Monday, March 31, 2014

Pics: Savannah, GA

I recently dug out and scanned a batch of old travel photos, so here's a slideshow from historic Savannah, GA, taken sometime in the late 1990s. It was a brief visit and I haven't been back since then. (The visit wasn't motivated by Midnight-in-the-Garden mania, I hasten to add; I've never even read the book.) Much of the city is a protected historic district, and Google Street View confirms it hasn't changed a lot in the last 15 years or so.

And yes, there is a photo of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge in the slideshow. I only had dialup internet back then and blogs didn't even exist yet, but it's almost like I knew, somehow.


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Shepperds Dell Bridge

As you may have noticed by now, I've been making another pass through my old Columbia Gorge photos and digging out pictures of historic bridges along the old Columbia River Highway. This combines two of this humble blog's longtime OCD-ish preoccupations: The Gorge, and bridges, and the more I think about it the more I'm surprised I hadn't gotten around to this until now. For the benefit of anyone from out of town who's reading this, the Columbia Gorge is where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountains, forming a wide steep-sided canyon, with a large number of waterfalls where side streams drop into it. It's the only way through the Cascades that doesn't involve a high mountain pass, so it's been a main transportation route since the Oregon Trail days. Today, Interstate 84 runs along the Oregon side of the river, and Washington's SR 14 runs along the river's north bank, with busy rail lines parallel to each of these roads. A century ago, the original Columbia River Highway wound its way through the Gorge from Portland out to The Dalles. It was a showpiece of early 20th century civil engineering, as well as one of the region's first paved roads.

The old highway had to cross quite a few streams on its way east, and the state invested more than was strictly necessary in creating attractive bridges to fit their surroundings. The segment east of Hood River, which was built in the early 1920s, features a few bridges credited to Conde McCullough, the famous bridge engineer, and the guy whose designs show up in coffee table books a lot. The earlier western segment of the highway features bridges designed and built by some far more obscure names: Lewis W. Metzger (who designed the bridge at Eagle Creek, among other things), Charles H. Purcell (who created the state's bridge division, and who later was chief engineer constructing San Francisco's Bay Bridge), and Karl P. Billner, who designed many of the Gorge's more famous bridges, like the Benson Footbridge at Multnomah Falls; the Latourell and Bridal Veil Creek bridges; and the subject of today's post, the Shepperds Dell Bridge, which crosses Youngs Creek in Shepperds Dell State Park.

Like many bridges on both sides of the Gorge, the one here is a concrete deck arch bridge. That seems to have been the vogue at the time, and multiple designers went with it independently. So while the Shepperds Dell Bridge is a reasonably common design, it was a cutting edge one at the time, and it's a great example of the style. The setting doesn't hurt either, it must be said. As with a number of other bridges along the old highway, it was surveyed in 1990 for the National Park Service's Historical American Engineering Record. The resulting description goes into a great deal of detail about how the falsework was done, the exact dimensions of joists, later repairs to bridge railing spindles, that sort of thing. It's all there, if you're so inclined. Which is to say that someone who was truly obsessive about the subject could only use this humble blog as a mere starting point. It's almost as if I'm reasonably normal and well-adjusted, relative to this other hypothetical person.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sheridan Triangle expedition


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Today's adventure takes us to the intersection at SW Naito & Sheridan, probably one of the uglier places I've ever covered here. At this intersection there's an oddly large, roughly porkchop-shaped traffic island. The city typically landscapes traffic islands this size and makes them sort of park-like (for example, Beryl Triangle, 5th & Caruthers, Regents & Alameda, etc.) This spot, though, is just a vast expanse of drab grey concrete, with a few weeds growing up through the cracks. On top of everything else it's just steps away from the noisy canyon of Interstate 405. It's a great candidate for the godawful ugliest, most brutal-looking, least urban-planned-Portlandia-looking space in the city, or at least within casual walking distance. Which is an actual award I just invented. We aren't here for the scenery, though, as ironic as that would be. And I'm not doing this to grab the top Google result for yet another thing nobody on Earth will ever search for, as rewarding as that always is. Instead we're here for an interesting bit of history that will become clear shortly.

Back in 2008, Portland's annual Pedalpalooza bike festival offered a "Worst of Portland" bike ride, and the ride started right here at Naito & Sheridan. The Portland Mercury described it as "Usually Portlanders can't stop jabbering about how awesome their city is for cyclists. This ride, however, showcases the worst and most dangerous routes. Just watch out for broken glass and 18-wheelers." At least one person survived this adventure, and posted an extensive Flickr photoset of the ride. It looks as though from here they headed across the Ross Island Bridge, then down the ramp onto McLoughlin. Then continued on McLoughlin to Holgate, out to the big railyard, over the Lafayette St. footbridge, and back under the railroad tracks on the ooky pedestrian underpass along Powell, and across the tracks again on the Brooklyn St. footbridge. Then back to McLoughlin and the (now replaced) tumbledown old viaduct near OMSI, and then up to a scramble around the Steel Bridge. That was either where the ride ended, or where the photographer stopped taking photos.

A common thread along that strange journey is that they generally followed busy streets designed in the 1920s thru 1940s, when the world was still learning how to design major roads properly. That era's vision of the high-speed traffic artery of the future did not really include bikes or pedestrians or any other ideas beyond getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

So how does this relate to the Naito & Sheridan traffic island? If you look at the overhead shot on the map above, you might notice the grey concrete comes in a few different shades, and you can sort of make out where the traffic flow used to be quite different than it is now. Look for the weedy seam up the middle of the triangle, not quite parallel with Naito. It turns out this was once the southern end of the old Harbor Drive freeway, aka Highway 99W, the 1940s highway that Portland tore out in 1973 to build Waterfront Park (which we're still bragging about, forty years later). At the intersection with Sheridan St, northbound Harbor Drive split off from Naito (then called Front Avenue) and angled downhill to where Riverplace is now, and continued through what's now Waterfront Park up to the Steel Bridge. So this ugly traffic island here is one of the last surviving relics of that long-vanished freeway.

