Sunday, November 09, 2014

Grant Park

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Here are a couple of photos from NE Portland's Grant Park, which sort of wraps around the sides of Grant High School. I stopped by there a while ago to track down a fountain & statues based on Beverly Cleary's Ramona books. The statues are actually kind of creepy, which is a near-universal problem when people try to do sculptures of kids. I can't put my finger on why, exactly, but I call it the "Chucky Effect". Anyway, since I was at the park already, I took a couple of photos of the general vicinity too, on the theory that there might be a city park post in it. I'm not going to claim that these photos are particularly attractive, or representative of the park as a whole. The city parks page for the place has a brief history section:

The park is named after Ulysses S. Grant who visited Portland three times, a rare thing for a president to do in the days before air travel - or even before standardized rail travel! Grant was first assigned to Fort Vancouver where he made friends with many of Portland's politicians.

Grant Park was the setting for many scenes in children's books by Beverly Cleary. In 1991, a group of teachers, librarians, and business people formed the Friends of Henry & Ramona, and began to raise funds for the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden for Children. Portland artist Lee Hunt created life-sized bronze statues of three of Cleary's best-loved characters - Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Henry's dog Ribsy. Scattered around the concrete slab are granite plaques engraved with the titles of the Cleary books that take place in Portland - and a map of the neighborhood showing where events in the books "really happened." The Sculpture Garden was dedicated on October 13, 1995.

Other than the Chucky Effect plaza, it's your basic neighborhood park, and it has generally positive Yelp reviews, for whatever that's worth.

It's not entirely clear where the school ends and the park begins, and I'm not sure whether things like the pool and the running track are open to the general public, or are reserved exclusively for school use, or reserved for the school only while school's in session, or exactly what the arrangement is. The library's Oregonian database suggests this has been a source of confusion from the very beginning. The original deal was that the city parks bureau would buy the land and hand a portion over to the school district for a new school, and the two parties would share the park somehow. This quickly became contentious; by November 1922, before either park or school had opened, the parties were already arguing about details, such as who was responsible for heating the park's swimming pool. And when not fighting with the school district, city bureaus fought among themselves. In May 1923, the parks bureau was fighting with the City Engineer over proper grading of streets around the school, the parks bureau wanting a 6% grade and the city engineer wanting only a 5% grade.

Controversies around the park and the school multiplied as planning and construction dragged on. In December 1923, people realized the new school was 11 whole blocks from the nearest streetcar line, as nobody had put any thought into how students would get to the new school. This resulted in calls to put in a new streetcar line to serve the school, as the modern school bus had not yet been invented. In June 1924, as the school was under construction, the contractor in charge of building it was forced to replace 500 window sections in the school after the district accused him of using cheap, shoddy window glass. The article states the original glass "was declared to distort the view and to be hard on the eyes of the children", whatever that means. The city and school district were still fighting over who was responsible for what in July 1924, with the parks commissioner insisting he had no authority to do any grading or improvements around the new school unless the school grounds were included in the city park, under his jurisdiction.

I haven't gone through subsequent decades' newspapers to see whether the bureaucratic infighting continued or not. I would assume it probably did, though, right up to the present day. Contemporary thinking about schools is that they need to be maximum security facilities, full of ID badges and metal detectors and security cameras and all that, and this doesn't mesh well with having an open campus that sort of segues into a regular city park. In other places like SE Portland's Sunnyside School Park, they've resolved this tension by making the park school-use-only during school hours. They haven't taken this step with Grant Park, and there would be a neighborhood uproar if they tried it, but I imagine the school district has at least considered the idea.

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