Saturday, June 30, 2018

Powell Park

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Next up on the grand(ish) tour we're visiting SE Portland's Powell Park along Powell Blvd between 22nd & 26th. It's your basic neighborhood park with a playground and ball fields, of the type I usually don't go out of my way to visit, though it does have an early 20th century gazebo for picnics & concerts, which I guess is a (mildly) interesting architectural feature. Longtime readers might remember I used to live nearby in the Brooklyn neighborhood back in the 90s, so this used to be one of my local neighborhood parks, but it wasn't the closest one and I didn't visit that often. To be honest, this post exists largely because I was in the area anyway, fetching drive thru from the Burgerville across the street, and I snapped a couple of photos while waiting for a traffic light without actually stopping & getting out. So with that out of the way, let's skip right ahead to our usual grab-bag of historical and news items:

  • The park started appearing in the Oregonian in the mid-1920s, although the articles talk about the park like it had been there for a few years already. It was probably still fairly new because a lot of the early news items are budget and construction stuff. A June 1, 1924 story concerns the city hiring the lowest bidder to build bleachers for the park's baseball fields, which cost $1483 in 1924 dollars. That's about $21,281.38 in today's dollars (per the BLS calculator). A couple of years later (Sept. 12 1926) the city parks chief asked the council to fund a variety of construction projects. For Powell Park, the request was for "Flag pole, $100; apparatus, $5000; move handball court, $400; three fountains, $225; 20 lights, $2500". (The park doesn't have any fountains now, unless maybe drinking fountains count.) The next day, the city council considered a request for $1067.11 to build a "comfort station" in the park, which might mean the present-day gazebo.
  • An August 14, 1931 item notes the park would be hosting a concert full of Sousa marches and other popular tunes that evening. Beyond the marches, the program featured various things like a Stephen Foster medley and some arranged excerpts from a comic opera, and it ended with the Star Spangled Banner, which had just been adopted as the official national anthem 5 months earlier, believe it or not. A couple of now-obscure pieces I was able to find on Youtube sound exactly like the background music for 1930s cartoons: Boccalari's "Dance of the Serpents" (not to be confused with Debra Paget's Snake Dance), and M.L. Lake's "Slidus Trombonus", which the paper describes as a "trombone comedy". No jazz, though. By 1931 all the cool kids wanted to listen to the devil's infernal jazz music, even in stodgy old Portland, so I imagine this was a wholesome families and oldtimers sort of event.
  • With a few rare exceptions (like the previous news items), nearly every mention of Powell Park in the Oregonian has been in the sports section, concerning city baseball and softball leagues of all ages and skill levels. For a bit of the typical flavor, here's a July 28th 1940 sports page, in which local baseball leagues take up nearly the entire page. Local sports being a big deal back then, the top story in the Oregonian that day related to local soap box derby races, a sport that later fell into a decades-long decline until Portland hipsters revived it as a drunken ironic activity for 20-somethings. Meanwhile a smaller news story explained that the Nazis were bombing England. Additional WWII stories below the fold concerned the Axis marching into Romania and Ethiopia, and bombing Malta. So the paper's priorities might seem a tad... skewed. But then again, it's 2018 and Trump's burning everything down, and here I am writing about a marginally interesting city park, and I can't quite bring myself to do otherwise, and you're here reading this post, and I appreciate the company. It feels like it helps, somehow. The people of 1940 would not have known or used the phrase "self-care", of course, but I think I understand why they did what they did.
  • In another rare non-baseball item, in August 1970 a big rally was held here as part of the People's Army Jamboree, an antiwar protest coinciding with the national American Legion Convention in Portland. This was one of several rallies around town, including one at Duniway Park, but overall the event had lower turnout than envisioned, thanks to Vortex 1, a state-sponsored hippie music festival out at McIver State Park near Estacada. The state guessed correctly that most hippies would choose a party over a protest if given the choice; meanwhile US troops stayed in Vietnam for another three years. I mean, a massive rally in Portland probably wouldn't have changed the course of the war anyway, but now we'll never know, will we?
  • Here's an odd September 27th, 1977 article detailing points of interest along SE Powell out to where I-205 is now. As a harried commuter in modern 1977 Portland, it was your lot in life to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way home to your Gresham split-level ranch. So the Oregonian offered up a list of mildly interesting semi-landmarks along the way if you were up for a little sightseeing. The article mentions the canceled Mt. Hood Freeway a couple of times; I don't know if the article was aimed at disgruntled suburbanites who weren't getting their (temporarily) speedy new freeway after all, or what. But oblique grumbling that doesn't get around to the real point is a very Portland thing. Incidentally, if the sights (including some restaurants, a nursery, and a cheap motel) didn't hold your interest as a professional commuter, the adjacent Scott's 88 Centers ad offers a Fall Value Days special on 8-track tapes starting at $1.88. Though it neglected to specify which 8-track tapes.
  • A September 2002 Willamette Week item had a hearty chuckle about a planned weed potluck at the Powell Park gazebo. As it turned out, the activists behind it were merely a decade or so before their time. Sure, public consumption is still technically not legal, but it's probably just a matter of time at this point.
  • The gazebo was gated off circa 2013, supposedly to thwart homeless people trying to use the (formerly) public restroom. The city, unsurprisingly, took the opportunity to require reservations to use the gazebo & charge for the privilege. The city proposed doing the same thing at Colonel Summers Park; I'm not sure whether that came to pass, but it usually does. I ran across two neighborhood blog posts grumbling about the unpopular new policy.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Second Multnomah Creek Bridge

