness. The current murals won't stick around though. There probably won't be a parking garage in any redesign, in which case there won't be a ventilation building, and thus no place for the plywood panels to go. Sic transit gloria mundi, or whatever.

Uptown Village Clock

The city of Vancouver, WA turns out to have a public art program, obviously much smaller than Portland's. One of the items listed is a free-standing retro clock at 2500 Main St, in Vancouver's Uptown Village neighborhood. The city's description:

Aluminum and fiberglass clock created by the Verdin Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. The clock was installed in 1998 in partnership with the Vancouver Housing Authority, expressing the VHA's commitment to high quality urban design.

The manufacturer's page about clocks explains that this is called a "post clock", which are available with either 2 or 4 clock faces. Apparently their designs are customizable, which looks to be what Vancouver did here. Their design-your-own-clock page seems to indicate this is the Courtyard model, with the Arabic clock face (but a custom dial), the black color option, with the optional gold highlights, and maybe a custom header. At that point the form asks for contact info so a sales rep can contact you. I didn't take my research quite that far, so I'm not sure what one of these bad boys would cost, much less what it would have cost in 1998.

I was kind of disappointed to see that all their available clock options are retro looks from the 19th and early 20th centuries. There's nothing in an Art Deco or Midcentury look, or anything more contemporary, or even any steampunk retro designs. Kind of a missed opportunity, if you ask me. The design they went with does fit the neighborhood, though, and it looks like it belongs here, so it has that going for it.

Whether a clock ordered from a catalog counts as art or not is a philosophical question. My personal inclination is to say it isn't, but it was on the city of Vancouver's official list, so I figured it was in scope. It's also located right across the street from a Walgreens store, a store that happens to be the closest Washington pharmacy to the Oregon border, and therefore Portland's hookup for non-prescription Sudafed. So I'm in the area anyway now and then when allergies act up, and taking a couple of quick photos of the clock was pretty convenient. Also nearby, if you're so inclined, are a gas station (so you can pump your own gas, which is still illegal in Oregon), seasonal fireworks stands (also illegal in Oregon. I hate fireworks, though.), and one of Washington's first legal weed stores (also still illegal in Oregon, though that may change in November).

From the random anecdote department, here's something I ran across while looking for info about Vancouver's clock. The Canadian parliament building features a central clock tower known as the Peace Tower, which is a Canadian icon and features on the nation's $20 bill. It turns out the clock in the tower is a much larger Verdin product, and when it broke down in 2006, the government realized they had to bring in foreign experts from (gasp!) Cincinnati to fix it, causing yet another bout of national handwringing. The company website doesn't let you design clocks this big online ("big" meaning 5.4 meter clock faces), and obviously you'd have to talk to a sales rep (or more likely a whole room full of them) to figure out what one of these babies would set you back. But it's a four-face clock, and those always cost more.