Southbound Harbor Drive traffic actually passed under Front Avenue in a tunnel before merging onto Front at Sheridan. The aforementioned seam marks the edge of where this ramp used to be. For a better idea of what that was like, see this Vintage Portland post with a 1944 photo taken at this very spot, looking north toward the Harbor Drive interchange.

It turns out that the long-abandoned Grant Street Tunnel still exists; it was walled up after Harbor Drive was demolished, but was opened temporarily in 2011-2012 while the Water Bureau ran a new water main through it. If only I'd had the proper connections and known the right strings to pull, I would've loved to put on a hard hat and check it out, take a few photos, write a blog post about it, you know the drill.

The name "Sheridan Triangle" is something I invented just now, by the way I don't usually do that, but I figured it needed a name, and it didn't have one, and this was the obvious candidate. It turns out there are already Sheridan Triangles in Manhattan, Chicago, and Madison, WI, so one might argue that having a place by this name is the mark of a Real City. So, ok, that's kind of a silly argument. In any case, I occasionally think it would be fun to do something with the Sheridan Triangle to brighten it up a little. Maybe paint it, similar to the City Repair street graphics around town. That would be the cheapest option, anyway. A statue or a fountain or something might work here, too, but I'm not sure what it would take to de-uglify the area, short of completely tearing out this stretch of Naito and redoing it, building a cap over I-405, and probably replacing a lot of the buildings nearby. That would be a good start, albeit a very expensive good start.

Anyway, here are a few items from the Oregonian database related to this forgotten and misbegotten spot:

Oregon Slough Railroad Bridge


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As you might already know, a few years ago I sort of stumbled into a bridge project for this humble blog. It started out with the Morrison Bridge, then a couple of others, then I figured I'd go ahead and do all the Willamette River bridges in town. Then I decided to do Columbia River bridges, and somehow ended up doing Clackamas and Sandy River ones too. And now... I guess I'm not really sure what the scope of this thing is anymore. There have been a few trailing items out there, trailing because I haven't been able to get quality photos of them. With the Clackamas River Railroad Bridge, I finally threw up my hands and figured I'd just go with the subpar photos I had, and try to make up for that with a little extra history work. The Lewis & Clark Bridge at Longview is likely to get a similar treatment. I have exactly one blurry photo of it, but it's a long way to go just to take more bridge photos.

And then there's the subject of today's post, the Oregon Slough Railroad Bridge (aka BNSF Bridge 8.8) between Hayden Island and the south bank of the Columbia. The Vancouver Railroad Bridge carries trains the rest of the way, between Hayden Island and the Washington side of the river. It's similar to what the obscure North Portland Harbor Bridge is to the Interstate Bridge. The cool thing about it is that (like its Vancouver sibling) it's a swing span bridge, where part of the bridge pivots out of the way instead of raising when ships need to pass. Ok, I'm probably stretching the word "cool" to the breaking point here, but hey, I kind of specialize in that. Bridge 5.1 on the Willamette is on the same railroad line, and it used to be a swing span too until it was replaced in the 1980s.

I don't imagine this bridge has to open very often; there are a handful of commercial shipping businesses of some sort along the south side of the channel, but most of the channel is just houseboats. Still, I saw at least two people at the bridge's operator booth, possibly for a shift change. So I suppose it's always ready and able to open if the need arises, once in a blue moon. If you're ever doing pub trivia and they ask you to name all the Portland bridges that open, this is the bridge that will win you the contest, assuming you have a good trivia master. The others are, on the Willamette, doing downstream: Hawthorne, Morrison, Burnside, Steel, Broadway, and BNSF Bridge 5.1. Then on the Columbia, it's the Interstate, the Vancouver Railroad Bridge, and this one here. That's the whole list. Feel free to split your winnings with me, or at least leave a comment and say thanks, if you'd be so kind as to do that.

I've had a todo item for this bridge for quite a while. I drove by the bridge a several times but never could find anywhere to park. I had a couple of photos from the North Portland Harbor Bridge showing it way off in the distance, and I almost just went with those. Then I realized there was a segment of the Marine Drive Trail atop the levee from the Expo Center to the bridge, so I could just ride the MAX Yellow Line to the end and walk the rest of the way. This worked pretty well, and I got a bonus look at that weird bit of trail. It doesn't look like it gets a lot of use. I saw one other person there, and he was practically a speck off in the distance. He kept looking back, I guess to make sure I wasn't going to mug him or something. Then it started raining heavily. It could be my imagination, but the guy way up ahead seemed to relax when he realized I had an umbrella and wasn't just trudging along in a hoodie, like the umbrella was a badge of respectability and non-threatening-ness or something. I'm not sure how that works, to be honest.

Ala Moana Beach Park


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Here's a slideshow from Honolulu's Ala Moana Beach Park, just across the Ala Wai Canal from Waikiki, and across the street from the ginormous Ala Moana Mall. Most of these are from the tip of Magic Island (which isn't really an island), while dodging joggers and people looking for a place to watch that day's Aloha Festivals Floral Parade.

The park has a few WPA Art Deco touches to point out: The Roosevelt Portals at the entrance to the park (named because FDR visited in 1934 to dedicate the park), and the Equestrian Bridge over a stream flowing through the park. Both were designed by the architect Harry Sims Bent. Apparently he was reasonably well known at the time, but I can't find a good online bio of him.

You might notice that one of the photos includes what appears to be a submarine. It really is> a submarine, and one that carries tourists in fact. I tried to get tickets for it once, but they ended up canceling for the day due to murky water after a big storm. I've heard mixed things about how much tropical marine life you actually get to see, since it's touring in busy waters just offshore of a major city. But still, it's a submarine you can ride in without joining the Navy, and Navy subs don't have windows anyway.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Parent I & Young Girl

Here are a few photos of Parent I and Young Girl, a pair of Barbara Hepworth sculptures outside the Hawaii State Library on King St. near the state capitol. I had sort of assumed these sculptures reflected the 1960s tiki-Polynesian look. It's a reasonable guess given the style and location. Hepworth was British, not local, however, and said her work was influenced by the ancient standing stones and dolmens of rural England.

