Sunday, November 30, 2014

Minute Man Monument, Concord MA

When I was in Boston back in 2012, I spent most of the week at a conference hotel out in the 'burbs. The hotel turned out to be a few miles down the road from Concord, MA, the site of a famous Schoolhouse Rock video, and the related historical events of 1775. One day after a long day of death by PowerPoint, I drove over and visited the historic Old North Bridge, which turns out to not be very old at all. In addition to the bridge itself, both ends of the bridge feature modestly-sized memorial columns, which were added in the 1800s. (If the Revolution had begun in what's now DC, or anywhere in the South, there would be a giant bombastic ultra-patriotic memorial here, and you'd have to go through a TSA checkpoint to visit it. But this being New England they've managed to keep it modest and low key and reasonably authentic, right down to the simple wood replica bridge.)

The column on the south side of the bridge dates to 1875, the centennial of the battle here, and it's topped by a statue of a local minute man. This statue is by famed sculptor Daniel Chester French, who was renowned for his historical and allegorical works. It seems this was the work that first established his reputation. He later went on to create the Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial, among other things. I haven't covered any other work by French here, but he did create a famous memorial to Martin Millmore, who was the sculptor behind the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Boston Common. Curiously, French also created a small sculpture of Mrs. O'Leary's cow, the poor creature blamed for starting the great Chicago Fire.

There's a similar monument a few miles east at the Battle Green in Lexington, and apparently the two statues are often confused. A 1998 Concord Magazine article helpfully explains the differences: The Concord Minute Man is wearing a hat, and holds a plow in one hand and a musket in the other. They didn't actually plow and shoot at the same time in real life; this is just an 1875 way of pointing out the Minute Men were farmers. The 19th Century art world loved that sort of thing. Anyway, the Lexington statue is not wearing a hat, and not engaging in agriculture, and the base once featured a trough for horses, and technically the guys fighting in Lexington were the local militia and not Minute Men at all, strictly speaking. So now you know.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Memaloose Overlook

[View Larger Map]

Our next adventure takes us back out to the Columbia Gorge, to the Memaloose Overlook, a scenic spot on the old Columbia River Highway segment between Mosier and Rowena. The overlook takes its name from Memaloose Island, a traditional Indian burial site, which is visible in one of the photos in the slideshow. (If any of these photos look familiar, you win a gold star. Some appeared here once before, back in 2007 when I was just figuring out this blog business.)

This overlook is one piece of Memaloose State Park, which also includes a campground and rest area along Interstate 84. From the park's history page:

The original park tract was 2.64 acres given to the state in 1925 by Roy D. and Bernice M. Chatfield. Situated on what was originally the old Columbia River Highway, the park was called Memaloose Island Overlook. With the reconstruction of the highway, additional private lands were purchased in 1952 and 1953. Land not needed for highway purposes was transferred to the Parks and Recreation Division. The park is named for a nearby island in the Columbia River which was a traditional Indian burial ground. In Chinook language, the word "memaloose" is associated with burial ritual. The most prominent feature on the island is a monument to Victor Trevitt, settler of The Dalles and friend of the Indians who died in 1883 and was buried on Memaloose Island in accordance with his wishes.

Unfortunately Trevitt's gesture (and showy monument) drew public attention to the island. Bone-thieving souvenir hunters soon followed, and local tribes understandably stopped using the island. The Wasco County Historical Society's account states that thieves stripped the island clean of bones -- other than Mr. Trevitt, of course -- while a Friends of the Gorge page indicates that the Corps of Engineers moved 650 skeletons off the island in 1937, just before the island was partially flooded by Bonneville Dam. Both versions of the story indicate Trevitt is now alone on the island, as far as anyone knows.

Summer St. Bridge, Boston

[View Larger Map]

The southernmost of the four Fort Point Channel bridges we're covering is the Summer St. Bridge, built circa 1899. It's not terribly photogenic, but it's considered historic anyway due to its unusual design. Instead of a drawbridge that raises, or a swing span that pivots, the Summer St. bridge is a "retractile draw", which opens by sliding diagonally back and off to one side. Or both sides in this case, since it's a "double retractile" design. (Strictly speaking it doesn't open at all now, since it's unreachable by large vessels due to the fixed-span Moakley Bridge north of here.)

The Library of Congress collection of vintage photos of it; unfortunately none of them show the bridge in an open position, but an aerial photo makes it somewhat easier to visualize. Their info page about the bridge has a brief description, at least:

Significance: The Summer St. bridge is a rare movable type of bridge known as a retractile draw, in which the moving span is pulled diagonally away from the navigable channel on several sets of rails. Only four of these have been identified in the country, two of which are on Summer St. in Boston. The form is thought to have been invented by T. Willis Pratt in the 1860's. This bridge is a double retractile: parallel spans pull away from the center in opposite directions. Despite its deteriorating condition, the bridge is the center element of the rich Fort Point Channel Bridge District. / The Summer Street Retractile Bridge is the only known surviving electrically-operated, paired-leaf oblique retractile drawbridge. Despite its poor condition and loss of much of its operating equipment and auxiliary structures (gates, Tender's House, and pedestrian waiting shelters), several of the early components (superstructure, retractile rails, wheels, and operating machinery on the south side) remain. The Summer Street Retractile Bridge is one of five surviving movable bridges located in the proposed Fort Point Channel Historic District. It is one of eight known remaining nineteenth-century movable bridges in the Massachusetts Highway Department Historic Bridge Survey.

This bridge was the site of a 1916 streetcar disaster, in which a streetcar plunged off the open drawbridge into the channel, killing 47 people. Which is more or less what happened in Cleveland's Central Viaduct streetcar disaster two decades earlier. The accident here was blamed on operator error, compounded by poor signage & signals that were supposed to indicate when the bridge was open, but failed to get the driver's attention.

Congress St. Bridge, Boston

[View Larger Map]

Here's a slideshow of Boston's Congress St. Bridge, which crosses the Fort Point Channel next to downtown. This lift-span bridge opened in 1930, replacing an earlier swing-span bridge. The bridge underwent a $19M renovation completed in 2008, several million over budget because it was in worse shape than they thought. Although it's also possible the money just sort of "vanished", this being Boston and all.