The next stop on our grand tour is a bridge the Oregon Hikers Field Guide calls the "Second Multnomah Creek Bridge", where the Larch Mountain Trail #441 crosses Multnomah Creek a bit upstream of Multnomah Falls. I suppose they count going upstream, so the Benson Bridge counts as the first one, this is the second one, and then there are third, fourth, and fifth bridges further upstream along the trail, and yet another along a different trail along the same creek. After I took the photos here I branched off onto the Wahkeena Trail #420 and don't have any photos of the bridges further upstream, at least not yet. In related news, I think I may expand the Gorge bridge project to trail bridges in the area. It's true that most of them aren't that amazing or unique, but I think of it as a little extra motivation to get out more and go a little further. Although this obviously has to wait until the area reopens after the big Eagle Creek Fire, and nobody knows when that's going to happen.

Other than the OregonHikers link above I couldn't really find anything else about this bridge. If you look closely you can see it's built around a corrugated steel pipe, with stone added along the visible parts to make it blend in with the bridge piers, which look older. If I had to guess I'd say it dates to maybe the 80s or 90s, just based on the amount of moss growing on it, but I'm just guessing here. The lack of info is a shame because I'd really like to know how they got the pipe up here. It seems too big to go on an ATV or to be carried up the trail by a work crew. A helicopter seems more likely, but I didn't see any old news articles to that effect, so who knows?

Up until the late 1990s this spot was a major trail junction. Where the Larch Mountain Trail continues upstream, the Perdition Trail branched off and headed due west toward Wahkeena Falls, making a shorter and easier loop than the Wahkeena Trail one. At one point along the Perdition Trail there was a long wooden staircase, which burned in an October 1991 forest fire. The Forest Service built replacement stairs out of concrete, to prevent the new ones from suffering the same fate, but they washed out a few years later, I think during the 1996 floods. At that point they just sort of shrugged and wrote it off. The trail is still there but it's been marked as officially closed for over 20 years now and no longer appears on official maps of the area. Despite that, a lot of people still know it's there, and hikers regularly wander past the closed signs and occasionally need rescuing. Legal says I have to tell you not to do this, and I personally haven't been on it since I was a kid, long before the closure. And of course the whole area's closed due to the big fire, so I suppose the Perdition Trail is currently double closed, so if forest rangers catch you there they probably feed you to Bigfoot or a forest Sarlacc or something. I do remember the old trail was pretty scenic in parts, so if they ever get around to fixing & reopening it (like a couple of forum threads speculate about), I'd consider that a great use of federal tax dollars. I mean, imagine what you could do through the entire Gorge for the price of a single F-35. I mean, along with improving health care, schools, and housing, obviously.

One fun thing I ran across, searching for info on this little bridge, was a reminder that the trails around this area are all quite old. "Following the Trails Above the Columbia" (in the August 28th 1921 Oregonian) explores the familiar Multnomah-Wahkeena loop, featuring all the same sights as it does today. The only difference I see is that there wasn't a Return Trail #442 yet, so in those days you had to walk along the highway between Multnomah & Wahkeena Falls and hope nobody ran you down in a Model T.