There's another Parent I in Toronto, and a set with both sculptures plus a Parent II in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Somewhere in rural Suffolk, Parent I is paired with Ancestor I and Ancestor II. The series as a whole is known variously as The Family of Man or Nine Figures on a Hill. Apparently PepsiCo's New York headquarters includes a vast 168 acre sculpture garden, and it (of all places) has collected the whole set. I actually just added that place to my todo list, in case I ever find myself in suburban Purchase, NY with some free time to burn. Which I suppose is possible, in theory.

Upright Motive #9

It's time for more art from downtown Honolulu. This is Upright Motive #9 (1979-81) by Henry Moore, in a little plaza at the corner of Bishop St. & King St. If you read this humble blog obsessively and never read anything else about art, you might still be familiar with Moore's work thanks to his Reclining Connected Forms at CityCenter in Las Vegas. Who says going to Vegas isn't educational?

This is the ninth design in Moore's Upright Motive series, and the Honolulu one is one of six copies of Upright Motive #9. There's another at Moore's estate in rural Hertfordshire, UK, now an outdoor museum, and a third one at an outdoor sculpture park in Kansas City. I'm not sure where the other three are.

For the sake of comparison, here are a few other entries in the long-running Upright Motive series, which Moore began in the mid-1950s: One, Two, Three, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Twelve. There's also a series with letters instead of numbers, so here are editions B, C, and D, as well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Three Columns

Downtown Honolulu's Fort St. is a pedestrian-only street for much of its length. Some of the businesses along it cater to tourists, but it's right next to the downtown financial district so there are a lot of banks and buisinesses serving downtown office workers. The Bank of Hawaii tower has an entrance on Fort St., and (like the main Bishop St. entrance) there's a big 1970s sculpture parked out in front of the building. This is Three Columns, by the Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro. Its Smithsonian database entry describes it:

Dates:  1970.
Medium:
  1)Grey concrete with anodized steel bands, 
  2)polished bronze, 
  3)stainless steel with pale gold and chrome.
Dimensions:  3 columns. Tallest elements: H. 16 ft.
Description:
  Three columns combining intricate, machine-like surfaces with smooth, polished surfaces.

The entry also notes that, like Kepaakala (Sun Disc) on the other side of the building, it was commissioned by the tower's condominium owners association and not the bank.

I ran an interesting post from 2010 about restoration work being done on Three Columns. Apparently the columns weren't designed for the Hawaiian climate, and took quite a beating under the tropical climate and salt air. (I would guess that back in 1970 all "international" outdoor art was designed for New York City weather, not the tropics.) The columns seem shiny enough now, so I imagine the restoration went well and these count as "after" photos. Though I haven't come across any photos of them from 1970 from comparison, so it's hard to be sure.

Last

Last Last

When I visited Cleveland back in March 2012 for a NASA event, I spent most of a day wandering around on foot, mostly taking photos of bridges & cool buildings. I wasn't doing a public art project at the time, but I ran across one that was just too large to ignore. So here are a couple of photos of Last, a huge orange abstract Tony Smith sculpture outside a state office building, a few blocks from Public Square & the Terminal Tower complex. The Smithsonian database entry for Last explains:

A jagged, angular arch formed with six hollow, rhomboidal sections, 6 ft. x 7 ft., bolted together. The sculpture is painted bright orange.
...
Each of the six rhomboidal sections weighs nearly six tons. The sections were bolted together from the inside at five meeting points. The legs are anchored in the massive substructure of the office building. There is an eighteen-inch access hole at the top of the sculpture. Although commissioned by the Ohio Building Authority, the Cleveland Fine Arts Committee helped select the sculpture. It was budgeted at $225,000. The title comes from the artist's decision that this sculpture would be the last arch he would make.

Wikipedia's "List of Tony Smith sculptures" and other sources indicate this really was his final work, although a few of his designs of his have since been fabricated posthumously, one as recently as 2005.

So on one hand it's by a famous and widely acclaimed mid-20th Century sculptor, and I'm always a sucker for geometric abstract art like this. On the other hand, it's only scored one measly Yelp review, and it's a pretty negative one at that. Haters gonna hate, I guess.

Moon's Garden

Moon's Garden

This ongoing art project leads to some weird activities now and then. I was rifling through the Smithsonian public art database a while back, as one does, looking for new todo items for this humble blog, and saw an entry for Moon's Garden, a Manuel Izquierdo sculpture in downtown Portland. I'd never heard of it, and it wasn't on the usual maps or in the RACC database. Then I noticed it was in the lobby of a generic mid-rise office building at 1121 SW Salmon. When I see something isn't really public public art, I usually just shrug and cross it off the list, but I rather like Izquierdo's work, and I thought I'd see if I could track this one down.

So the legwork for this post involved walking in the building's front door, snapping one quick photo, and leaving. Not that I expected it would be a problem or anything; I just figured it would be tough explaining what I was up to if someone asked. I have enough of a hard time trying to explain it to myself and any remaining Gentle Reader(s) out there. Explaining this little project to a skeptical stranger might not go so smoothly. Anyway, I feel kind of bad that the one photo I got has a little motion blur to it. I like to think it gives the whole thing a more exciting cloak-n-dagger feel. (It doesn't, but I like to think it does.)