The bridge's most distinctive feature is the Boston Tea Party museum attached to the bridge, in the center of the channel, with a couple of sailing ships docked to it. The building used to be the bridge tender's house, but the bridge no longer opens, so the house was repurposed as a tourist attraction, basically. Historians disagree as to the exact location of the original tea party, but few claim it was at this exact spot, and furthermore the ships are 20th Century replicas. Still, it has positive Yelp reviews from a lot of tourists who loved the historical reenactors and audience participation stuff. So if you're stuck in Boston with your wingnut Tea Party uncle, this might be a way to keep him occupied for a few hours. Though I don't know whether this would calm him down for a while or wind him up further. There are probably EPA rules against dumping actual tea in the bay these days, so he'll have something to be outraged about.

"Congress Street" is not an unusual street name, so I kept bumping into a couple of other bridges while looking for trivia about this one. The "Congress St. Bridge" Wikipedia article is about a different bridge in Troy, NY. And there's the famous Congress Ave. bridge in Austin, TX, home to a ginormous bat colony.

Evelyn Moakley Bridge, Boston

[View Larger Map]

The next Fort Point Channel bridge on our mini-tour is the new-ish Evelyn Moakley Bridge, which sits just south of the Northern Avenue Bridge that it effectively replaced. It's named for the wife of Congressman Joe Moakley, who represented South Boston for nearly half a century. A Boston Globe columnist recently mentioned this bridge in a laundry list of things named after politicians, a practice he was none too happy about.

Unlike the older bridges along the channel, this is a fixed-span bridge (i.e. it doesn't open), which meant that the bridges south if it (including the Congress St. & Summer St. bridges) no longer needed to open either. In addition to the obvious cost savings from doing this, a page at EngineerYourFuture mentions that the Moakley bridge was also designed to carry various utilities across the channel. That probably drove the bridge design too, since you can't really have a water main or electrical supply that cuts out whenever a bridge opens. Nobody would stand for that.

The bridge is the main gateway to a redeveloped former port area the city insists on calling the "Innovation District". A recent Boston Globe article said "The Innovation District has all the charm of an office park in a suburb of Dallas", and grumbled about the ugly cookie-cutter buildings and vast parking lots. A 2013 Chowhound article wasn't too impressed with the local restaurants either.

Northern Avenue Bridge, Boston

[View Larger Map]

When I was in Boston a couple of years ago, I spent a couple of days wandering around the central city after I was done with meetings out in the 'burbs. At one point ended up in the Fort Point Channel area, after getting off the Silver Line at South Station and heading toward the nearest body of water. The channel is sort of a narrow arm of Boston Harbor just east of downtown, crossed by a number of bridges, and the surrounding area is a former industrial district that's been thoroughly gentrified in recent years. I've been known to devote blog posts to bridges now and then, so I took a few photos of the four bridges along the north end of the channel. I haven't posted them until now because honestly none of them are really all that remarkable to look at, and probably none of them appear on anyone's list of top 100 Boston-area tourist attractions. Still, I did manage to dig up a few semi-interesting facts and bits of trivia about each of them, so I figure I have enough material to support a brief post about each of the four. And thus, a new mini-tour is born.

So the first stop on our mini-tour is the Northern Ave. Bridge, the northernmost bridge over the channel. It's a swing span bridge built in 1908, about the same vintage as the two remaining swing-span bridges in Portland. It's also the only one of the historic channel bridges that still opens, since the channel now only serves as a harbor for small boats. It's been a pedestrian-only bridge since the adjacent Evelyn Moakley bridge opened next door. Unfortunately only a portion of the bridge is open to pedestrians since it's in a general state of disrepair, and plans to do something about it stalled out, without any consensus on whether to renovate or just demolish it.

The Library of Congress has a set of historic photos of the bridge along with a short description:

The Northern Avenue Swing Bridge, built in 1908, is one of only three surviving swing bridges built by the city of Boston in the late 19th and early 20th century. Today, still operated infrequently on its original compressed-air system, it is the only operable bridge in Boston of its type. The bridge is 80 feet in width, encompassing between four sets of pin connected trusses, two sidewalks, two roadways and a center lane reserved for a double-track freight railroad. The swing span is 283 feet in length. The rim bearing swing span is carried by a 40 foot diameter drum, in turn supported by 56 steel wheels running on a track along the rim of the granite island pier.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Essential Forces

Our next adventure takes us back to Portland's Rose Quarter, home to sports arenas, MAX trains, and very little else. I've done a few posts about the art scattered around the area, but I haven't yet done a post about Essential Forces, the signature fountain at the south end of the complex. This is because the fountain is almost never running, so it's nearly impossible to get photos of it doing its thing, and I usually feel like that's important when doing a post about a fountain. The fountain has 500 computer-controlled valves that spit out bursts of water on command, and two large pillars that can optionally spew fire. It all seems very Vegas and not very Portland, so it's not surprising that the fountain was created by LA-based WET Design, the company behind the world-famous Bellagio Fountain. The company created a few other fountains around Vegas that have appeared here too, like the Glacia, Halo, Lumia, and Focus fountains at CityCenter.

I gather that the fountain is so elusive in part because it's rather delicate. The Portland Tribune included it in a 2007 list of broken things around town:

Essential Forces, built in 1995, has 500 shooters or valves, and when one malfunctions they all have to be tested, like fixing old Christmas tree lights. There is no set date but he said it should be up and running again 'before the warm weather arrives.'

That list doesn't even mention the fire pillars, which were out of commission for close to a decade until they were repaired in 2014. Rose Quarter management started talking about bringing back the fire theatrics about a year ago, but only as a maybe-someday item. Then the whole Rose Quarter underwent major renovations over summer 2014, and they fixed the fountain as part of that effort. I'm told the arena food has improved, too.

The other part of the problem (at least for me) is that they appear to only run it for Trailblazers home games, and then only if the weather isn't too cold, which leaves brief windows in the fall and late spring when it might be operating, assuming it's in working order. I'm not really a big basketball fan, so it's never going when I'm there. I've lost track of how many times I've gone by to see if it's running, and it just never is. So I finally decided I'd just go with the photos I had; I've reached my limit for how much I'm willing to invest in this particular blog post. One of the photos shows a little water gurgling up through one of the valves, so I do technically have a photo of water coming out of it, and that's just going to have to be enough. Strangely enough, one time several years ago I did take a video clip of it running, but my phone's internal SD card promptly became corrupted before I could upload anything, so it's possible I've already squandered my one and only chance to see it in action. Unless maybe I happen into some free tickets somehow, and they're for an evening when I don't already have plans. In any case, I did find a short Instagram video clip from the official Moda Center account showing it running back in September. So at least I found some evidence that it operated for at least 10-15 seconds a few months ago, unless maybe they CGI'd the whole thing or something.

