Monday, April 30, 2018

Maricara Natural Area

Next up we're visiting SW Portland's Maricara Natural Area, 17 acres of forest in a quiet neighborhood west of Marshall Park. The city's description of it is fairly brief:

In fall 2010, 1,500 feet of new natural-surface trails and 2,600 feet of improved trails were opened. Located in a residential neighborhood, the site includes a wetland, protected stream, important native plant species, and an older second-growth forest.

I thought the park was quite nice, although doesn't look entirely natural yet; I gather volunteers went through and removed every single ivy plant and blackberry vine and other nonnative plant, and replaced them with ferns and oregon grapes. The effect is as if it was professionally landscaped to look like a natural forest, though I imagine that will go away after a few years. I didn't see a single invasive plant (of those few I recognize on sight), and I was looking. I think the lesson here is to not be on the wrong side of a Portland neighborhood association enlisted in a righteous cause. Or at least, I could swear I read that this is what happened, but I'm unable to find a link to back that up. Possibly I dreamed it, and it's just that the park was never overrun by the usual invaders in the first place, as unlikely as that sounds. The neighborhood association holds regular community ivy pulls just over in Marshall Park, if that's a data point.

For city park posts, I usually rummage around in the library's Oregonian database to see if anything interesting ever happened here. The park does have a slightly convoluted origin story, though I'm kind of a nerd about these things and it's hard for me to judge how interesting it's going to be to anyone who isn't me. But it's what I've got, so here goes.

Our story starts back in the 1950s, as suburbia was expanding, and the country was in the midst of a massive baby boom. If you're running a public school system, especially during a baby boom, one of your many jobs is to try to understand how many new schools you're likely to need over the next decade or two, and where you're likely to need them, and buy land accordingly before it gets prohibitively expensive. That happened here in 1956, the plan being that half of the land would go to a school, and the other half would become a park. You see this model all over the city (like at SE Portland's Sewallcrest Park); I think the idea was that playgrounds and ball fields are paid for out of the city budget, rather than by the school district, and could be used by adult softball leagues and so forth when the school wasn't using them. PortlandMaps indicates the northeast quarter of the park had already been platted out as a new subdivision called "Caravel Heights" before the school district bought it. Incidentally, the tax roll IDs insist the homes just east of the park are part of "Edgecliff", and to the north is "Boese Addition", while the SW corner of the park and the land south of it is "Galeburn Place". To the west is just "Section 29 1S 1E".

Anyway, two things were different in the case of Maricara Park: First, they obviously never built a school here. Second, although the area was part of Portland public schools, it was outside city limits & would remain so until the 1980s, so the park half ended up as part of Multnomah County's chronically underfunded park system. As far as I can tell, the county's idea of a park system involved buying or stumbling into random chunks of land in unincorporated parts of the county, and then doing absolutely nothing with these places for decades on end.

Finally in the late 1980's, after years of complaints and bad publicity, the county decided to get out of the parks business. This was around the same time the city of Portland began annexing surrounding unincorporated areas, so parks within the new city limits largely transferred to the city during the 1982-87 timeframe. The remaining ones mostly went to Metro, with one going to the city of Gresham, and another tiny one being sold off & probably developed. The city didn't immediately have any spare cash for the new parks, and several (like Maricara) remained undeveloped into the 2000s. The other half of today's park belonged to the Portland school district until 1999, when they finally accepted they were never going to build a school here, and Metro bought it with a bit of greenspace money. Oddly enough the east half of the park is still technically owned by Metro, but the city administers the whole park.

As for the name of the park, that seems to come from SW Maricara St., which ends at the west side of the park. The street name, in turn, has a slightly weird origin. It got its current name in August 1930; it seems Portland's postmaster asked the county to change the names of a few streets that had segments inside and outside city limits, which was apparently beyond the Post Office's ability to cope with. As the old saying goes, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stayed these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, but Portland street names were a whole other story. So the name was duly changed from Laurel Avenue. Which is weird because the only present-day street I see named Laurel is in the West Hills off Vista Ave., near Jewett Park, nowhere near here. The 1930 article neglects to mention where the name "Maricara" came from originally. I suppose it may have just been someone's name.