In any case, here it is. There's no mistaking it; it looks like a smaller sibling to The Dreamer and Silver Dawn. Call be biased, but an Izquierdo seems like a nice shiny way to brighten up any office (although certainly not the cheapest way of brightening up an office).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Beaverton Interactivator

Every time TriMet opens a new transit line, the agency buys public art for each station on the new line, which eventually results in a new series of blog posts here. They tend to patronize local artists, and seem to gravitate to weird stuff, not always of the highest quality, which makes this an interesting sort of project. I've primarily covered the Green and Yellow Lines so far, but I think TriMet's done this on every MAX line except for the original eastside Blue Line, and they already have a few pieces up for the upcoming Orange line. It turns out they also did this for the WES commuter rail line between Beaverton and Wilsonville. Unlike MAX, there are just a handful of WES stations along the line, and all of the art pieces along it are by the same designers.

The program was guided by an Art Advisory Committee composed of representatives from every station area. The committee selected artists Frank Boyden and Brad Rude to develop artwork for the stations.

Boyden and Rude created a series of five sculptures, called Interactivators, for the five commuter rail stations. Each sculpture features moveable, cast-bronze heads and a vehicle mounted to a stainless-steel table. The heads, which appear in different guises at each of the stations, symbolize a wide range of emotions, traits and conditions. Like the cross section of humanity that may be found on any train car, these sculpted archetypes serve as a metaphor for the human experience. The bronze vehicles each carry a sculpted scene of an animal representative of the station area where they are located.

The figures and vehicles are attached to the tables in a way that allows them to move within "tracks" cut into the surface of the table. The sculptures, in addition to being unique works of art, offer a potential game that can be played by one person or an entire station full of people. There are no winners or losers, but rather opportunities for infinite encounters that can create social connection, offer insight or produce a simple moment of pleasure.

The one shown here is the Beaverton Interactivator, at the WES station at Beaverton Transit Center. I didn't try to play with it, and nobody else at the station seemed inclined to give it a whirl just then either. The Oregonian's transportation reporter thought they were kind of creepy, and included close up photos to illustrate his point. He may have a valid argument there, though I don't really see a Middle Earth connection. If anything it's more of a Tim Burton look, which may or may not be a good thing.

I only managed one photo of the Interactivator before the train arrived. I'd never ridden WES before, because it goes somewhere I don't need to go, and only at times I don't need to go there, so I had to make a special trip just to ride it to Wilsonville and back. I've included a couple of bonus photos of the train too, for the probable majority of you who haven't ridden it either. It was actually a nice ride, certainly quieter and roomier than MAX and not crowded at all, and the run is reasonably scenic once you're out of the industrial part of Beaverton. If you're in the OR 217 corridor, and need to get somewhere during rush hour, and can tolerate a commute option that isn't available at night, or on weekends, or in the middle of the day, I would happily and unreservedly recommend the WES train, versus slogging along in traffic on 217, or trying to bike safely through suburbia, or waiting for the rumored Tigard-Tualatin MAX line to arrive in the mid-2020s.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hawaiian Netmender - Ka Mea Ku`i `Upena

Hawaiian Netmender - Ka Mea Ku`i `Upena Hawaiian Netmender - Ka Mea Ku`i `Upena

Here's another blog post based around a couple of photos I took from a Honolulu city bus. I was riding back from downtown to my hotel, and we were at a traffic light at the busy intersection of King St. & Kapiolani Boulevard. (This is about a block past where I took my from-the-bus photos of Skygate, by the way.) The intersection forms a little triangle of land in the middle, and the triangle is landscaped as a sort of rock grotto with a statue and fountain. This is Hawaiian Netmender - Ka Mea Ku`i `Upena, which the city's Office of Culture and the Arts page describes thusly:

A Sculpture by Charles Watson. Seated figure of a male with a net draped across his outstretched legs. His arms extend over the net, as he is in the act of mending it. He holds a tool in his proper right hand. The figure sits on a natural boulder which is placed in a man-made pool. There are waterfalls behind the figure as part of a landscaped fountain. Located at the triangle park at King Street and Kapiolani Boulevard.

Watson (a local Hawaii sculptor) also created Tree, outside the Foster Botanical Garden, and several other public artworks around the city. Ka Mea Ku`i `Upena is about 15 years newer than Tree, and there's no obvious resemblance between the two. If I hadn't known, I wouldn't have guessed the connection.

The statue and surrounding park merited a stop on the state government's "Capitol District Public Art & Historic Places Walking Tour". It's kind of an odd combo, featuring several pivotal locations in Hawaiian history alongside (often fairly mundane) public art generally dating to the 1960s and 1970s. Although the more I think about it, that's pretty much exactly the kind of walking tour you'd come up with by stringing a bunch of my blog posts together. So it's probably bad mojo to snark about their guide too much.

Klickitat River Bridges, Lyle WA

Klickitat River Bridges, Lyle WA
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I was rifling through old Columbia Gorge photos recently and found the above one, taken from Rowena Crest in the eastern Gorge, showing a pair of bridges on the Washington side of the river. I didn't initially know anything about them, and had to consult the interwebs. The map says these are bridges over the mouth of the Klickitat River, where it flows into the Columbia just west of Lyle, WA. The nearer of the two carries the Burlington Northern rail line and dates to 1908, wile the further one carries Washington highway SR 14 and dates to 1933. Both of them look a lot like bridges along the old highway on the Oregon side, but as far as I know they weren't designed or built by the same people; the concrete deck arch was just a very popular bridge design at the time.

Just west of the river (the left side of the photo) is the trailhead for the Klickitat River Trail, a 31-mile rails-to-trails conversion that follows the river upstream, then continues into a remote side canyon. The original rail line ran all the way to Goldendale; I'm not sure if they plan to ever extend the trail that far, though. I don't know that much about the trail, to be honest, and I haven't gotten around to trying it yet. Like most things, it's on the great big todo list.

