Tuesday, February 28, 2017

keepalive (again)

Ok, so I started the year with a bunch of posts from the bottomless Drafts folder, then slacked the rest of January, then all of February. And as I point out every time I do one of these, I've managed to go 11 years and change doing at least one post a month, and it seems like a shame to have that streak end today, so this is February's obligatory keepalive post. One fun little administrative detail to point out is that this humble blog managed to outlive Twitterfeed, its longtime RSS-to-Twitter provider, a fact I somehow managed not to clue in about for a few months after its demise. I'd heard that Dlvr.it was a decent replacement so I signed up and (I think) connected all the dots so that posts here can be ignored by a wider audience. I say "I think" because I haven't actually posted anything since signing up, so this post is the somewhat belated experiment. I'll hit Publish in a bit and go see if it shows up over on the intertweets. If it shows up in a semi-timely way, and only one copy shows up, it's already better than crufty old Twitterfeed was.

Update: It worked! Voilà, le fromage:

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Alleyway Street Art Project

Next up we're visiting the Alleyway Street Art Project, a collection of murals in the NE Williams Ave. - Cleveland Ave. Alley between Jarret St. & Jessup St., if those directions make any sense. I don't know the backstory about why this one alley in a residential neighborhood has a bunch of murals. I suppose everyone involved just agreed to do it and didn't need or bother to post anything about it on the interwebs. I did run across someone's blog post with a few of the murals here taken at night, for what it's worth.

Belmont Rotating Mural

Next mural up is the Belmont Rotating Mural, which is basically the garage of someone's house on SE Belmont near 32nd which gets repainted by different mural artists every so often. These are rather old photos and I'm positive it doesn't look like this anymore. The PDX Street Art page (1st link) has a few photos of it as it's changed over time.

Ladd Circle


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We're wrapping up the Ladd's Addition parks mini-tour at Ladd Circle, the traffic circle in the center of the neighborhood's goofy street grid. The circle isn't a rose garden; it's basically just a landscaped circle with bushes and a couple of benches, if I remember right, and it's somehow gone over a century without anyone plunking down any monumental art in the center of the circle.

The one commercial building facing the circle is home to the cozy Palio cafe, named after the famous Sienese horse race. Previously there was a small neighborhood grocery store here until sometime in the 1980s. There are also a couple of churches facing the circle, which I don't have photos of since I admit I'm not all that interested in churches.

A few years ago, a local cyclist/filmmaker got the idea of riding a century (100 miles) by doing 650 laps of Ladd Circle. There seems to be some disagreement about how many laps equal 100 miles; I'm not sure if they're measuring the length of the inside of the circle vs. the outside, or what the discrepancy is about, but the BikePortland article says 650 laps, while the filmmaker's video about this adventure says it's a nice even 666 laps. A big group event last summer insisted that you could hit a century in just 500 laps. So who knows? One commenter did the math and figured that anywhere between 543 and 673 laps, depending on where you ride in the circle, and how pedantic you plan on being about your 100 miles. Personally I've never been 100% convinced that the ordinary laws of physics and reality operate inside Ladd's Addition, so maybe all of these values are true, and none are true, and uncanny magic is afoot. I half expected to run across the local minotaur at the center of the circle when I visited, but no such luck. He or she must have had the afternoon off or something.

Mulberry Square, Ladd's Addition


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And now we have some photos from Mulberry Square, the west square in Ladd's Addition (and the last of the neighborhood's four squares, after Orange, Cypress, & Maple). Again, same basic idea as the other three, with slightly different roses & landscaping.

Maple Square, Ladd's Addition


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Next up are a few photos from Maple Square, aka the north square in Ladd's Addition. It's more or less the same idea as the Cypress (east) and Orange (south) Squares we've already visited. The squares do seem to have different rose varieties, but I don't know if each is supposed to have its own overall theme, or we're just seeing the personal preferences of a few different volunteer gardeners.