The fountain was unveiled as part of an exclusive VIP bash for the new arena in October 1995. Tickets cost $125 per person, but came with all sorts of goodies:

Comedian Dana Carvey will perform a stand-up routine to top the evening's program, which also includes an arena tour, live music, food from the arena restaurants, a chance to shoot baskets on the new basketball court and skate on the new ice surface. All that, and the debut of the fire-and-water fountain, Essential Forces. The program runs from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Recall that this was back during the Michael Jordan era, a time when basketball had a reasonable claim on being the country's real national pastime. Nike's basketball shoe business was booming. The movie Space Jam came out the next year, starring Jordan and various Warner Brothers characters. Off the top of my head I can't think of any contemporary athlete in any sport who would be a similar box office draw today. Things went south for the Blazers just a few years after this, culminating in the infamous "Jail Blazers" years. One local blogger recently suggested adding a Rasheed Wallace plaque to the fountain to commemorate his all-time record for technical fouls in a season, a record that may very well stand for all time.

I've mentioned the Essential Forces fountain in passing before, in a very early post from January 2006, back when I still had a fresh supply of snark. I was pretty thrilled when Alt.portland linked here. The fountain also got a brief (and unfavorable) mention in a Portland Public Art post, contrasting it with the Holladay Park sculptures & fountain. (If you ask me, a more striking contrast would be this fountain versus the World War II Memorial & Fountain next door at Memorial Coliseum). Portland Public Art went on hiatus in April 2009, and Alt.portland has been on "extended hiatus" since 2010, and somehow I'm still going. I'm not sure what to make of that.

Ulsan Bell of Sisterhood

A few months ago I wrote a post about the Sapporo Friendship Bell in front of the Oregon Convention Center, a gift from Portland's sister city of Sapporo, Japan. I mentioned briefly that there was a second bell nearby, and suggested there would be a post about it sooner or later, when I got around to it. Today we're visiting the second bell, the Ulsan Bell of Sisterhood which was a gift from Ulsan, South Korea, another of Portland's sister cities.

A note on the Portland-Ulsan Sister City Association's Facebook page calls it "a copy of the famous Shilla Dynasty bell". The famous bell in question is probably the Bell of King Seongdeok, cast in 771 AD during the Silla Dynasty period. Portland's copy is obviously a scaled-down version of the original bell. A larger copy, the "Korean Bell of Friendship", is located in a park in Los Angeles.

In addition to the bells themselves, the bell-ringing system is a public artwork in its own right. Bell Circles II is a sound installation created by composer Robert Coburn. The system rings the two bells according to a programmable and varying schedule. I'm not clear on exactly how this schedule works; signs near the bells merely warn visitors that they ring without notice and are quite loud. I'm thinking the sound installation stuff deserves a blog post of its own, but for that I'll need a video or audio clip of at least one of the bells ringing. And to do that I'll need to figure out the ringing schedule, since I'm not going to hang around in front of the convention center all day filming bells just in case. That's just not going to happen. The news items below give some clues, but it could easily have been reprogrammed any time between 1990 and today.

Anyway, the Oregonian covered the Ulsan bell when it was donated in January 1989. The article explains that the original concept would have included a third bell, donated by Beaverton's sister city Hsinchu, Taiwan, along with some aluminum wind pipes, and continues:

According to Coburn, the $30,000 bell is modeled after a 7th-century Buddhist temple bell. It's decorated with images of Korean angels and topped by a dragon. An inscription commemorates the sister-city relationship.

When installed, the three bells will give off deeply resonant tones that will serve as aural landmarks at the convention center, orienting visitors to the building's entrances, Coburn said. One bell will be in the main courtyard and the other two will be at entrances. Each bell has a specific pitch. A computer will activate automatic striking devices that will sound a slow melodic pattern.

Coburn will arrange the cyclic patterns so they change over long periods of time, coinciding with the changes in seasons. On each equinox and solstice, the cycle will restart, Coburn said.

In addition to the temple bells, clusters of two or three aluminum wind pipes will hang in trees around the center. The pipes will be oriented to the wind and will sound pitches that relate to the bronze bells.

Much of Coburn's music is concerned with sound and the environment. The bell project is an attempt to neutralize urban noise, welcome visitors, orient them to the building, and provide sanctuary, he said.

The convention center opened in 1990, and the paper's architecture critic went on at length about all the art. After a bit about the big Foucault pendulum in an atrium, he spent a few paragraphs on the bells:

As the pendulum marks time inside with its metronomic swing, two bronze Oriental bells outside will mark time in sound. In a project conceptualized by composer Robert Coburn, Portland's sister cities Sapporo, Japan, and Ulsan, South Korea, each donated bells. They will be struck with a computer automated device according to a composition created by Coburn.

At this writing, Coburn had not completed his score, but he explained his two main goals are to orient people to the convention center's outdoor spaces with what he describes as ``soundmarks'' as opposed to landmarks. And, he wants to call attention to two scales of time.

``The intention is not a musical composition,'' Coburn said, ``but to make references to how we measure time versus how nature does.'' He explained that the Sapporo bell will be struck hourly while the Ulsan bell will be struck on a daily and seasonal cycle. ``On the equinox and solstice, they will be struck together at noon,'' Coburn added.

Three other wind bells, donated by the Republic of China, will resonate when a breeze blows. ``Usually architects use waterfalls to mask the traffic noise,'' Coburn said. ``I wanted to create a situation where the traffic would become a background to my composition.''

In addition to the pure aesthetics of sound and the marvel of seasonal rhythms, Coburn's bell project also represents a cultural handshake, an anticipation of the growing economic friendship between Portland and its potential Pacific Rim trading partners.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Monument Square, Lone Fir

Our next adventure takes us back to SE Portland's Lone Fir Cemetery, but we aren't looking at headstones this time. Instead we're taking a look at an obscure war memorial located in the middle of the cemetery. This was built circa 1903 as a Civil War memorial, organized by the Grand Army of the Republic, the main war veterans' organization. As this was not long after the Spanish-American War, the memorial also includes nods to the other conflicts, including, unusually, the Indian Wars. (Although given the date, it was probably only intended to honor the white, not the Indian, side of the conflict.)