In any case, the city's park planning process finally got moving in the mid-2000s, and resulted in an extensive 2008 Habitat Management & Trail Plan for the park that roughly describes how it is today, and features a few photos of what it looked like back then. It includes a brief history blurb, complete with city ordinance numbers:

Multnomah County originally purchased the eight-acre property for a park, and transferred it to the City of Portland in 1988 (Multnomah County Order #88-117). Metro purchased the adjacent nine acres in 1998 from Portland Public Schools who had owned the site since at least 1958 (Ordinance #173252, April 14, 1999). PP&R accepted management of the Metro parcel, which is zoned as open space, in accordance with the Tryon Creek IGA (Ordinance #171795).

Around this time, the park was befriended by the "Friends Of" group for nearby Marshall Park, which is an outgrowth of the local neighborhood association. They now go by "Friends of Marshall & Maricara Parks". They have a few photos of the park's footbridge being built, and a list of birds reported from the two parks.

More recently, there was a small controversy here around some unknown person(s) adding "fairy doors" to trees around the park. The city disapproved, as this was not part of the Plan. City workers removed any "fairy doors" they saw, but they kept reappearing, and the Tribune spun it as mean city bureaucrats beating up on local artists and dreamers. The story eventually dropped out of the news without the public learning whether either side "won" the conflict.

The OregonHikers Maricara Loop Hike page includes a photo of a fairy door, for what it's worth. Also here are a couple of posts about the park from Exploring Portland's Natural Areas and The Nature of Portland; the latter has a few interesting plant and bird identifications. Speaking as a former Boy Scout, I feel like I ought to be able to identify plants and animals like that, since it was drilled into you that this was an essential outdoor skill. In my defense, though, that was a very long time ago, and I am fairly sure that many of these species had not actually evolved yet.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dalton Point

Next up we're looking at a few photos from Dalton Point, a little state park in the Gorge right on the Columbia River. The park's built around a boat ramp, and I don't own a boat, so it's not somewhere I go regularly. I figured it might be good for some photos, since there are weirdly few places along the Oregon side of the gorge with river access, thanks to the big freeway right along the river's edge. You might think that would make this a popular park, but the handful of times I've been here it's always been empty or nearly so. It could be that I'm just never there at peak times, but the sorry state of the ramp and the parking lot make me think it doesn't get a lot of attention from anyone. The Oregon State Parks website doesn't even mention it, for whatever reason (though this isn't the first time I've run into this). Its location may work against it too; coming from Portland it's another 5 miles past Rooster Rock (which also has a boat ramp and a small marina), and (like Tunnel Point) only accessible to westbound traffic. Doubling back at the Warrendale-Dodson exit makes it an extra 18 miles versus going to Rooster Rock, which had better facilities the last time I checked. Not that I really minded the lack of other visitors; it's not something you encounter much in the Gorge anymore, and it was kind of nice, to be honest. Luckily nobody reads blogs anymore (present company excluded) so I can post about it here without the secret getting out.

There's an internet theory going around that Dalton Point is named for a "W. Dalton" who lived in the area circa 1889, and who also gave his or her name to nearby Dalton Falls. Neither Google nor the library's Oregonian database could tell me anything more about this person; I'm going to assume he or she was real because a myth would at least have an interesting story attached. I did find a few links about Dalton Point, at least, but it's not a long or particularly compelling history. It didn't appear in the Oregonian until the modern river-level highway went in, and at first (starting around 1961) there was just the occasional car accident, mostly people failing to negotiate a bend in the road and going into the river. I gather the highway didn't initially have guardrails through at least this part of the gorge, which would be a big, big problem on a wet, icy, or windy day. (Incidentally, while researching this post I did come across the one and only mention of Dalton Falls in the Oregonian on March 1st 1914, and it just relates to construction on the old highway.)