Bridal Veil Creek Bridge

The bridges along the old Columbia River Highway in the Gorge are a mixed bag. Some are showpieces of early 20th Century civil engineering and design, others you barely notice. The Bridal Veil Creek Bridge is one of the more minor entries, one I hadn't paid any attention to before I decided Gorge bridges were a new blog project. It's not very big, for one thing. It crosses Bridal Veil Creek immediately above the falls, like the bridge on Ruckel Creek, so it doesn't have a large chasm to span like the Shepperds Dell and Latourell Creek bridges. Like most of the bridges along the Multnomah County segment of the highway, it's yet another Karl Billner design, and the diagonal concrete braces are sort of reminiscent of his much larger design at Latourell Creek. So it's got that going for it, though I'm not sure I'd have clued in on the resemblance if I didn't already know the same person designed them. Unlike many of the old highway's bridges, this one was built without sidewalks for some reason, so I haven't walked across it. It also has a very low railing, and the falls drop away immediately to one side of the bridge, so it would be really easy for rubbernecking tourists or overeager photographers to slip and take the 2 second grand tour. (I learned this phrase at the Grand Canyon, where a ranger called it the twelve second grand tour.) So there's at least one sign sternly warning pedestrians away from the bridge and the area around it.

The important point about all that is that I had a tough time getting a decent photo of the bridge, since the usual "on" and "next to" shots were out of the question, or at least forbidden by fierce official signs and what little common sense I have. The Library of Congress has a couple of historic photos of the bridge from various angles. Those and one of the Bridgehunter photos indicate there's a spot just below the bridge that gives a better look at it than you get at the base of the falls (which is where I took the photos here). I'm not sure how you'd get there, and you'd probably be standing with your back to a steep cliff right behind you. I know I've already taken this bridge project a bit far, but I'm not quite that dedicated. I could be wrong about that, maybe there's a secret safe spot for taking bridge photos if you know where to find it. If such a spot exists, Google isn't saying.

The Oregonian database doesn't have much to say about this little bridge, which I guess is understandable. Multnomah County awarded a pair of bridge-building contracts in March 1914, almost exactly a century ago, with a requirement to have them all completed by August 1st. One of the two covered the Bridal Veil bridge, along with the highway bridge on Multnomah Creek and viaducts on either side of Multnomah Falls, for a total of $40,050, which is around $940,000 in today's money. So maybe $250,000 in contemporary dollars for this bridge. I'm no bridge engineer, but that at least sounds like the right order of magnitude if you were building an equivalent new bridge at the same spot today.

Somewhere upstream of the bridge is Upper Bridal Veil Falls, a large waterfall with no official trail to it for some reason. They can be reached with some difficulty now, and there's a proposal to build a 2.5 mile loop trail that takes in Middle Bridal Veil Falls as well. The proposed trail would head under the bridge and then upstream along the creek. If they build it someday -- and I'm speaking out of venal self-interest here -- I'd get at least two new waterfall blog posts out of it, and I could update this post with better photos. I'm not sure what's involved in prodding the Powers That Be into action, but I'd be happy to sign the petition, if there's a petition circulating out there somewhere.

Untitled Landscape

When I was wandering around Boston a while ago, I ran across Untitled Landscape by David von Schlegell, at the Harbor Towers condo complex on a swanky part of the city's waterfront, previously a district of very old docks and warehouses. The street address, "85 East India Row" conjures images of clipper ships full of tea and spices and whatnot. Concrete high rise towers and a stainless steel abstract sculpture are not what you'd expect to find at such an address.

Untitled Landscape has been catalogued twice in the Smithsonian public art database, and is described variously as "Four rectangular units of steel bent to form obtuse angles." and "Four pieces of metal in the shape of obtuse angles, set in a square facing each other."

The sculpture dates to 1972 when the towers were built; supposedly it's often mistaken for an array of solar panels, I suppose by people who have no idea what a real solar panel looks like. Instead, I see it as showing what it's like being a mouse lost in Starbucks, dwarfed by rows of enormous shiny MacBooks. Yet it was created in 1972, the year Steve Jobs graduated high school. So how could Mr. von Schlegell have created these? Was he helped by aliens, like in all those Von Daniken books? Or could he have known (or been) a time traveller from the early 21st century? And if that's the case, why MacBooks, specifically, and not iPads or something a little more futuristic? What was he trying to tell us? But wait, I'm writing about them on a MacBook right now... what could it all mean? I'm so confused...

Kepaakala (Sun Disc)

Sun Disc

Today's stop on our tour of downtown Honolulu public art is Kepaakala (Sun Disc) by the late Tony Rosenthal. It's at the Bishop St. entrance to the Bank of Hawaii tower. I was going to speculate that its resemblance to a giant gold coin was a big selling point for the bank, but its Smithsonian database record insists it was commissioned by the tower's condominium owners (since it's a mixed-use building, with residences on the upper stories). The Smithsonian entry also categorizes it as "Abstract--Geometric Allegory--Place--Extraterrestrial", and notes that the disc is designed to rotate on its axis. The base is set back behind some shrubbery, so there's probably no socially correct way to give it a spin, though.

Sun Disc

Being spinnable puts it in the same company as Alamo, Rosenthal's most famous work, a giant black steel cube at Astor Place, in lower Manhattan. Apparently it was supposed to be temporary back in 1967, but local residents loved it and petitioned for it to stay, and it did, and has been a beloved landmark and meeting place ever since. I can see the attraction -- here's this giant metal cube, and you can just saunter up and give it a shove and spin it around, and nobody tasers you or tries to charge you $30 for the privilege. It would be popular for stress relief, if nothing else. I could see Sun Disc being a popular meeting spot too, if only it wasn't behind a hedge, and in front of a bank. The poor condo owners probably can't afford the liability insurance, though; if random passersby could just wander up and set it spinning, sooner or later some bratty kid would whack his kid brother with it, and personal injury lawyers would descend from the skies like tropical mosquitoes.

Sun Disc

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Carkeek Park expedition


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When I was in Seattle back in November, I said something about not being in a very scenic part of town. That was certainly true of the area around my hotel, which (other than the Ivar's restaurant) was the usual could-be-anywhere jumble of strip malls and chain stores. A short drive west of there, though, was Seattle's Carkeek Park, a large nature area on Puget Sound. Much of the park is a forested ravine with a large network of trails, with a small gravelly beach on the sound. I'd just driven up from Portland and needed to stretch my legs a bit, and kind of wanted to do at least one thing that wasn't funeral-related, so I drove over and headed for the beach. A busy rail line runs right along the shoreline, so you have to use a somewhat rickety-looking skybridge to get from the parking lot to the beach. It was bitterly cold and windy that day, and the forecast included an off-chance of snow, so I didn't stay long. It was still a nice break from everything else, though.