Planning for the memorial began in 1901-1902, and it was dedicated on Memorial Day 1903. It wasn't actually complete at dedication, though, as the statue on top had yet to arrive. So a second grand ceremony was held in October for the unveiling of the statue. That article refers to the surrounding area as "Monument Square", and mentions that it was being dedicated or deeded as a public park. I'm not sure what that means, exactly, since PortlandMaps shows the area as legally part of the cemetery, not a separate parcel. The name "Monument Square" seems to have fallen out of use over the next decade, and doesn't occur in the Oregonian after 1916. But as far as I know that's still the legal, official name for the place, so that's what I'm going with as a post title.

Metro's 2008 "Existing Conditions & Recommendations Report" for the cemetery calls the area "War Memorial Park", and describes it:

The cemetery’s 1944 amended plat map designates the area around the Soldiers Memorial as a public park. The existing area of this delineated park contains the classic single monolith Soldier’s Memorial, three donor benches, and a later addition concrete slab that is currently being used for funeral services. The Soldier’s Memorial is made of granite with a bronze statue and bronze plaques. It is in stable condition, although the soil appears to have eroded away at the base, exposing some of the foundation in places.

The memorial was designed by local architect Delos D. Neer, who's best known for a number of historic county courthouses around the state, including the landmark Benton County Courthouse in Corvallis.

Details are sketchy about the statue on top. An article about the design simply mentions that it was bought from an unnamed eastern firm, which created a special model to the city's specifications. So there may or may not be other identical or similar copies out there, and it's hard to be sure because we don't know the firm or artist.

I had previously been under the impression this was a Spanish-American War memorial, and I think I've said something to that effect in a couple of earlier posts, I think in the context of marveling at how many Spanish-American War memorials Portland ended up with, like the Soldier Monument in Lownsdale Square, and the Battleship Oregon memorial in Waterfront Park. So I may have to go back and fix those older posts now. I also asserted once that the pair of Ft. Sumter cannons in Lownsdale Square was the only Civil War memorial in town, and obviously that isn't quite true either.

Miscellaneous items concerning the memorial from around the net:

Vanport Bridge

View Larger Map

The next Columbia Slough bridge on our little tour is the newest, other than the recently replaced Vancouver Ave. bridge. The Vanport Bridge is the long elevated structure right next to the Denver Ave. bridge that carries the MAX Yellow Line over the slough, Columbia Boulevard, the Union Pacific rail line, and a long stretch of industrial land north of the slough. Altogether it's nearly 4000 feet long. It's a fairly utilitarian-looking structure, so TriMet has tried a few things to, I guess, humanize it a little. First, they had the public vote on names for the bridge back in 2003, before the line opened, and "Vanport Bridge" was the overwhelming winner of that contest. (Not to be confused with an entirely different Vanport Bridge in Pennsylvania, which carries Interstate 376 over the Ohio River somewhere near Pittsburgh.)

TriMet also spent a decent chunk of the MAX line's One Percent for Art money on public art to decorate the bridge. From TriMet's Yellow Line art guide:

Spencer T. Houser and Chris Rizzo present two approaches to the nearly 4,000-foot light rail bridge.
  • Ninety flaming comets inspired by the car culture of the '50s blaze northward from Kenton.
  • Blue metal panels on the north end of the bridge allude to the Columbia River.

Despite the art it hasn't yet become a beloved local landmark, so there isn't a lot of stuff about it out on the net. I did find a few mentions of it from TriMet and various engineering firms that had a hand in its construction:

MLK/Grand Ave. Viaduct

[View Larger Map]

The next installment in the ongoing bridge project is only sort of a bridge, but it's right in town and convenient to get to, so I figured I'd include it. Starting a few blocks south of the Hawthorne Bridge, MLK and Grand Avenues travel on a raised viaduct until near the Ross Island Bridge, crossing over a large industrial area and several railroad lines (as well as the upcoming MAX Orange Line). The current viaduct opened in 2011, replacing a circa-1937 viaduct designed by Conde McCullough, the state's well-known chief bridge engineer during that era.

I'd vaguely intended to go walk across the old viaduct before it was too late, but I never quite got around to it. Which is a shame, because it would have made for some interesting photos. This was one of the main highways into Portland before Interstate 5 went in, so the old viaduct was a high profile project and it was built with some interesting architectural details, including the (mostly unused) grand staircases around the bridge piers. McCullough's Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport has similar staircases, but it's not clear why they were deemed necessary here, since this has long been an industrial area without a lot of pedestrians. The new viaduct doesn't have similar stairs, probably for ADA or bike reasons since it does have ramps in a couple of spots.

I've been told that there was once a great view of downtown Portland from the old viaduct, before the view was blocked by the ugly Marquam Bridge in the early 1960s. That was well before my time, but it reminds me of when the KOIN Center blocked the view of Mt. Hood from the Vista Tunnels. There was a lot of public unhappiness about that, but Portland doesn't have strong regulations protecting specific views like that, so legally there wasn't much anyone could do about it. There are number of vintage photos of the old viaduct on the net if you're curious about it, such as these four photos from

(Note that the old viaduct is often referred to as the "Union Avenue viaduct", that being the old name of MLK before the street was renamed in the 1980s. For what it's worth, the city of Tacoma has or had a similar-looking Union Avenue Viaduct dating to about the same era.)

By the early 2000s the old viaduct was sagging and cracking, and the state decided it had to be replaced, not repaired. Unfortunately the replacement effort took twice as long and cost three times as much as planned, largely due to building on unstable ground. Turns out the whole SE industrial area is built on a former wetland area, which was filled in with old sawdust from the enormous sawmills that once stood here. Historical accounts refer to an enormous mountain of sawdust here back when the mills were in operation; a Cafe Unknown article includes a photo showing sawdust hills on the waterfront as late as 1940. In some areas there is reportedly a 66' deep layer of sawdust below ground. That's feet, not inches. I find that hard to imagine, but news accounts insist it's true.