A Feb. 16th 1964 article about new boating facilities in state parks mentions Dalton Point briefly, saying the state was adding a shiny new boat ramp & parking lot, & paving an existing access road. After that, it showed up in the paper every so often when the state wanted to remind the public that a.) Dalton Point existed, and b.) there were assorted water things you could potentially do there. For example, a May 10th 1979 article about Portland-area boating said Dalton Point was a good place for water skiing. You probably wouldn't see this in a contemporary article, as water skiing has kind of fallen out of fashion in the last few decades. I tried it once, years ago; it's harder than it looks, especially if you wear glasses and are spooked about falling and losing them. Shortly after that article, a June 26th piece mentioned Dalton Point was going to get boat ramp upgrades as part of a larger gorge plan, full of improvements that largely haven't come to pass, like a "low level" trail from Lewis & Clark State Park in Troutdale out to The Dalles, trails connecting down to it from Portland Womens Forum & Crown Point, and a youth hostel(!) near Latourell Falls.

A Feb. 22nd 1987 article mentioned that Dalton Point was a low priority for windsurfing development, back when windsurfing was the hot new sport & the state saw dollar signs & wanted to promote it. I tried windsurfing once, years ago; again, it's harder than it looks. A month later, the paper pointed out that it was a great secret spot to fish for walleye, which instantly became untrue the moment it was published. So that's really about it, history-wise, other than the occasional road closure or abandoned vehicle.

Via my usual exhaustive Google searching, I gather Dalton Point is a good place to set off in a kayak. I've never tried kayaking; it looks really fun, though I suspect it just might be harder than it looks. It seems this is a good jumping off point to row over and climb Phoca Rock, a rocky island in the middle of the river (Phoca is a genus of seals that includes the ubiquitous harbor seal.), or get a close look at the Cape Horn cliffs on the Washington side. Or you can make it part of a longer trip: Here's someone's blog post about kayaking from Dalton Point downriver to Chinook Landing in Fairview, west of Troutdale. And here's someone else's tale of running into stormy conditions & submerged pilings here during a kayak trip from Idaho to the Pacific Ocean. That's... a long way, and more than the journey itself I find myself envying them having that much free time to spare, just paddling down the river and not having to stop now and then to hop on a conference call or whatever.

If you're in a tiny boat on the Columbia, you do have to worry about the occasional tugboat pushing a few barges. They don't turn all that quickly and they probably can't see you anyway. Luckily the NOAA nautical chart for this stretch of the river shows that the commercial shipping channel is way over toward the Washington side of the river in this area; it's called the "Fashion Reef Lower Reach", in case that ever comes up as a Gorge trivia question. (I have no idea where Fashion Reef is, or what's so fashionable about it.) The chart also tells us the water is up to 8 feet deep in the vicinity of the boat ramp (though I don't know what time of year they take water level readings), and there are a number of submerged pilings & other obstacles to look out for, which we already know from one of the links up above. Contrast this with Tunnel Point, which has nowhere to launch even a tiny boat, possibly due to river traffic plowing along just offshore. You could potentially get mowed down by a load of wheat right after getting in the water, if somehow you didn't notice the huge barges bearing down on you. (Note regarding the nautical chart link: NOAA's Chart No. 1 is a key to what the cryptic marks on all the other charts mean.)

If you don't like getting wet, it looks like there might be a way to hike downstream to Rooster Rock from here. I've been speculating about this but have never actually tried it; there's no official trail, I have never heard of anyone doing it, and I have no idea whether it's actually possible. You'd be right next to the freeway much of the way so it wouldn't exactly be a high-quality fun wilderness experience, either. You'd probably have the riverbank (such as it is) all to yourself, though.