In other vintage motoring and travel news, that article was immediately followed by a news item about the California car dealers' association planning a huge party in Tijuana, from a more innocent time when people announced that sort of thing in the newspapers:

These two days will be gala ones in the exotic town of whirring wheels, dancing señoritas, snapping castanets, and hot tamale cabarets, according to the announcement of the San Diego County Auto Trade association.

It is the latter organization that is going to stage this party (or “fiesta” as one says in Española) and the members are urging their fellow members from far and wide to come and partake of the unvolsteaded enjoyment that will be offered in six-cylinder style.

The cutout of joy will be wide open and their will be no speed limit on jazz whatsoever — the two days will be devoted to a “reg’lar” high jinks, according to U.S. Grant, president of the San Diego trade dealers.

"Unvolsteaded" is the key detail here. That was a cute way of saying the Volstead Act -- federal Prohibition legislation -- was adamantly not in force south of the border.

Um, anyway, a September 7th 1915 article about the grand opening of the new highway includes a brief mention of excited crowds hiking the trail loop, so the trail is at least that old and there would've been some sort of bridge here back then. The article spends more time on the main event, a grand picnic at the base of Multnomah Falls or somewhere thereabouts, with bands, speeches, and wholesome athletic events, because that's what people did for fun in 1915. The article even lists event winners for posterity; there were a few categories of 50 yard dash, plus picnic staples like a three legged race, a sack race, a wheelbarrow race, and a tug-of-war. There was also a "ladies' nail-driving contest, three nails", a pie-eating contest -- Helen Hidenrieck won the girls' division by virtue of being the only entry -- and a "fat men's race". That immortal event was won by one B. Ruella, with G.W. Long placing second. No third place was announced because "judges could not decide in the scramble".

Wahkeena Falls Bridge

Ok, our next stop on the ongoing Gorge bridge project is the old footbridge at Wahkeena Falls, which (like the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls) went in around the same time as the old Columbia River Highway. The highway's National Historic Landmark nomination mentions the footbridge as a contributing structure. It says the bridge was built in 1914, and was designed by Karl P. Billner, who also did the Benson Bridge and most of the highway bridges along this stretch of the road, including the boring one over Wahkeena Creek that we just visited a post or two ago. The nomination doc goes on to describe the bridge:

This rubble masonry footbridge is 46 feet long and 8 feet wide and contains a semi-circular barrel arch with a 14-foot opening. The masonry guard walls, with concrete caps, continue east and west of the bridge for some distance. Simon Benson paid for the bridge's construction, as he did for the Multnomah Falls Footbridge.

As with the Benson Bridge further east, it seems this was built while Benson still owned the land here. He owned the waterfalls and decided they needed bridges, and started throwing money around to make it happen. Thanks to being rich and powerful, Benson even managed to borrow the highway's bridge engineers -- who must have been rather busy already -- to do the design work for these bridges too.

There isn't a whole lot else about this one on the interwebs, and a lot of the links just repeat the same source material (kind of like I just did above), but here's what I've got. The library's newspaper database didn't have anything worth sharing, but the Library of Congress has a half-dozen or so vintage photos as part of its Historic American Engineering Record collection, and there are a couple of Waymarking pages about it, and it shows up on Columbia River Images and Recreating the HCRH page.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Wahkeena Creek Bridge

In the previous post about the Horsetail Creek Bridge I mentioned something about my projects having a long tail of things I have to do for the sake of completeness, and this post may be one of those. The Wahkeena Creek Bridge at Wahkeena Falls is a nondescript little concrete bridge that ordinarily nobody would care about, but it's an original 1915 bridge on the historic Columbia River Highway, so by virtue of that it counts as a historic structure. I had frankly never paid it a moment's notice until I started this bridge project. And later when I remembered to take a couple of photos of it, I promptly forgot I had them. BridgeHunter, a site run by people who are wayyy more obsessed with this bridge stuff than I am, bends over backwards to make it sound interesting in their page about it:

The Historical Columbia River Highway crossing at Wahkeena Creek is one of the earliest examples of a concrete slab bridge in Oregon. The bridge consists of a concrete slab deck resting on stone masonry abutment walls.