Some items on the new viaduct and its long and complicated genesis:

So what's it like to walk across the semi-shiny new viaduct? Not great, I'm afraid. There's a sidewalk, obviously, but you're obviously on the side of a highway here: Heavy, fast-moving traffic, with lots of trucks. I didn't see any other pedestrians or even bikes while I walked across, and the collection of road garbage along the sidewalk indicates they don't come by and clean it very often. Which is disappointing considering this is a new structure. If the city of Portland had built it, rather than ODOT, there would at least be modern bike lanes, and maybe a guardrail between traffic and the sidewalk. Although it would have also been even more expensive, and the city could easily have failed to get the job done at all.

Claremont Avenue Bridge

The next installment in the ongoing bridge project is a little unusual. NE Portland's Woodlawn neighborhood is basically flat and doesn't have any major bodies of water, so you wouldn't expect it to have much in the way of bridges, but there's one obscure one in the middle of the neighborhood's Woodlawn Park. The park was built in the 70s with urban renewal money, and they seem to have had a very generous budget. They must have concluded that Claremont Ave. needed to be a through street through the area of the proposed park, but instead of just running the road through like they normally would, they built a pint-sized bridge/overpass over the park's main trail, and located restrooms and an office underneath it. I don't know if the designers were consciously trying for this effect, but I'd actually call it kind of cute. I mean, by 1970s concrete bridge standards, at least.

The city's 2010 bridge inventory has some trivia about this bridge (although there's now a weight restriction sign on the bridge, as you can see in the first photo).

COP Bridge #005
NBI # 25B05
Bridge TypeVehicular
Yr. Built 1974
Material TypePS Concrete
Current Inspection Date08/12/2010
Current Sufficiency Rating62.90
NBI Sufficiency StatusNot Deficient
Weight Limited Bridge PostingNo Posting
PBOT Condition RatingGOOD
SUMMARY: Long Term Estimated Capital Need$522,970
SUMMARY: Overall Bridge Capital NeedSEISMIC REHAB

Woodlawn Park

A post here a couple of months ago talked about Buckeye Bench, a small art thingy (which doubles as a bench) in NE Portland's Woodlawn Park. I'd never been to the park before so I wandered around and took a few photos of it too. It's an irregular shape, in keeping with the goofy Woodlawn street grid, and totals less than 8 acres, but it feels much larger than it is. I'm still not sure how they pulled it off, but if the designers didn't pick up an award or two for Woodlawn Park, they were robbed.

The park also has quite an unusual history. The park wasn't part of the original neighborhood plan; it originated much later as a 1970 urban renewal project by the Portland Development Commission, as Woodlawn was historically a lower-income part of NE Portland. Their May 1970 park plan required condemning and demolishing 34 homes in order to make room for the park. Which is kind of an astonishing idea. You could never get away with something like this today, even in the poorest neighborhoods in the city. You just couldn't, and rightly so.

Apparently 1970 was a different world, though. The neighborhood association's history page says people tried to fight City Hall over the proposal, but you wouldn't know it from contemporary Oregonian coverage, which made almost no mention of any public opposition. (For example, see this 1971 article on planning for the park ). The only clue we get about this not being a universally beloved project was an August 1971 item in which the PDC was asked to reword a HUD grant request so that the money could potentially be used for redevelopment & rehabilitation, not just for a pure "clearance project" where everything in sight gets bulldozed. The PDC gamely reworded the grant request, but this doesn't seem to have altered the project trajectory significantly.

This display of media bias is not exactly surprising. Whether it's 1904, 1974, or 2014, the Oregonian's default position has always been to cheerlead for whatever plans the city's movers and shakers and power brokers have come up with. They do at least mention public opposition now, though they don't always give it a fair hearing.

One odd detail in the early 1970s news accounts is that the local neighborhood association (or a predecessor of today's association) was apparently in on the urban renewal effort, even teaming up with the PDC to use the park to sell condos nearby. Building parks to sell condos is more or less what happened in the Pearl District thirty years later, although at least they didn't bulldoze anyone's home to make room for the park. The neighborhood association's website neglects to mention this little episode.

Anyway, here are some news items relating to the park after it was completed:

  • A 1977 article on citizen participation called the park a great example of citizen involvement. Although I suspect those 34 homeowners might have disagreed, if anyone had thought to ask them. The article includes a winter photo of the park, with snow and a groovy 70s play structure, which probably doesn't exist anymore.
  • The 1970s grooviness didn't stop with the play structure. A July 1979 photo shows a group of kids pushing an enormous shiny sphere around. At one time this sort of thing was supposed to be the utopian future of outdoor recreation for all ages, which is one of those mysterious 1970s things that nobody will ever be able to explain properly. The photo caption doesn't spell this out, but I assume everyone in the photo is wearing corduroy bell bottoms.
  • The long-awaited condos finally opened in 1979. The article mentions the connection with the old "Model Cities" urban renewal program, phrased as if the project was already a weird vestige of a bygone era, which it more or less was.

Then the 1980s rolled along, and suddenly news stories about the park were all crime stories, no more kids pushing giant shiny spheres around. The 80s were a golden age of "moral panic" journalism, so news coverage of anything related to drugs or gangs tended to be lurid and sensationalistic, with ugly racial undertones. So take these news articles with an appropriately sized grain of salt:

  • In April 1980, the park saw a group of 300 unruly youths throwing bricks at cars. Police dispersed the crowd and closed the park. This was only about a year after the groovy thing with the giant sphere, so either the neighborhood changed suddenly over the previous year, or the paper's coverage changed.
  • A very early interview with a Crips gang member from 1982, which notes that Woodlawn park was part of their territory at the time. This was early enough that the paper still had to explain what the Crips were.
  • Beginning at some point in the mid-1980s, the park lent its name to the notorious Woodlawn Park Bloods, so that gang-related violence miles from here still ended up tarnishing the park's name even further. There were occasionally gang shootings in and around the park itself, including a 1988 fatal drive-by shooting.
  • A 1988 feature about gang violence in NE Portland talks a lot about the local Bloods, though it focuses more on neighborhoods to the west and south of Woodlawn. The article mentions a lot of areas that are quite twee and trendy today, but at the time houses were being boarded up and residents were fleeing the area.
  • Woodlawn Park Bloods members congregated in the park after the 1993 shooting death of a gang leader.
  • Violence continued into the mid-1990s, including a 1995 fatal stabbing and a 1996 fatal shooting.

Violence ebbed away after the late 1990s as gentrification began to reach this part of town, though news articles still referenced the neighborhood's lingering reputation.