One thing I wouldn't have expected prior to Googling the place to death is that Dalton Point is a significant nature spot, home to a variety of rare plants and insects. In retrospect it makes sense: There's very little riparian habitat left along the Oregon side of the gorge, since much of the shoreline is now just riprap supporting the freeway. So come spring and early summer, this is apparently a good place to come and see native wildflowers and insects. Some assorted links I came across on the subject:

Miscellaneous other Dalton Point(ish) items I ran across on the interwebs:

Pittock Acres

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Next up we're visiting Portland's Pittock Acres Park, the West Hills park that's home to the (locally) famous Pittock Mansion. I'm not particularly interested in rich people's historic houses, and I visited mostly for the view and to check out some of the trails in the 54 acre park. It sits between Washington Park (& the Hoyt Arboretum) to the south & Macleay Park to the north, and the Wildwood Trail follows a winding path through the park, but it's not a place I've visited very often, so it was kind of a missing link for me, if for nobody else. It probably seems more remote to me than it actually is because I'm not interested in running across Burnside from Washington Park to get there, & that will all change when the promised footbridge over Burnside goes in.

So I drove there & parked, avoided the line to go inside, and took a few photos from the viewpoint. As far as views from the West Hills go, this is more or less unparalleled. It's worth going for the view, though you might want to pick a sunnier day than I did. Then I took the trailhead heading north toward Cornell, essentially this hike from except backwards, starting & ending at the top. I'd meant to also try the trail south to Burnside, but there was a winter-related trail closure, and I might have bailed that day anyway due to aging knees. So that part's still a TODO item, since I'm reasonably sure I've never been on that segment of trail.

Despite my lack of interest in rich people's houses, I have actually been inside, many years ago as a Cub Scout field trip. There was a guided tour, and I mostly remember velvet ropes, and being told not to touch anything, and a bathroom containing a fancy high-tech (for 1914) shower the guide called the "wettest shower in town". We learned all about how the house was built for Henry Pittock, the publisher of the Oregonian, who only got to live in it a handful of years before kicking the bucket. It does sort of amuse me that the place dates from a distant era when you could accumulate a vast fortune in local print media.

As you might imagine, the library's Oregonian archives don't lack for articles about the home of the paper's onetime publisher. I keep saying I'm just interested in the nature part of the place, but that's largely not what Pittock's newspaper cared about. I kept reading anyway and it turned out there were a few interesting anecdotes, at least more interesting than I was expecting, so that's probably going to be the bulk of this post, despite my initial intentions. (The photoset above is still mostly nature photos, though.)

So before the Pittocks moved in, this whole area was meant to be a ritzy subdivision called "Imperial Heights". That's not a place name you hear very often in 2018, because the Pittocks bought the entire area and built their house at the very top. There's a heavily graded area around the mansion, but the rest of the ~46 acres are steep forested hillsides that might have been unbuildable anyway, though PortlandMaps shows a couple of unused road rights-of-way through the present-day park, so I gather the developers at least planned to give it a try.

A July 1912 Oregonian article rhapsodized about the neighborhood & surrounding areas being platted out & developed. The article went on about the amazing views, and then points out that even more important is the invigorating atmosphere and freedom from dust and smoke, which was kind of a big deal back then. I recall seeing an urbanism theory from the early 1900s or so, and I don't remember where I saw it, that modern cities would naturally grow westward in the future. The idea was that people would keep moving west to live upwind of their cities' vast factories and their clouds of toxic black smoke. I don't know whether that was at play here. An October 1913 article includes a map of the area, showing old street names, and streetcar lines winding uphill from Burnside from the sorta-intersection of Macleay Blvd. & Tichner, which isn't exactly an intersection anymore due to rockslides and repairs in the 1990s.

In 1917, there was a brief vogue for demonstrating the power of your firm's powerful new automobile by showing it can make it up the hill at Imperial Heights or the hilly parts of Upper Hall Street. south of downtown. First it was doing so at all, and then doing so as fast as possible, which is to say that selling (and buying) cars hasn't changed at all over the past century.