Cypress Square, Ladd's Addition


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If you've followed this humble blog for any amount of time at all, you're familiar with a few of my ongoing "projects", where a project is some sort of theme I latch onto and pursue to the point of absurdity for a while, like murals, bridges, fountains, city parks, and a few assorted other things like that. So back in 2012 I posted some roses in Orange Square, one of the four tiny rose garden parks in the Ladd's Addition neighborhood. You probably expected me to visit the other three squares and Ladd Circle in the middle of the neighborhood, because that's how these projects always go. And I actually did go and take the requisite flower photos back in 2014, but the posts went into my ginormous drafts folder and I sort of forgot about them without ever actually finishing & posting them. Which is kind of a shame since a.) the photos are mostly flowers, and I haven't had a lot of flowers here lately, and b.) the research for the first post applies to the circle & remaining three squares too, so there isn't actually that much work that needs doing on these posts.

Cypress Square is the east rose garden in Ladd's Addition, named for one of the adjoining streets. The names for individual squares were given back in 1909, but they fell out of common use at some point after that, and basically nobody uses these names anymore; the squares are usually just "east park" or "north garden" or "south square", etcetera. I rather like the proper names though, so I decided to go ahead and use them here, even if nobody else does anymore.

Romona Falls

Next up, we're looking at Romona Falls, a sculpture/fountain in VanWa's Turtle Place plaza. The Waymarking page for it (1st link) notes that it was created by artists Greg Conyne and Wendy Armstrong, & includes the text of the plaque attached to it, which I'm shamelessly copying & pasting here:

For this sculpture/fountain the artists reclaimed used but familiar objects from a number of sources and combined them in an entirely new and different context. Old equipment from Clark Public Utilities, C-Tran and the City of Vancouver offer clues to the past expressed in a somewhat nonsensical way.

The rough, rusted and used appearance works well with the elements of the theme: Conserve Reuse Recycle. Seasonal rainwater from the roof of the adjacent building is captured to provide a portion of the falling water. The name "Ramona Falls" recalling a well known site on the slopes of Mount Hood.

As I noted in the earlier Turtle Place post, the plaza has since been torn up and rebuilt as a terminal for Vancouver's new Bus Rapid Transit system (which will open in early January 2017), but supposedly they're keeping the fountain as well as the plaza's giant mural.

As for the fountain's sorta-namesake, here are Wikipedia & Oregon Hikers Field Guide pages about Ramona Falls, since I've somehow neglected to go take my own photos of it yet. I have no idea why the fountain is spelled slightly differently, whether it's an in joke I'm not privy to, or maybe a typo that was caught late in the process & was too expensive to fix. Beats me.

Turtle Place

Next up are some old-ish photos of VanWa's Turtle Place, a small plaza on 7th between Washington & Main. This had previously been the Vancouver bus system's downtown transit center, until the city decided it was attracting crime and they might be able to do without a downtown transit center at all. So in 2007 they turned it into a pedestrian plaza, with a gigantic mural and a couple of sculptures. The plaza was always meant to be temporary, until they found another transportation use for the place, and you can see they didn't spend a lot of money on the place except for the art and the mural. Since I took these photos, the plaza shown here (such as it is) has been torn up to make way for a terminal for The Vine, a shiny new Bus Rapid Transit line out to Vancouver Mall, which is scheduled to open a week from today (1/8/17). The photos show they kept the giant mural, and apparently they're keeping the plaza's fountain too, which is good since I have photos of it too, and I haven't gotten around to posting them quite yet, and I'd hate for them to be completely obsolete before I use them.

Hooker St. Skybridge


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The next bridge we're looking at is yet another pedestrian bridge. This one crosses Naito Parkway at SW Hooker St., connecting the Lair Hill neighborhood with the so-called "Bermuda Triangle" area that's home to the local naturopathic college. There's no actual intersection here, since this stretch of Naito is a 1940s-era quasi-freeway, and the the skybridge is one of the only ways in or out of the Bermuda Triangle, along with the creepy Arthur St. Tunnel.

The school's master plan notes the bridge is one of the main ways for students to access the campus, and points out that the bridge is quite old and not ADA-compliant. The bridge has been there much longer than the current school, in fact; it was previously home to PCC's Ross Island Center for a couple of decades, and before that it began life as Portland's amusingly named Failing Elementary School (named for pioneer Josiah Failing, also the namesake of NE Portland's Failing Pedestrian Bridge). I figured the bridge had probably been built for schoolkids, so I dug into the library's Oregonian database again. In a October 2nd 1947 article, school administrators & parents were clamoring for a new pedestrian bridge, since the state was in the middle of turning Front Avenue (now Naito) into a nice modern superhighway. The State Highway Department included such a bridge in their initial plan for the highway, but hadn't contracted anyone to build it, and they favored dropping the idea because it might cost up to $50,000. It seems the state also believed kids wouldn't actually use a pedestrian bridge if one was built, & would rather just dart across the busy highway or something, apparently. Neighbors pointed out that the closest library & playground were on the far side of Front, as was the Neighborhood House afterschool program, so over half of the school's students were likely to need to cross the new state superhighway at some point during the school day.