  • "Investors reshape Dekum Triangle", 2009
  • Also in 2009, the park hosted the inaugural season of "Trek in the Park", the year they did the classic episode "Amok Time".
  • A recent controversy over idling TriMet buses next to the park, which TriMet wanted to do in part so drivers could use the park's restrooms. Neighbors found the buses loud and annoying and fought back, calling it "a slap in the face". The article continues:
    "It's been a nightmare," Matt Busetto said. Underlying the ill will is a sense the community was dismissed because of its troubled past.

    "There's a lot of anger that maybe they took advantage of Woodlawn," he said.

    Gladstone said, "We've worked hard to stabilize this neighborhood, and this is disruptive."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Waud Bluff Bridge

[View Larger Map]

A recent post here covered Portland's new Waud Bluff Trail, at the north end of Swan Island. I mentioned in passing that the trail included a new footbridge over the railroad tracks here, and said something to the effect that I was saving the bridge for a separate post. I think on the theory that I'd done a few other posts about pedestrian bridges over railroads, and from what I could tell there was a manageable number of other such bridges out there, usually rather obscure, and thus a mini-project was born.

As I understand, today's official Waud Bluff Trail is new, but there has been an unofficial trail down the bluff here for a long time. The current trail seems to have incorporated an old service road, which once continued down to track level past the level of the bridge. I gather the route of the unofficial trail involved walking across the railroad tracks the old fashioned way, without a bridge. Turning the trail into something official involved building a bridge, since the railroad was never going to sign off on a new grade-level pedestrian crossing. Railroads apparently take a dim view of the human nature of pedestrians, since they also seem to want any bridges to be entirely enclosed, I suppose so people can't toss rocks onto a passing train, or jump onto the train as part of a daring Old West-style train robbery, or something.

The Waud Bluff Trail opened in spring 2013 after six years of planning and handwringing about funding. The bridge had been installed the previous December. This bridge made the whole trail possible, but it's not universally admired. A Bicycle Transportation Alliance article pointed out the new bridge design is not very bike or wheelchair friendly at all, and expressed hope for for a future retrofit, sooner rather than later.

The trail forms one small segment of the ambitious North Portland Greenway Trail, which would run between downtown Portland and Kelley Point Park. The segment across Swan Island from Waud Bluff to the south end would essentially incorporate existing sidewalks and bike lanes into the project, which is probably all you can do unless you want to build a flat trail halfway up the bluff, skirting Swan Island entirely.

Victor Steinbrueck Park

[View Larger Map]

Here's a slideshow from downtown Seattle's Victor Steinbrueck Park, a little viewpoint area next to Pike Place Market and perched over the doomed Alaskan Way Viaduct. It seems like this is the edge of a steep bluff, but in fact the park forms the roof of a vast municipal parking garage.

Victor Steinbrueck, the park's namesake, was a local architect who was instrumental in saving Pike Place Market from one of Seattle's many ill-conceived urban renewal schemes. Now it's the park itself that's occasionally threatened by redevelopment schemes.

Unfortunately the park has had a reputation as a dangerous corner of downtown. In recent years there have been shootings and stabbings in the vicinity, and the the park's long been known as an open air drug market at all hours, day and night. Some would see this as a need for more police and harsher laws, but I tend to see it as a sign that prohibition breeds crime. I haven't been back to Seattle since Washington passed Initiative 502, the marijuana legalization measure, and I don't know if anything's changed since then. The "recreational industry" has had supply and price problems and it's probably just too new to have had an impact yet, but it'll be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years.

Gabriel Park expedition

[View Larger Map]

So here's a photoset from Southwest Portland's Gabriel Park, a place I've been meaning to visit for a while now. At around 90 acres it's one of Portland's largest city parks, and it has a little of everything: Ball fields, tennis courts, a skate park, at least one playground, a community garden, an off-leash dog area, a large indoor rec center with a pool, and a large forested area centered around Vermont Creek, with a network of hiking trails.

The last time I was here was wayyy back in high school, in the mid-1980s. I was on the cross country team, and Gabriel Park was our home course, so I was here all the time. Thinking back, I remembered the park as a place of endless hills, and endless tree roots poking up in paths, ready to grab the ankles of the unwary, and people passing me, and my shins hurting a lot. It's possible my memories of the place are not entirely objective.

I'm still not sure how I ended up on the cross country team. High school gym class began the year with a week or two of running at various distances, which I think was a disguised tryout. The coach asked me to join the team based on my mile time. The only problem is that, looking back, it's possible I may have favorably (and accidentally) misremembered my time. I can't be sure because I have no recollection of what my time actually was. In any case, once I was on the team I wasn't very fast, and I also wasn't very tough, and I tended to either quit or finish in the bottom 25%, and I never quite made it out of "junior varsity" purgatory. But we were a small private school, with a small and barely funded team, and I guess they couldn't afford to cut me entirely. I even scored a letter out of it. I think I still have it somewhere, in fact, but I never ordered a letterman jacket to go with it. I was pretty sure at the time I hadn't earned any sort of athletic recognition, and I'm still pretty sure that's true. I suppose the main value of it to me, at the time, was convincing my parents I wasn't just a basement-dwelling computer dweeb.

In any case, a few months ago I was in the area and had a camera with me, and I thought I'd take a look around. Not because I was feeling sentimental or nostalgic or anything, but just to see what it looked like without anyone yelling at me to hurry up and run faster, dammit. Parts of the forest looked sort of familiar, and I think the usual finish line was somewhere around where the skate park is now. Contrary to what I remembered, the trails were actually quite nice, and I'm not sure where that memory about tree roots came from. The more I think about it, it's possible there may have been one single tree root that I tangled with on every lap through the forest. That sounds like something awkward teenage me would have managed to do.

A few things have changed since those days. The pool and skate park both arrived some time after 1985, and there are now substantial areas of the forest fenced off in the name of water quality and environmental restoration. The fencing is a fairly recent development. Vermont Creek has the same water quality issues as other urban streams around the area, and it's part of the Fanno Creek watershed, which gets it an additional degree of attention from the city. As a result, Gabriel Park has had a riparian zone protection project beginning in 2004 (that's the fencing-stuff-off project) and ongoing stormwater retrofitting efforts. And because this is an earnest do-gooding SW Portland neighborhood, there's a Friends of Vermont Creek connected to the local neighborhood association, with all sorts of volunteer opportunities etc.