I lived in Seattle until around age six, mumble-mumble years ago, so on the rare occasions I'm up there I inevitably try to figure out whether such-and-such a place looks familiar at all. This does actually work sometimes; on a previous trip I managed to find the house I moved away from in 1976, and hadn't been to since then, starting with a couple of cursory looks at Google Maps and after that it was all about recognizing the neighborhood. That was way down in Federal Way, though, and I don't think we spent a lot of time north of downtown Seattle unless it was to visit the zoo. The name "Carkeek Park" sounded vaguely familiar, because it's the sort of Dr. Seuss name that sticks in a five year old brain easily, but the park itself didn't look familiar. I mean, I guess it's technically possible that they've changed something here since Gerald Ford was President. Although I'm prepared to argue that 1976 really wasn't that long ago, all things considered. Ask any geologist, they'll tell you it was practically yesterday.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

cherry trees, waterfront park (2014 edition)

Latourell Creek Bridge

Some photos of the Latourell Creek Bridge, which carries the old Columbia River Highway at Latourell Falls. Obviously the falls are the main event here, but if you continue along the trail past the falls, it soon takes you right under the bridge, so you get a decent view of it from below. (The trail continues on to Upper Latourell Falls if you do the whole loop hike.) Off the top of my head I can't think of of another example in the Gorge where you hike under one of the old highway's bridges. Like many of the historic bridges along the highway, this is a Karl P. Billner design. Many of the others are solid concrete arch bridges, while this one is a light, almost spindly sort of structure, a design that was driven by the limitations of the site.

A contemporary account from a 1915 issue of Steam Shovel and Dredge magazine (Vol. XVIV, Issue 1, pg. 67) describes the project, and the issues Billner had to solve:

The Latourelle Bridge is an example of [Billner's] skillful handling of a unique problem. The engineer acknowledges indebtedness to the French expert, M. Considere, for the principles of his design, but they type is original with him. WIth a length of 312 ft. and a height of 97 ft., and a 17-ft. driveway, two cantilever sidewalks and railings, he has used in construction above ground only 560 cu. yds. of concrete, making probably the lightest concrete bridge in this country. Bedrock was from 25 to 50 ft. below the surface, making the cost of piers and abutments for a heavy bridge excessive. Both piers and abutments were founded on bedrock, the west abutment and center columns directly, the east abutment on four columns, two 4 ft. sq. and two 5 ft. sq., with an average depth of 45 ft. from the under side of the abutment to the rock. Inclined struts connect the tops of the 5-ft. columns to the bottoms of the 4-ft. columns, transmitting the thrust from the arches to the rock. Two girders at each end of the bridge carry a set of columns and struts which support the roadway. The result is a cantilever effect in wich the cantilever action is disregarded. Three 80-ft. arch spans form the central part of the bridge and two arch ribs carry each span. They are reinforced with eight 1-in. sq. bars hooped with No. 0000 hooping of 18 in. diameter and 2-in. pitch. Vertical columns spaced 10 ft. apart support the deck load, and these columns are braced with diagonal members hooked round the reinforcement of the arch ribs and girders. Permissible stresses were assumed as follows: Concrete in bending, 600 lb. per sq. in.; in direct compression, 500 lb. per sq. in.; hooped concrete in arch ribs, 750 lb. per sq. in.; steel in tension, 16,000 lb. per sq. in.; steel in shearing, 10,000 lb. per sq. in. A uniform load of 100 lb. per sq. ft., a concentrated load of 15 tons and an impact factor of 25 per cent were adopted. The main columns were poured in sections, the arch ribs simultaneously, and the 250 cu. yds. of concrete in the deck in one operation, lasting 20 hours.

In 1990 the bridge was inventoried as part of the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Record, with a rather exhaustive account of the bridge's design, construction, and even maintenance history. One interesting tidbit is that it was apparently designed with internal electrical conduits for some sort of lighting scheme that was never installed. I suppose it has more of a natural feel this way, but I can't help thinking that streetlights at dusk on this bridge would make for a really great photo.

Billner sounds like an interesting guy, and his work in Oregon has been greatly overshadowed by later bridges designed by Conde McCullough and the rest of the state highway department. I had never heard of him until I started in on the Gorge branch of the ongoing bridge project. Conde McCullough gets flashy coffee table books about his work; Billner doesn't even have his own Wikipedia article, or at least he didn't when I wrote this post. The Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation has a brief bio of him, at least, and notes that the University of Wyoming archives have 54 boxes of his papers.

Karl Pauli Billner (1882-1965) an engineer and inventor, was born in Billesholm, Sweden and came to the U.S. around 1900 and worked as an engineer in Oregon. He returned to Sweden in 1915, working as a construction engineer and developed a lightweight concrete known as Aerocrete. Billner settled in the U.S. permanently in 1926 and established Vacuum Concrete Corporation in Philadelphia in 1935 and served as its president until his death in 1965. Vacuum Concrete performed construction work worldwide, using a vacuum process developed by Billner to extract excess water from newly poured concrete.

Collection contains subject files on Aerocrete, construction projects and patents for Billner’s vacuum process (1927-1962); newspaper clippings (1916-1956); 4 16mm films, "Aerocrete" parts 1 and 2, "Vacuum Concrete in the USSR," and "Octopus Lifter, La Guardia Airport"; patents for Aerocrete and the vacuum process (1934-1959); 5 photograph albums; photographs pertaining to Vacuum Concrete’s operations worldwide; and speeches by Billner on concrete construction (1953).

