Friday, August 29, 2014

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.

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