  • "Bad Grades Prove 'Pie' for Hudson", April 8th, in which the local Hudson dealer sent their star driver and a stock Hudson Super-Six up the hill at speeds averaging 20 MPH, reaching speeds as high as 35 at times, which would merit an expensive speeding ticket these days.
  • "Steep Hills Scaled", April 15th, featuring a local Chandler dealer who made it up the hill while carrying multiple passengers, in front of witnesses and everything. At this point nobody but the Hudson had made it up Hall St.
  • "Slow Race' Run Chandler Cars Creep Up Washington-Street Hill. Speed Under Four Miles Test Made May 6th. In which a new variant of the challenge emerged: Driving up the hill as slow as possible in top gear, without downshifting. This was staged as a race between two rival Chandler salesmen, with a box of cigars at stake, judged by the local dealership.
  • Four-Wheel Drive Truck Powerful Duplex Freighter, With Capacity Load, Pulls Streetcar Up Grade. May 20th. In which a local truck dealer showed off the new Duplex 4wd truck by driving the hill while towing a streetcar. I wonder why the streetcar company agreed to that.
  • "Automobile Salesmen Find Ideal Hill On Which To Test Cars For Every Kind Of Performance", September 23rd, in which we learn auto dealers have taken to using the hill to show off their new models. As an added attraction, at the start of the climb on Burnside (then called Washington St, as an extension of Washington downtown), there was a wide spot in the road where streetcars would turn to make the climb uphill. The photo with the article shows an equally steep road on the south side of Burnside, so I don't think this is the current Barnes Rd. route to the top of the hill. Could be Hermosa, or one of the now-abandoned rights-of-way in the present-day park. (find a streetcar map/reference, this should answer this q.) Anyway, this wide spot was used to show off a car's turning radius. If you tried doing a u-turn on Burnside today, you'd get hit, and cited for reckless driving, and you could weasel out of the charge with an insanity defense. You could also keep going west on Burnside to test out your car's springs on a really rough, poor quality road. Some would argue this is still possible. The article mentions people doing the hill climb at up to 40 MPH.

The mansion was there, recently built, and inhabited by the Pittocks while this was taking place. They can't have enjoyed the ruckus, as much as the wide-eyed coverage by his own newspaper hyped it. The fad didn't outlive 1917, but the Pittocks didn't have long to enjoy their renewed peace & quiet. Mrs. Pittock died in 1918, and Henry followed in 1919, a victim of the global flu epidemic. Their heirs owned the estate for decades after that, and it showed up in the news regularly in connection with high society teas and receptions and other tedious social events, which I won't trouble you with.

Then we get to the events leading up to the city owning the place. In 1959, the house was opened to the public temporarily as part of state centennial celebrations. This was arranged by Eric Ladd, a local restaurateur & antique dealer, who leased the house for the summer. Apparently nobody had lived in the house in years at this point, though Pittock heirs still owned it. Open for tours in the summer of 1959 as part of the state's centennial celebrations. A clue about Ladd's interest in the place came the next year when a grand estate sale was announced, and many furnishings and family collections were sold off. Huge estate sale in May 1960, sold off lots of original furnishings etc. An article previewing the sale mentioned that this might be the last time the public could see the house, as it might be torn down in the near future. The articles don't come out and say so, but it seems as though the family couldn't afford to maintain it & wanted to unload it quickly, and at a loss if need be.

Without going off on too much of a tangent, Ladd had something of a complex history with Portland's historic houses. He spent much of the 1950s demolishing old homes & selling off their salvageable pieces; after a few years of this, he started moving a few of the more noteworthy houses to the area of SW 20th (near the present-day 18th & Jefferson MAX stop), an area he called "The Colony". The whole city was engaged in demolishing its past back then, he was unusual in picking up some of the pieces. After his restored houses opened as an attraction, nobody talked about the earlier demolitions anymore. At one point he opened a restaurant in one of the houses, but closed it in 1960. In 1961 the city wanted to condemn some of his unfinished, stalled restorations. So he may have had money issues of his own at the point he got involved with the the big white elephant of Imperial Heights.