All in all, he was awarded around 21 US patents relating to concrete construction, awarded over a nearly 50 year period, including:

As I've noted in this blog's About page, I'm a mere software engineer by trade, and this is one of those times where I'm a little envious of real engineers. I have a handful of patents myself, albeit of the software variety, and they're barely valuable now, and will probably be incomprehensible an century from now. Some of the code I wrote as far back as 1999-2000 is still in use, or so I've heard, but I can't imagine any of it being useful in a hundred years. It would take a very specialized sort of historian to even understand the problem it's designed to solve. But design a bridge, at least a particularly notable one, and a century later someone will come along and wonder who you were, and dig up various tidbits and details about you using fancy internet search technology you could not have even conceived of, and instantly share it with their handful of Gentle Reader(s), who hopefully find it somewhat interesting as well.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pics: Ponytail Falls

I was out in the Columbia Gorge a couple of months ago, and it occurred to me that I hadn't been to Ponytail Falls in a very long time, and had zero photos of it. The falls are a short half-mile hike up from the trailhead at Horsetail Falls. Everybody says this is an easy hike, but the first part is all switchbacks, and it felt steep to me. But then, I'd just done the Upper Latourell Falls trail right before this one. Plus I hadn't been to the gym for a while and I was kind of out of shape. That was probably most of the problem right there, come to think of it.

Anyway, Ponytail Falls (a.k.a. Upper Horsetail Falls) is worth visiting, steep or not, in part because it's one of the rare Gorge waterfalls where the trail actually goes behind the falls. I could swear there's at least one other one somewhere in the Gorge, but I can't think of where it might be (not counting Multnomah Falls, where the space behind the falls has been closed for years due to rockfall hazards). Possibly the other one is along Eagle Creek somewhere; it's been a while since I've been there, so I'm not really sure. There are at least two like this down at Silver Falls State Park (North Falls & South Falls), so it's not that rare of a phenomenon, but it's the exception to the rule.

It occurs to me that it's been even longer since I've been to Triple Falls, yet another waterfall a bit further up the trail. It's on the big todo list, so I'll probably get around to it sooner or later.

Pics: Upper Latourell Falls

Latourell Falls is the first big waterfall you encounter heading east into the Columbia Gorge. It's quite photogenic and tourist-friendly: There's a nice viewpoint right at the parking lot, another one just uphill, and a short trail segment leads down to the base of the falls. People generally hit a couple of those viewpoints, take a few quick photos, and hit the road to the next waterfall. It's understandable, and it's what I've generally done until now. The trail goes on from there, though, and is part of a 2.4 mile loop that continues on to Upper Latourell Falls, the subject of today's mini-adventure. It's nowhere near as big as the lower falls, but it's nice, and it's much less crowded. It's worth a stop if you aren't in a big hurry to get back on the road.

I'd realized a while ago that I had no recollection of ever visiting the upper falls, so I made a note to check it out next time I was out in the Gorge. I hiked the loop trail in the direction that went directly to the upper falls, and the trail didn't look familiar at all. I'm almost positive I'd never been there before. It's a short and reasonably easy trail, and it's the closest Gorge hike to Portland, and somehow I'd just never gotten around to trying it until now. That's quite the oversight and I'm not sure how I managed it. Just one of those things, I guess.

Tanner Creek Viaduct

Tanner Creek Viaduct

Most of my posts here come about because I see an obscure thing on an obscure list of obscure things, and I suspect it might be photogenic or otherwise blogworthy. It goes on a todo list, and eventually I go track it down and take a few photos. Other times I see something on a list and realize I already have a photo or two of it lying around, which is what happened this time. So here's an April 2006 photo of the Union Pacific Tanner Creek Viaduct, which carries the railroad around Bonneville Dam and over Tanner Creek, the the same stream that flows over Wahclella Falls a short hike upstream from here.

The Tanner Creek viaduct was built in 1935 due to construction of the dam; the Union Pacific tracks were rerouted, on a stretch from a mile west of Bonneville east to Cascade Locks, at a cost of $976,300, roughly $16.7 million in 2014 dollars. That article was from March 1935, and it noted contractors were scrambling to get the job done as quickly as possible.

The viaduct was projected to be done by July 1935, and completion was announced on June 23rd, complete with a construction photo. The final bridge was 865 feet long, and cost $225,000. (For what it's worth, the general contractor on the project was a firm called "Orino, Bell & Malcolm", with the viaduct subcontracted to "Birkemeier & Saremal". I'm not familiar with either of those companies -- although the latter apparently worked on the early 1940s Front Avenue/Harbor Drive project we mostly tore out in the 70s -- but I rather like the design of this viaduct so I'm kind of filing them away for future reference. Mostly in case they've done any other bridges that are worth tracking down at some point.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Omark

On a recent sunny day, I wandered out of the office for a walk down part of the Willamette Greenway Trail. There's a long stretch of trail that begins just south of the South Waterfront area, and continues south beyond the Sellwood Bridge into Powers Marine Park. (The southern end of the trail is closed beyond SW Miles Place right now due to Sellwood Bridge construction.) For much of this distance the trail is bordered by low-rise two and three-story condo and office buildings, generally dating to the 1980s or late 1970s. The tracks for the on-again, off-again Willamette Shore Trolley run parallel to the trail, usually a bit inland but occasionally right next to it. At one point, the trolley tracks are on a raised, curved trestle that looms over the trail, with the boxy brick 5550 Macadam office building right behind it. If you look closely, you can see the tip of some sort of rusty metal object past the trestle and in front of the building. Turns out that object is today's stop on the ongoing public art tour.