In a May 25th 1948 article, the state finally gave in and agreed to build a bridge, contracting with the lowest bidder for exactly $17,390.95, although the headline rounded it up by a nickel. You have to admit it looks like something built nearly 70 years ago by the lowest bidder, though it's best not to think about this while walking across the thing.

Unfortunately the delay meant the bridge wouldn't be ready by the start of the 1948 school year, and a September 5th, 1948 article explained the temporary, circuitous safe ways to school until the bridge was completed around November 1st, complete with lots of police and crossing guards everywhere.

The state's weird reluctance and penny-pinching around an obvious child safety issue might be explained by demographics, since this part of South Portland was a poor/working class, largely immigrant neighborhood at the time, as it was for much of the early to mid 20th century. I imagine the state would've preferred to just bulldoze the whole neighborhood in the name of Progress, like they later did in the South Auditorium area further north, and the largely African-American Albina business district in NE Portland.

Denver Ave. / Columbia Blvd. bridge

Several years ago, this humble blog featured a lot of posts about bridges. It was a good subject for an ongoing project: They photgraph well, they often have interesting history to dig up, and esoteric engineering details to nerd out over, and there's a limited supply of them, enough to sustain an interesting project, but few enough that you'll eventually run out and you can call it done. That is, unless you're willing to go further and further afield, or write about increasingly small and esoteric bridges that nobody in their right mind would possibly be interested in. Or you can do what I did, which is call it done, but continue on down the rabbit hole anyway.

You can probably guess where this is going: I outdid myself and found a really super esoteric bridge and wrote an entire blog post about it, and I feel like I need to apologize in advance for just how esoteric it is. This one may actually look vaguely familiar, in the unlikely event you've been following the ongoing bridge project all this time. We covered the Denver Avenue bridge over the Columbia Slough back in 2014, along with the Vanport Bridge next door that's used by the MAX Yellow Line. This time we're looking at the Denver Ave. bridge/viaduct over Columbia Boulevard & a Union Pacific rail line, a bit south of the slough bridge. I suppose I just assumed this was all one structure, and the Columbia Blvd. part was just the southern approach to the slough bridge, but there's actually a short bit of road separating them. The state's 2013 Historic Bridge Inventory assures that although the two structures look identical, structurally and legally they are two separate bridges. From the bridge inventory:

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.

In a couple of these photos you can sort of see the "unique" baluster, which is somewhat less distinctive than it sounds, unfortunately. Since these photos were taken, ODOT performed a major renovation on this bridge as well as the slough one, and both now sport modern, safe, and non-distinctive railings. As far as I know, ODOT didn't bother saving a chunk of the old one for posterity; it's just gone. In any case, the bridge inventory also includes a few dry stats, in case Obscure Portland Bridges is ever a pub trivia category:

Bridge Number: 04518
Lat/Long: 45 35 09, -122 41 13
Description: Thirteen 71-ft reinforced concrete girder and floorbeam system spans with curved haunches

In case you were curious, "curved haunches" is a technical term in bridge engineering, and was not intended as an insult. The state's 2012 Bridge Condition Report notes that that the slough bridge proper (bridge number 04517, if you were wondering) dates to 1916, with steel construction, while the Columbia/Union Pacific part dates to 1929, with concrete construction. So I suppose there would have been a surface level intersection & railroad crossing here before the current bridge. I'm not sure why this would be useful information, unless possibly you need to date an old photo or it's part of a trivia question, but hey.