It also mentions that this was designed by Karl P. Billner, who designed a number of other more significant things along the old highway, like the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls, and the Shepperds Dell and Latourell Creek bridges. Billner wrote an article for the February 1915 Engineering and Contracting about a number of his bridges in the Gorge; the Latourell one was obviously his pride and joy and he largely focuses on it, but he has shorter items about some of the others where an interesting problem had to be solved, like fitting the Multnomah Viaducts into a cramped space, or bridging over a creek and multiple log flumes at Bridal Veil. He doesn't mention Wahkeena Creek at all. The description above says concrete slab bridges were a shiny new technology in 1915, and Billner was known for doing innovative stuff with concrete, but he must have known his other bridges were more interesting. Maybe this one just didn't fit in the article word limit and was cut for length.

When doing bridge posts, I usually look in the library's Oregonian newspaper database for interesting historical tidbits, which helps a lot when a subject isn't really inherently compelling. I did that again this time and came up with zilch. It doesn't look like this little bridge has ever been newsworthy over the last century and change. I did find one old photo of it at the Library of Congress, but it doesn't look that old, maybe 1950s or 1960s. And the highway's National Historic Landmark nomination mentions this bridge briefly as a "contributing structure" but doesn't have anything interesting to say about it. Again, I'm sure it wouldn't count as historic if it was somewhere else.

I did find one interesting and semi-related thing while searching the library database, so now we're going to forget about the bridge itself and wander off on a tangent. So here's a May 1987 story about Parasimulium crosskeyi, a species of primitive black fly that only lives in the Columbia Gorge, in a limited range roughly from Wahkeena Creek east to Starvation Creek. The article profiles a PhD student who had made it his study creature and had recently made the first sightings of female P. crosskeyi flies here at Wahkeena Creek. It seems they spend the first part of their lives in the "hyporheic zone", meaning they live in mud beneath and along the sides of a streambed, where stream water mixes with groundwater. The adults wash out of the mud, spend a little time flying around and making new flies, and the circle of life repeats itself etc. etc. One positive bit is that (unlike more highly evolved black flies) they don't have piercing mouth parts, and are thought to feed on plant nectar instead of chomping on people. Which is always a good thing in any insect.

The article ends on a note of concern; the researcher failed to find any flies the day the reporter showed up, and he was concerned as the Forest Service had recently run bulldozers along the stream, right through prime P. crosskeyi habitat, with unknown consequences. Earlier the article had explained that the fly might be eligible for an endangered species listing due to its tiny range. I couldn't leave the story hanging there, not knowing if the feds had wiped out a defenseless little bug, so I searched around to find a more recent (2000) paper about it, indicating it was still around as of almost two decades ago. Most of the papers about it date to the 1980s, though. I'm not a biologist, but I understand this happens a lot with smaller and less charismatic species: Research happens in fits and starts when someone takes an interest and manages to find funding, and tails off when they retire or move on to greener pastures & none of their students wants to take over. Then nobody looks again for years or sometimes decades.

To give some idea of how little is known about these little creatures, here's the 1985 description of the related species Parasimulium stonei, by the same discoverer as P. crosskeyi. The latter was discovered first & the paper explains in great detail how the two are different. Toward the end it mentions someone found a specimen that might be P. crosskeyi near Corvallis, and speculates that it might inhabit the Columbia and Willamette rivers too and it just hasn't been noticed yet, since black fly populations along major rivers were little studied and poorly understood, and probably nobody had ever looked for them outside the Gorge. Although elsewhere in the article it notes that collection sites (other than the oddball Corvallis one) have all been on streams with waterfalls, and wonders if "[t]he presence of a waterfall might reflect some ecological requirement, such as a marker for adult swarming behavior."

You might think there would be a photo of everything on the internet by now, but I couldn't find a picture of P. crosskeyi anywhere; the closest thing I've found are a couple of technical drawings of related species, a wing and part of the head. This isn't a lot to go on if you're looking to identify these beasties on sight; all I can say is that if you're visiting the area & maybe standing next to the creek to check out the ugly bridge, and you're holding a bouquet for some reason, and a tiny black fly tries to nom on it, you just might be helping to preserve an endangered species.