In 1963, the Pittock estate was proposed as the site of a new KPTV broadcast tower, which the city council rejected. The proposal was already in the works in November 1962, just weeks after the Columbus Day Storm. (The usual story is that storm damage caused the sale, but this seems to show there was already a deal in the works beforehand.) A January 1963 article mentions the station was looking at just using part of the estate and donating the mansion to the city. So that might have worked out in terms of preserving the house, but could have blocked the parts that are trails now.

The city eventually bought the estate in April 1964 following a fundraising campaign by local high society people.

After that it's mostly events & exhibits, which I won't bore you with, but I did come across a few items to pass along. You might have looked at the photos of the house and it's semi-secluded setting and think, why aren't they filming movies there? It turns out that there have been a few; it's just that none of them have exactly swept the awards at Cannes, if you catch my drift. I expect a Pittock Mansion film festival would be a real hoot.

The earliest record on IMDb is First Love filmed there in 1977. I couldn't find a First Love trailer on the net to embed here, but YouTube has the entire film uploaded in chunks labeled "clean edited version with provocative scenes deleted". Which sounds boring, although "provocative scenes" from that era often turn out to be sort of... problematic. So I dunno, I haven't watched either version, here's a playlist, make of it what you will.

Next up is Unhinged, a low-budget slasher film from 1982. That's not a genre I'm overly interested in & I'd never heard of this one before; the IMDb plot summary sounds identical to every other slasher movie ever: "Three college girls on their way to a jazz festival crash their car in the isolated woods during a rainstorm, and are taken in by a mysterious family in an old mansion. Little do the girls know, the family has a dark, murderous secret.". Anyway, the trailer's on the 'tubes if you're into this sort of thing:

This was followed a few years later by The Haunting of Sarah Hardy (1989), a spooky direct-to-basic-cable movie, in which the mansion -- at the risk of getting typecast -- again portrayed a spooky old dark house. Here's a vintage promo, because it's amazing what shows up on YouTube sometimes:

Now we get to the undisputed monarch of all Pittock Mansion films, the immortal Body of Evidence (1993), starring Madonna. Let me admit up front that is the only one of these movies that I have actually seen. I think I've mentioned this before, but I like to tell young hipster newcomers to Portland that Body of Evidence is an accurate documentary about early-90s Portland, all shoulder pads and fog machines and cheesy Enigma music. This is not actually true, of course; it's more of a cheesy 90s Skinemax movie that somehow acquired actors people had heard of, and ended up on the silver screen instead of late-night cable. With, somehow, worse acting and dialogue than its cable peers. It's one of the rare movies that genuinely falls into the so-bad-it's-good category, so you can enjoy it in that sense. Which is easier than admitting you had sort of an embarrassing Madonna thing in junior high, and never quite got rid of those CDs. I may have said too much; luckily nobody reads blogs anymore (present company excluded), so it's not like the secret's out, really.

As far as IMDb knows, no movies have been filmed here since Body of Evidence, undoubtedly because everyone realizes it can never be topped. Apparently there was an Amazing Race episode that finished here a few years ago, though; I can't find any clips of it online, but CBS has an extremely detailed episode recap.

One other thing caught my eye in the Oregonian archives, and I think I vaguely remember this one. There was nothing 1980s Portland loved more than a good moral panic, and moral panics about no-good teenagers were among the best of all. So here are a couple of articles from September 1986 about the park being a teen hangout spot, which was freaking out the neighbors. It seems the teens were at it again: Drinking, partying, cruising, playing bad 80s music loudly, fighting, carrying on, "lewd activities", and the like. It was all terribly scandalous, because 1980s Portland. Before long the mean no-fun grownups (who had certainly not done anything like this as teens in the 50s & 60s) cracked down and beefed up security, and the "crisis" sort of petered out, because teens only win these things in the movies.