One might expect that a city park this big would date back to the pioneer era, back before big parcels of land were subdivided and broken up. Gabriel Park is relatively new, though. It's far enough from the city center that the area was still semi-rural when the land was acquired in October 1950. The land wasn't actually within city limits at the time, but the city was planning to expand westward anyway, saw a large undeveloped parcel for sale, and jumped at the chance, so for a while the city owned a park outside city limits (similar to Elk Rock Island & the Kerr Property today). The city paid $120,000 for the land, which is about $1.1M in today's dollars, which seems like a very reasonable price for 87 acres this close to downtown Portland. As for the name, part of the site was then known as "Gabriel Acres" and owned by Margaret Gabriel. I was kind of hoping there would be an interesting story behind the name, but that doesn't seem to have been the case here.

In 1952, the city was looking around for a new location to replace the original city zoo, which was located near the reservoirs in lower Washington Park. Gabriel Park was a leading candidate to host the new zoo. The eventual winner, of course, was a location elsewhere in Washington Park, a location then known as the "West Slope golf course site". Other proposed locations included the wetlands at Oaks Bottom; a portion of the old Vanport City site; and "Camp's Butte", the old name of today's Powell Butte. At the time, Gabriel Park would have been a reasonable site for a new zoo, although the visitor traffic would have required a very different street network than what the area has today.

Anyway, here's an assortment of other links about the park from around the interwebs.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Denver Ave. Bridge

[View Larger Map]

The next Columbia Slough bridge on our little tour is the one that carries N. Denver Ave. over the slough. Like the MLK and N. Portland Road bridges, this is an ODOT-owned bridge, since this stretch of Denver Ave. doubles as a chunk of highway OR 99W. At one time, 99W (a.k.a. the "West Side Highway") continued through downtown Portland, from SW Barbur to Front Avenue, then along Harbor Drive to the Steel Bridge, then up Interstate Avenue to Kenton, where it jogged over to become Denver Avenue, and then headed across the Columbia Slough north to the Interstate Bridge. Most of that stretch is no longer a state highway, but the stretch of Denver Ave. north of Argyle St. still is for some reason.

The Portland stretch of 99W was a late addition to the state highway system. At the time the Interstate Bridge went in, there was a great deal of infighting about which street would be the main approach to the bridge: Union Avenue (now MLK) or Vancouver Avenue, which Union Ave. finally won after a few years of rival booster clubs duking it out. Interstate (then known as Patton Avenue) wasn't in the running, because a steep bluff at the south end meant it didn't actually connect directly to downtown back then. It was a major local street, and was platted out as a wide street in case it became a major arterial later (which was a huge help when the MAX Yellow Line went in), but in 1916 it dead ended somewhere around today's Overlook Park. So a small wooden bridge was built, giving local traffic access to the Interstate Bridge.

A decade later, a major roadcut project finally connected Patton Avenue to the Steel Bridge and downtown Portland, and the widened street was rededicated as Interstate Avenue in September 1928, though a lot of references I've seen give 1929 as the actual project completion date. The bridge over the Columbia Slough was reconstructed at that point to handle the additional traffic. The Oregonian's "Year in Review" article on Jan 1. 1930 portrayed the Interstate Ave. project as one of the year's major news stories. A 1947 aerial photo shows the bridge here, along with an area of commercial development along the Kenton stretch of Interstate, but you can see that parts of the surrounding area were still semi-rural even then. A couple of interesting Cafe Unknown posts have more about the history of Interstate Avenue, with all its ups and downs, from potholed neighborhood street to neon wonderland, to blighted backwater after I-5 opened, and now to a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood with its own MAX line.

ODOT's 2012 bridge condition report says the slough bridge dates to 1916, while the adjacent viaduct over Columbia Blvd and the Union Pacific railroad is circa 1929. So it's possible there was a surface level intersection and railroad crossing here until the bridge upgrade project, in which case the original slough bridge was probably lower than the current one. That's my guess, anyway.

The 2013 state historic bridge inventory describes the bridge and viaduct:

In the late 1920s, increased traffic on the West Side Highway led to a major revision in how the highway approached the Interstate Bridge, then the only Portland area crossing into Washington State. Prior to this redesignation, the West Side Highway ended at downtown Portland, with only the Pacific Highway continuing over the bridge. These new bridges were designed to match those on the Pacific Highway, and continued to be a major part of the approach until the construction of I-5. They both feature a unique baluster railing, which is now mostly hidden behind protective wooden paneling.

Unfortunately I don't think you can see the unique bridge railing very well in any of these photos. The inventory PDF has a better photo, showing it really doesn't look all that different from other ODOT bridges of that era. The inventory goes on to mention that the slough bridge consists of "Three 78-ft steel girder and floorbeam system spans with reinforced concrete deck girder approach spans", while the viaduct is "Thirteen 71-ft reinforced concrete girder and floorbeam system spans with curved haunches.. ODOT researched the history of the Denver Ave viaduct over the railroad for the MAX Yellow Line project. The study determined it was ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and mentioned the slough bridge as similarly utilitarian & ineligible. The city's historical research for the Vancouver Ave. bridge replacement also mentions the Denver Ave. bridge briefly, but doesn't have much to say about it.

No discussion I've seen of the bridge mentions who designed it, and they usually do if a bridge is by someone well-known or historically important. The Union Ave./MLK, N. Portland Road, BNSF railroad, and (original) Vancouver Ave. bridges turned out to be minor designs by rather famous bridge engineers, but as far as I can tell that's not the case here. Perhaps as a result, it doesn't have a BridgeHunter or Structurae page of its own, but it does at least have an entry. That page tells us the bridge has an ODOT sufficiency rating of 51.7 out of 100 (as of April 2013), and it's described as being in "fair" condition and "functionally obsolete". It received an underwater inspection in 2011, which noted that the underwater portion of the bridge pilings are not entirely steel and concrete, which is a little surprising: "The part of this structure across the slough consists of 3 steel girder spans of 78 ft. each. Each pier is supported on two concrete columns with a webwall in between, that are supported by two individual concrete footings founded on untreated timber piling."