Horsetail Creek Bridge

Next up in the Gorge bridge project we're visiting the Horsetail Creek Bridge, right next to Horsetail Falls & the falls parking lot. A brief description of it at its BridgeHunter page explains that the design is nothing special but the decorative bits are ok:

One of two nearly identical reinforced-concrete girder trestles on the Historic Columbia River Highway and one of four extant structures on the route that have a distinctive cap and arch concrete guard rail system. Historic American Engineering Record, HAER ORE,26-TROUT.V,1M-

The three other structures mentioned are nearby, namely the Oneonta Creek Bridge and the East & West Multnomah Viaducts, all of which are Karl P. Billner designs that we've visited here already. Meanwhile ODOT's historic bridge field guide asserts this bridge is historic, but only describes it briefly as "three 20-ft reinforced concrete slab spans". (Please note that if these descriptions leave you wanting to go see the bridge for yourself, you'll have to wait, since -- as of June 2018 -- the whole area is still closed due to the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire.)

With that, it's time for the regular bridge post feature in which I dive into the Multnomah County Library's historical Oregonian database to see what the newspaper had to say about the place way back in the mists of time. I don't pretend to be doing a comprehensive historical accounting when I do these; mostly I'm mining the database for interesting nuggets and anecdotes, since almost nobody wants to read a post of nothing but bridge engineering minutiae. So here we go.

  • I don't usually bother with traffic accident articles here, but it seems like the Horsetail Falls area had more than its share early on. Here's a very early one where a rear end accident flipped a car on the bridge in March 1917, when the highway had been open less than a year. I'm not sure how the physics of that would work, even with the spindly top-heavy cars of 1915, but ok. More notably, another collision in February 1927, was blamed on spray from the waterfall forming ice on the bridge, which can easily happen since the two are right next to each other. Like the old highway's other design flaws, the designers thought it would be cool and scenic to put the road right at the base of the falls, with no thought to possible complications.
  • A lot of the retro-looking stonework around the base of the falls only dates to 1986, which -- I will have you know -- is not old. I don't recall exactly what it was like when I was a kid in the late 70s; but long before that there were a series of businesses at the base of the falls. Circa 1920 or so, Horsetail Falls was home to the Jack o'Lantern Roadhouse, which claimed to offer "Dainty, delicious and appetizing light lunches served. Come once you’ll come again and keep coming." I only see newspaper ads for it for summer 1920, so I'm not sure how long it was in business. I imagine it was gone by in June 1928, as someone else wanted to set up an ice cream shop or hot dog stand or bbq joint (the announced plans were a bit vague) at the falls, and various authorities objected. It seems the falls were privately owned at the time and everyone acknowledged the landowner & the stand guy were within their rights, but people still wished they wouldn't. The paper is unclear on how this turned out, and my incomplete understanding is that a lot of businesses along the old highway went out in the 1950s and 1960s. Some bought out & demolished by the state in the name of beautifying the route, and I imagine others went out of business after I-84 bypassed them and took away much of the road's traffic.
  • In August 1923 there was a proposal to light the falls at night along with Multnomah & Wahkeena Falls. It turns out this actually happened for a while at Multnomah Falls, ending when the lights were destroyed in a winter storm in January 1969 and never rebuilt. I have no information about whether there were ever lights at Horsetail or Wahkeena Falls.
  • The highway was blocked by a giant boulder here in February 1949, & the paper printed a sequence of photos of the thing being dynamited by a small work crew, without the benefit of modern common sense safety gear. Gentle reminder that people who long for the good old days before OSHA are idiots.
  • A tract of nearby forest land was purchased by a timber company in July 1953, with the goal of swapping it to the Forest Service for land outside the scenic area. I mention this because of an strange and terrible idea buried in the article; it's unclear whether this was a contemporary proposal, or whether the writer just dreamed this up, but either way I'm glad it never happened:
    Its becoming a part of the public preserve will make more feasible a road up the Oneonta trail, which would cross the Oneonta near a triple falls and approach the upper Horsetail falls before descending again at Ainsworth state park on the old Columbia highway.