Barbur TC pedestrian bridge

Ok, next bridge up is another pedestrian one, the rather ugly 70s concrete one over I-5 at the Barbur Transit Center. I hadn't really planned on doing a post about this thing, but I ran across it while taking photos of Tapestry, a large mural along the Barbur-side approach to the bridge. I figured I was there anyway, toting a camera, and it was technically a bridge, so sure, why not? A PSU study of local pedestrian bridges notes this was built in 1976 along with the transit center itself. The study notes that many neighborhood streets on the other side of the bridge lack sidewalks (a common problem in SW Portland), so it's not part of a wider network of safe bike/pedestrian routes. I'm not sure that's something city planners even considered back then, and I'm not entirely sure this area was within city limits back in the 70s. Until the late 70s & early 80s large portions of Multnomah County outside the central city were unincorporated, and the county didn't really bother with things like building sidewalks or a proper sewer system, keeping people from building in flood zones, maintaining a useful park system, little details like that.

I didn't see much of anything in the library's Oregonian database about the bridge itself, but I did run across a September 12th, 1976 article with architectural drawings of the proposed "West Portland Transit Station". Barbur was the city's first transit center, as it turns out, and apparently this was a new concept imported from Toronto that other US cities hadn't adopted yet. So, little piece of history here. Though it seems like they hadn't quite perfected the concept, given the center's ugly 70s shelter, which looks rather cheap and dilapidated these days. The article mentions that the transit center was about 92% federally funded, since it's next to an interstate & qualified for money, I suppose because TriMet buses still ran on freeways in those days. A later October 28, 1979 article (which I seem to have misplaced the link to) describes major vandalism problems at the still semi-new transit center. Neighbors said they avoided the pedestrian bridge due to burned-out lights and broken glass. TriMet had even installed security cameras to keep an eye on the place (which was an unusual step in 1979), to no avail. There's probably no easy way to know whether the rate of petty vandalism has dropped since the 1970s. It seems to me, anecdotally, that it has, but I have no actual evidence to back this up. TriMet might have internal numbers on how much they spend each year repairing vandalism, and maybe a count of reported incidents, but I haven't seen that info reported publicly. Assuming my guess is correct, you might be able to chalk this up to the wider national crime wave of the 70s & 80s, which in turn has been blamed on various factors ranging from long-term macroeconomic shifts to the use of leaded gasoline. I've also seen a proposal (which I don't have a reference for at hand, unfortunately) that certain architectural styles tend to promote vandalism. In particular, as the idea goes, people see things made of ugly grey concrete and are instinctively driven to damage them. The idea has a certain poetry to it, but I have no idea how you'd go about proving it. The transit center & bridge haven't gotten any prettier since 1976, so if they aren't getting vandalized like they used to, that would tend to disprove the "architecture rage" idea.

Esplanade Floating Bridge

At some point, I decided that this humble blog's ongoing bridge project also applied to pedestrian bridges, and later concluded that floating bridges are also in scope, so here we are looking at the Eastbank Esplanade's floating pedestrian bridge. I apologize for only having one photo of it; I'm still not sure how this happened, but I've meant to go back and take more for months now, and I haven't gotten around to it, so I think we'll just go with the one photo, and you can google it if you want to see more.)

When the city created the current Esplanade in 2000-2001, they wanted to build something with connections at both ends; the previous trail began at the Hawthorne Bridge and dead-ended at the Burnside Bridge (without actually connecting to the bridge) which made it rather useless. I-5 runs right along the east riverbank and even hangs over the river for a bit north of the Burnside Bridge, so there was nowhere on shore to put a new trail. So the solution they came up with was a 1200' floating bridge running parallel to the riverbank, just offshore. The city parks page about the Esplanade claims this is still the longest floating bridge in the country. That may change in the future, if a similar proposal in Chicago gets greenlighted. The proposed RiverRide system would add floating bike paths along parts of the Chicago River, since buildings are built right up to the river's edge in many places, leaving nowhere to put an onshore pedestrian or bike path. We'll probably just let Chicago win that one, rather than starting a new arms race of ever-longer floating bridges. I'm not sure where you'd put a longer floating bridge, for one thing. I suppose you could add length to the existing bridge by adding some gratuitous zigzags, though I doubt anyone other than the Guinness world record folks would be impressed by that.

Human Diversity mural

Next mural up is on the Garlington Center building at NE MLK & Monroe, featuring panels from various world cultures and a quote from scientist René Dubos. A 2011 Oregonian article about Portland's fading African-American murals mentions this was created in 1993 by artist Judy Madden Bryant with help from local high school students. Since I took these photos, the center proposed replacing its existing building with a new clinic and housing complex, to be completed some time in 2017. I haven't gone back to check recently, so this mural is either gone already or it will be soon.