Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Waverleigh Boulevard Blocks

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Today's adventure takes us to the short stretch of SE Waverleigh Boulevard between 31st & 33rd Avenues, just north of Powell and east of the Cleveland High School football field. This stretch of Waverleigh Boulevard is sort of diagonal to the normal Portland street grid, and has a grassy median strip down the center. PortlandMaps (the city's public GIS system) says this median strip is actually a city park, or at least is owned by the city parks bureau. There's another stretch of Waverleigh on the other side of the football field, between 28th & 31st, but instead of a median it has a concrete divider and parking spaces down the center of the street. The whole arrangement seemed kind of unusual, since Waverleigh isn't a major street and doesn't go much of anywhere. So it was time for some research. It seems that back in 1907 this area was the shiny, new Waverleigh Heights subdivision. The first ad in the paper for it sounds both exuberant and shady, sort of reminiscent of realty ads a century later during the great condo bubble.

We take checks, certificates of deposit, clearing-house certificates, shin plasters, or old gold, in payment of lots in Waverleigh Heights.

Put your money in "dirt" and get your money's worth. No worry here. Give us your money and we will do the worrying for you.

The company behind the project, and this dubious ad, was the amusingly-named "Jno. P. Sharkey Company". A few months later they offered a free corner lot at SE 33rd & Brooklyn to the winner of a sorta-anagram contest, strangely enough. Here are the official rules, although I'm afraid the entry deadline is long past:

See how many words you can make out of the thirteen different letters in "Beautiful Waverleigh", not using the same letter more than once in any word. Therefore the letters you can use are B,T,F,U,W,A,V,R,L,E,I,G,H.

A word cannot be used more than once, even though it has different meanings.

You cannot use plurals or the names of persons or places.

Any word now in use in the English language (Webster is our authority) will be counted, but not obsolete words.

Today this would be a decent freshman computer science assignment, which I'll leave as an exercise for the reader.

The median was originally supposed to be a central parking strip the whole length of the street, as it still is further west. Apparently this was an unusual arrangement at the time, since three years later the city was still trying to puzzle out who owned the central strip, and who was responsible for making improvements to it, the city or homeowners whose property faced it. This issue had come to a head because the the developers had left the central parking strip unfinished; the article states that in many spots it was "simply a hole in the ground, which had to be filled at considerable expense." The city faced a looming $2779.37 bill for improvements, and was wringing its hands over whether to pass the cost along to homeowners instead. I haven't run across a followup article detailing what the eventual judgment was, but we know the eastern segment eventually ended up as a city park, not as parking at all, and the western segment sure looks like something the city and not homeowners would be responsible for.

Waverleigh was originally a through street until the stretch between 31st and 33rd was vacated in 1934 to make way for the Cleveland sports field. One city commissioner objected on the grounds that Waverleigh might be a major street someday, but obviously the project went ahead anyway. A strange artifact of this remains, not visible in person, but only in PortlandMaps. Even now, the big block of school district property is broken by a 20' wide strip belonging to the Parks Bureau, directly beneath the football field's north end zone. I imagine this means the Parks Bureau became the owner of it (as well as the extant bit west of it) after 1910 and before 1934, while it was still the median of a city street.

There are a number of other streets similar to this scattered around Portland's east side, though this may be the only one that originated as a central parking strip. Several years ago I tracked down all the examples I knew of at the time and dubbed them the "East Park Blocks", to go along with downtown's North & South Park Blocks. I'm tagging this as yet another one, since I definitely would have included it in the project if only I'd known it existed.

1 comment :

Todd Mecklem said...

My wife and I were walking over there today (on our way to Bingo's Books) and when I got home I googled "waverleigh blvd" to see what I could find out...thanks for doing the hard work for me. Very interesting!