As far as I can tell there's only one other bridge along Horsetail Creek. Which is something I always check, because all of my projects here end up with a long tail of things I do largely for the sake of completeness, and I need to know what completeness entails. So the other bridge is a nondescript railroad bridge just downstream/north of here, which may show up here at some point despite being nondescript. After that, the creek flows through wetlands and into Oneonta Creek, which passes under I-84 through a big concrete pipe and then flows into the Columbia. (I've actually been through said pipe, but that's a story for a whole other blog post). And upstream of here, the Horsetail Falls Trail #438 doesn't need any bridges, since it gets to the other side of the creek by going behind Ponytail Falls. Much further upstream, the Horsetail Creek Trail #425 crosses a couple of forks of the creek; it's a long sorta-backcountry trail through the Hatfield Wilderness, so I imagine you just ford the creek when you come to it. I've never hiked that trail and am not 100% sure, but it stands to reason.

Updated: Turns out the secret pipe to Oneonta Beach is not as secret as I thought; there's a Curious Gorge page about it, which means it's also in their hardcopy guidebook. It also turns out the pipe has changed since I was last there; a summer 2013 Forest Service project reworked it and the nearby wetlands area to make it less hostile to baby salmon. It makes sense in retrospect, but I hadn't realized the wetlands at the foot of Horsetail & Oneonta Creeks are largely artificial, created when I-84 was built on fill out into the river, and the state did a rather poor job of it back in the 60s. A 2015 article about the project said things were looking up as of then. The plan was to monitor it for four years afterward (i.e. thru 2017), but I haven't seen any more recent updates about how things turned out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Makawalu Vortex

The next Honolulu public art we're visiting is Makawalu Vortex, at the UH medical school complex in Kaka'ako. This was created by local artist Jerry Vasconcellos, and it's pretty new, installed in 2013 & dedicated in June 2014.

The Public Art Archive blurb. I always like to quote these descriptions verbatim, because paraphrasing can be pretty hard sometimes.

MAKAWALU VORTEX is a metaphor of gathering energy in the presence of scientific exploration. Makawalu translates literally as “eight eyes,” encouraging all to look with multiple perspectives including spiritual, physical, temporal, and environmental. Stone pathways draw energy in a vortex towards the source, gathering focused knowledge, spirit and vision before radiating it outward.

All One

Next up we're taking a peek at All One, an abstract sculpture on the Kapiolani Community College campus, created by Vermont artist Kate Pond. It's one of a series installed around the world, from Scandinavia to New Zealand, beginning in the early 1990s. Each sculpture included a time capsule, set to be opened in 2015, the year of Pond's 75th birthday. When the time came, she traveled around the world opening time capsules one by one, including the Honolulu one in November 2015. A July 2014 Burlington (VT) Free Press profile described the upcoming global tour, along with an upcoming retrospective bus tour to be held around the Burlington area.

"Bear and Cubs", Honolulu

Next up we're taking a peek at the little Bear and Cubs sculpture at Alakea & Hotel in downtown Honolulu. The Public Art Archive blurb about it:

Benjamin Bufano, born in San Fele, Italy in 1886, immigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was three years old. He worked in the studios of several N.Y. artists before traveling and studying around the world. A philosophy evolved out of Bufano's travels: "Art is the peoples one world--one color, one race. It is the only universal language spoken. Cherished by every people or race on earth, it is the basic alphabet of human communication" "Bear and Nursing Cubs" is a gift to the State of Hawaii from the Nielsen Collection.

Bufano was a well-known Italian-American sculptor based in San Francisco, who worked a lot with stylized animal themes. Bears seemed to be a particular favorite of his, and there are a number of other Bear and Cubs sculptures besides this one, done in various materials. A quick search brings up several others, mostly around the Bay Area: At the UCSF campus in San Francisco; a museum in Oakland; a park in Piedmont; outside a Kaiser clinic in Fremont; another museum in Englewood, CO; a whole Bufano sculpture garden at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore; and one at the recently restored sculpture garden at the Oregon Zoo.

The Oregon Zoo one has suffered a bit of wear and tear, with several decades of kids climbing over it. Apparently they're in the middle of giving it replacement ears now. As for the Bay Area versions, the Piedmont & Oakland bears appear in a couple of posts in a blog about Oakland-area geology. Which is kind of a tangent, but geologists walking around and explaining stuff that's hiding in plain sight is always an interesting subject, if you ask me. Also here's a recent SF Chronicle article about where to find Bufano sculptures around the city, and there are at least 58 of them out there, by one count.