The large sculpture in the above photos is Omark, yet another giant Cor-Ten steel thingamajig by Lee Kelly, the guy behind the infamous Leland One; Memory 99 in the North Park Blocks; Arlie at the art museum; Arch with Oaks in Beaverton; and too many others to list. The building here was once the corporate headquarters of Omark Industries, a major manufacturer of chainsaw chains. It seems the company already had a substantial corporate art collection, and when they moved into this new building in 1983-84, they apparently felt a huge abstract sculpture would really jazz up the joint. This particular corporate temple of the arts was short-lived, however, as the company was bought out in November 1984. The sculpture stayed put, obviously, because moving it would be expensive and annoying, but its days as the centerpiece of a major corporate headquarters were over. Since then it's languished in obscurity. Possibly brightening the days of a few office workers, or annoying them for blocking the view of Mt. Hood, and going unnoticed by everyone else. To get a good look at it, you have to take a nearby underpass under the trestle, and go up a flight of stairs to a yard/patio area in front of the building. There isn't a "No Trespassing" sign or anything, much less a gate or any sign of a taser-crazed security force, so I just wandered up and snapped a few quick phone photos.

I actually ran across this one first in the Smithsonian art inventory database. RACC doesn't have it because it wasn't publicly funded and it's outside of downtown. The Smithsonian page merely calls it "(Abstract)", but a page at Kelly's website titles it Omark. (For what it's worth, his Nash, in the Central Eastside district, is also named for the company that commissioned it.) In any case, I imagine he of all people would know what the correct name is supposed to be.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Failing St. Bridge


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Here's a quick slideshow of the Failing St. pedestrian bridge over Interstate 5, in Northeast Portland. I admit I included this bridge mostly for the name, since it's not too photogenic on its own, and I don't usually bother with giving overpasses their own blog posts. It's named for Josiah Failing, a pioneer-era businessman and the 4th mayor of Portland in 1853-54. I could swear that when I was a kid, the freeway sign naming the bridge just called it "Failing Bridge". I could be misremembering that. There was also a "Failing School" in SW Portland at one point, a building that's now home to the local naturopathic college, and "Failing School" sounds at least as shady as "Failing Bridge". At least he's merited two more commemorations than another unfortunately-named early pioneer, one Stephen Coffin. (Poor Mr. Coffin doesn't even have his own Wikipedia article, I see. I'd be happy to write about him, but I can't do that until they name a park after him or put up a statue or something; them's the rules here, I'm afraid.)

Searching for info about the bridge returns a lot of fun random results thanks to the terms "failing" and "bridge" in the query, like Wikipedia's List of Bridge Failures. And, of course, the video of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge doing its thing.

There's more to the story of this bridge than a funny name and random search results, however. A quarter century ago, this part of Portland was a very different place, and the Failing St. bridge was the center of an ugly controversy we'd be wise to remember in the rapidly gentrifying Portland of 2014.

Interstate 5 sliced through NE Portland in 1963, replacing the former Minnesota Avenue. (The previous link includes a photo of the Failing St. bridge in its original configuration.) Like other urban freeway projects of the era, it divided neighborhoods, cut residents off from parks and local businesses, lowered property values, and generally had a negative impact on existing parts of the city, all for the convenience of commuters from distant suburbs. The NE Portland stretch of I-5 was built with few overpasses; only certain major streets have them, and all other east-west streets dead end at the freeway. In the neighborhood around Failing St., I-5 became a neighborhood boundary, with the Overlook neighborhood to the west, and Boise to the east. No street nearby was busy enough to merit a full overpass, so the state just built this one little footbridge and called it good. After the freeway came the two divided neighborhoods went on very different trajectories.

By the late 1980s and early 90s, NE Portland, and the Boise neighborhood in particular, were synonymous with crime and poverty. The Overlook neighborhood, just across the freeway, was a significantly wealthier (and whiter) neighborhood, and Overlook residents came to see the bridge as a crime enabler. The theory was that criminals would skulk across from the Boise side, wreak havoc on the respectable side of I-5, and then flee back to safety over the bridge. The bridge was supposedly ideal for this sort of thing because criminals could run across it, and police were unable to give chase thanks to the whole pedestrian-only thing. I can't seem to find the original Oregonian stories from 1991 about this, which is odd, but I clearly remember the episode. The city bought the argument and padlocked the bridge, and it remained closed for the next seven years, despite ever-falling crime rates and creeping gentrification across the way in Boise. I-5 became Overlook's own Great Wall of China (or Berlin Wall, or West Bank separation barrier), keeping the "undesirables" out of their corner of the city. Although people could still go a few blocks north and cross the Skidmore St. overpass instead, so it's not like closing the one here would thwart a determined criminal.

The usual story is that the Failing St. bridge finally reopened thanks to the coming of the MAX Yellow Line, but that's not precisely true. Around 1999, the state transportation department wanted to modernize this stretch of I-5, and concluded that several overpasses (including this one) were too low to meet contemporary standards. The state wasn't keen to spend $300k raising a padlocked pedestrian bridge, so the city had a choice to make: Either renovate it, make it ADA-compliant, and reopen it; or demolish it. An April 1999 Oregonian story indicated the city was seriously considering bringing in the wrecking ball. They polled local public opinion, which (they said) ran narrowly in favor of reopening the bridge. A 3/31/1999 Willamette Week article pointed out that local opinion was strongly divided along the usual lines (east vs. west, black vs. white, rich vs. poor). Nevertheless, a month later the city announced it would do the work and reopen the bridge, in part due to the future light rail line being proposed for Interstate Avenue. (i.e. today's Yellow Line). Since the MAX line opened, gentrification has had its way with the neighborhoods on both sides of the freeway; if anything, Boise is now the hip and trendy (and increasingly Caucasian) side. Case in point, I took these photos while heading to the Overlook MAX stop from a trendy brewpub on Mississippi or Williams Avenue. There are several such brewpubs in the area, and I've forgotten which one it was.

For what it's worth, the overpass-raising operation was an interesting bit of engineering. The state elected to raise the existing overpasses instead of replacing them, I suppose because it was less expensive and disruptive to traffic that way. They pulled this off with an intricate system of computer-controlled hydraulic jacks, described in an article titled "Technical Marvel Raises Overpasses". Oh, and they did it at night, to further avoid impacting commuters.