An upcoming ODOT project will redesign the intersection of Denver Ave. & Schmeer Road, directly north of the bridge. At present the north end of the bridge crosses an underpass that routes southbound traffic onto Schmeer Rd. The redesign will move the intersection north, and turn the underpass into a stretch of the Columbia Slough Trail instead. In Spring 2015 they'll also start work on the bridge and viaduct, resurfacing them and replacing the current bridge railings and adding crash barriers. Schematics of the new design indicate there will be a crash barrier separating the sidewalk from street traffic, and the redesigned bridge will include separate bike lanes, which it doesn't currently have. It will still only have a sidewalk on one side of the bridge, I suppose because extending the bridge out to add one on the other side would be too expensive. Still, it seems like a positive step, in an area that's only going to have more bike and pedestrian traffic as the Columbia Slough Trail keeps being extended.

Telegraph Hill

[View Larger Map]

Ok, here's another set of early 90's tourist photos, this time from the little park on top of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, home of the famous Coit Tower. Because I was new to traveling solo, I had the idea that I would just walk everywhere, instead of trying to figure out the local mass transit system. I did not realize at the time that San Francisco city blocks are substantially larger than Portland city blocks, so there was a bit more walking than I expected. I was also coming down with a major head cold at the time but didn't quite realize it yet. So I basically just sat resting my feet and spacing out while I was here.

I do recall overhearing a couple of random tour guide anecdotes from passing tour groups. First, in the first photo of the slideshow, there's a building on the right, with a big flag on top. The story is that this building was controversial when it went in; people thought it was too tall, and protruded into the view. So in a burst of early Tea Party-ness, the builder/owner put a giant flag on top, protruding even more into the view, but in a way that marked you as a commie sympathizer if you objected. This tactic probably wouldn't work in SF anymore, but at this point the flag is an expected part of the view.

Second overheard tour guide anecdote: The Coit Tower was built with with a bequest from Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a local socialite and patron of the city fire department. A widely-told apocryphal story suggests the tower is designed to look like a fire hose nozzle. The tour guide let his charges in on a "little secret", namely that the tower was actually a memorial to Coit's late husband, as the design reminded her of him. (This story is almost certainly untrue, since the tower was designed after her death and she only left vague instructions on what to do with the money.) Still, a knowing look was given, and the tourists snickered on cue. I probably just rolled my eyes, as it reminded me of a certain classic Monty Python sketch. Undoubtedly the tourists would relay this entendre to their friends back home in Peoria, after showing their blurry slides of driving down Lombard St., and before the story about how amazing it was to eat clam chowder out of a loaf of sourdough bread, and how the whole city looks just like the Rice-a-Roni commercials. Honestly, the entire SF tourist industry is just the worst. In 2014, SF locals go on about how the city is being ruined by gazillionaire tech bros, and I'm sure that's true, but bottom-feeding, mouth-breathing slackjawed tourists were ruining it for decades before that, with the help of an entire industry built up to cater to them. At least they finally banned the organ grinder monkeys that were at Fisherman's Wharf when I was a kid. That was creepy as hell, and the tourists loved it.

Of course now those tourists can't afford to visit SF at all, and I'm afraid they're coming to Portland instead. In place of the sourdough chowder thing, they want entendre-laden donuts from the novelty donut shop that shall not be named, and a photo of the Keep Portland Weird sign across the street, and Mill Ends Park, and the rest of some "Top 10 Portland's Weirdest" list from the Travel Channel or Food Network or whatever, and pestering locals to say or do something weird so they can tell folks back home in Peoria all about it. Perhaps what we need to do is fund some cable shows explaining that Boise is the new Portland. Or maybe Anchorage, or Oklahoma City, or Des Moines, or some other midsized city that could use the extra tourist dollars. Just don't tell people we funded the shows with a Kickstarter, since that would look hip and weird and bring in even more tourists.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Agua Prieta, Sonora

[View Larger Map]

Here are a few old photos from the town of Agua Prieta, Sonora, a Mexican border town across the fence from Douglas, Arizona. This was a brief stopover on an early 1990s tour bus trip around Arizona & the California desert. Many of the other people on the bus were British, German, or Australian and doing the youth hostel thing across the US. So a side trip a few blocks into Mexico was an exotic side trip for them. Wandering around a Mexican border town with a bunch of English people was... unusual. They seemed to think I ought to be an expert about Mexico, due to being from the same hemisphere and all. Technically I'd had a year and a half of high school Spanish, and could translate signs some of the time, and I could explain the food to people who didn't know what a taco was, and some cultural bits and pieces to people who didn't know anything about fotonovelas or luchadores. I may not have been history's greatest cultural ambassador, but I'm pretty sure they were lucky to have me. They could have gone with one of the other Americans instead, like the dreadlocked trustafarian dude from Napa Valley wine country, who made sure everyone knew how rich his parents were. He seemed to think he was quite the roguish adventurer, and went off by himself in search of the town's red light district, only to discover there wasn't one. He was actually pretty upset about that, which was kind of hilarious and pathetic at the same time.

One key thing I had no clue about (this being the pre-Wikipedia era) was the history of the town we were visiting. It turns out that a century ago this little town had a significant role in the Mexican Revolution. Two battles were fought here (the second of which helped to trigger Pancho Villa's infamous raid on Columbus, NM), and in 1920 the Plan of Agua Prieta was drafted here, the spark for a rebellion that drove Mexico's first postwar president from office.

I also didn't have much of a clue at the time about key tourist sights, so I'm not sure which church is pictured here. It was somewhere near the border crossing, I think, but I wandered around the area in Google Street View and didn't see anything that looked quite like it. So it's possible we were more lost than we realized at the time. I also took a few photos around the border crossing area, I suppose because the US side of every border crossing I've been through has always creeped me out. They're designed to look all high tech and hostile and intimidating and all-powerful, but they do it in a sort of petty ham-fisted way; imagine the Galactic Empire from Star Wars, but administered by the DMV, with taser-crazed mall cops for Stormtroopers. (Note to self: I should probably delete these few sentences before the next time I travel internationally. Apparently they like to Google people at the border now, and speaking ill of border enforcers can lead to all sorts of fun complications, First Amendment or no.)

Sadly there's a US State Department travel advisory for the Agua Prieta area right now, due to the ongoing drug cartel wars. Coworkers at an office elsewhere in Mexico have explained to me that it's a manageable problem so long as one cartel "owns" your city. It's only when cartels fight over territory that things get really ugly.