Gate of Hope

Next up on our Honolulu public art tour is Gate of Hope, an enormous orange-red sculpture on the University of Hawaii Manoa campus, created in 1972 by sculptor Alexander Liberman. The Public Art Archive link above describes it:

Standing thirty feet high in front of the Engineering Building and painted bright red with an industrial epoxy finish, 'Gate of Hope' was fabricated of three-eights inch thick plates, cut, rolled, welded and installed by the Hawaiian Welding Company. The work is formally integrated with the precise geometry and the primary color accents of Holmes Hall, while its configuration changes dramatically with the observer's moving viewpoint.

A campus public art tour brochure just says of it: "Red-orange painted steel sculpture refers to engineering principles that allow people to build complex structures." That brochure dates to 1998 so it's bound to be outdated; there's probably a newer guide out there, but this is the one I could find a PDF of. That's probably fine for our needs since it's not like the sculpture has changed over time, although they did repaint it back in 2016.

This isn't the first Liberman sculpture to appear here; he also created the vastly smaller (but same-colored) Contact II in Jamison Square in Portland's Pearl District. That post mentioned Gate of Hope in passing as one example of the large scale Liberman usually worked at, and noted that his signature color seen here is actually a cadmium red. Wikipedia says the cadmium compound used in pigments is not all that toxic, at least by cadmium standards, but you're still probably better off not licking the art.


When I go back to an ongoing project I haven't touched for a while, I usually do one of these intro paragraphs to remind Gentle Reader(s) that the project exists, and maybe give an update on where it stands now. Public art around Portland was (if I remember right) the very first project I took on here; I'd moved downtown just before starting this thing, and the blog was part of exploring my new surroundings, at least when I wasn't getting worked up about Bush Jr. and Iraq and so forth. I've spent a lot of time in Honolulu over the last few years, and I quickly noticed the city was full of art too, including a lot of cool abstract stuff from the 1950s thru 1970s. So I did a bunch of art posts for a while, but eventually moved on to other projects, and anything I hadn't covered already ended up in Drafts while I went on about murals or Columbia Gorge bridges or something.

So with that introduction out of the way, our next stop on this revived project is Waiola, a groovy 60s fountain at Honolulu's vast and ever-expanding Ala Moana Mall. The mall has a lot of vintage art from that era and publishes their own Art Walk guide, which has a blurb about it:

George Tsutakawa’s Waiola, Hawaiian for “Living Waters,” honors the many cultures of the Pacific Basin living harmoniously in Hawaii. The structure of the statue stems from the Tibetan Obos, expressing the joy, humility and man’s desire for harmonic balance between space and matter.

Tsutakawa was on the art faculty at the UW in Seattle, and it turns out Portland's Lloyd Center Mall once had an outdoor fountain of his, which apparently was removed during one of the mall's many remodeling/rebranding efforts. I mentioned all this once before in a post about Na Manu Nu Oli, a fountain of similar vintage by a different artist, located outside a downtown office block. It seems that years ago a local newspaper's art critic compared the two fountains and explained why Waiola was better, which is a thing newspapers used to do back when they had money and employees. I also ran across a TikiCentral thread about Waiola, with a bunch of vintage photos of it & other Tsutakawa fountains. Yeah, the link goes to an entire website devoted to Tiki stuff, with argument-prone forums and everything; go for the midcentury art history, stay for the drink recipes.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Mordock Park, Johnson City OR

Our next lil' adventure takes us out to the wilds of suburban Clackamas County, where we're visiting the lone city park in the tiny town of Johnson City, Oregon, pop. 566. The park's a cute little grassy area on the town's only lake, and I think the Flickr slideshow of it came out pretty well, but to be perfectly honest the park was the hook to go visit this... unusual small city. The peculiar thing about Johnson City is that its city limits are precisely the boundaries of the Johnson Mobile Estates mobile home park. All residences in town are mobile homes, all residents are renters, and the only property owners are the grandchildren of the city's founder, who willed it into being back in 1970.

Ever since I first read about the place, I've been intrigued (as an ex-poli sci major) about how the arrangement works: You have a mayor and city council and all the trappings of a 500-or-so person small city, but the city is also one family's private property, and they're the sole landlord of everyone in town. Even the city's park and the lake belong to the owners, not the city government. So (as I often do) I rummaged through the library's Oregonian newspaper database, hoping to see how this situation had worked out in practice. I was not at all surprised to see it's led to several ugly conflicts over the years, and here I am to share the gory details. So this post might get me banned from the city after it goes live, but hey, I've already got my photos, and I'm not really in a hurry to go back anyway, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

The trailer park (originally called "Johnson's Mobile City") first appeared in the paper in May 1959, in a small classified ad. Similar ads run regularly after that, and there's nothing that makes it stand out from any other trailer park. A December 1961 ad suggested that readers might like to come see the "largest Christmas tree", and check out a shiny new trailer space while they were there. The place doesn't appear to have figured in any actual news stories until the idea of incorporating as a city came up.

The first mention I can find about incorporation was an October 15th 1968 editorial against the idea, which condescendingly called it an "amusing little news story". Early articles (like this one) insisted on putting the city's name in scare quotes. The Oregonian was highly amused by the very idea of mobile home residents trying to exercise self-government; as far as I know the paper's never turned down a single chance to sneer at poor and working class people in their entire 150+ year history. The county commission agreed that incorporation was a silly idea and vetoed the original 1968 petition, but the would-be city fought all the way to the state Supreme Court and won after a two year battle. An April 1970 article on the upcoming incorporation vote mentioned that most of the people who had signed the 1968 petition had since moved, it being a mobile home park and all. The article noted, bemusedly, that, "The only reason given for incorporation was desire of the residents to control their own affairs." The article also explains that at some point during the long legal battle, state law had been changed to prevent any more Johnson Cities from happening, but legislators didn't move fast enough and Johnson City itself was grandfathered in.

Despite all the sneering from the state's paper of record, the new city incorporated in June 1970 by a 49-10 vote; the Oregonian rolled out the scare quotes for "Johnson City" one last time to mark the occasion. When asked about his plans, Delbert Johnson (the city's founder and namesake, as well as the trailer park's owner & sole proprietor, and owner of the city's sole permanent house) explained he didn't want to run for mayor or city council as it would "keep him tied down". The article mentions that as a city, it was now eligible for a cut of the state's gas, cigarette, & alcohol taxes, intimating without evidence that this might have been the ulterior motive. After the big election, the city existed quietly for the first couple of years, popping up in the news once when it got a small branch library in June 1972.

The first big newsworthy conflict popped up in April 1973, when surrounding areas outside the new city got the idea they might like to be incorporated too. The new laws to prevent another Johnson City appeared to also prevent them from incorporating as a new city of Clackamas, so someone had the bright idea that they could just annex themselves to the existing city instead and then rename it.

Cities normally like this sort of thing, since it means more residents and an expanded tax base; in this case it would have expanded the city's population 15-fold, and ended the city's odd single-landowner situation. But Johnson City was not a normal city, and Delbert hated the proposal & instructed Ralph Goode, the trailer park's 29 year old assistant manager (who just so happened to also be the city's mayor) to stop supporting it. Goode then quit the assistant manager job, but was looking to stay in town so he didn't also have to resign as mayor. One of the articles mentions that on top of everything else, the city council was meeting in Johnson's basement at the time. The council meetings must have been awkward.

Things got even more tense from there. On May 2nd, the Oregonian reported that the city council had unanimously rejected annexation, after Johnson presented a petition against it signed by 150 of the city's 170 residents, who also happened to be his tenants. Mayor Goode held out hope the annexation could go forward anyway with enough signatures from people in the proposed annexation area, and questioned whether people really had a choice to sign, since only 10 of them showed up at the council meeting. Goode resigned as mayor a week later and announced he would leave town as soon as possible, due to death threats he'd received over the annexation controversy. Also resigning were the city's police chief, city council president, and the temporary city recorder (who was also Goode's sister in law).

A remaining council member was chosen as the new mayor by secret ballot (which was apparently forbidden by the city charter), and two new council members were sworn in over the phone by the city attorney. An article the next day pointed out that the city's personnel moves were almost certainly illegal, and the fact that they had held three council meetings and one budget meeting over the course of an hour and twenty minutes was highly unusual.

In a May 9th article, "Johnson City controversy continues", ex-mayor Goode pointed out that any state funds (like gas, cigarette, & alcohol taxes) the city received were, by definition, going to improve Johnson's private property, and suggested maybe this wasn't ideal. Johnson insisted he was powerless where the city council was concerned, as he had no formal role & merely spoke up at council meetings from time to time. He admitted that incorporation had saved him money on the park's sewer situation, but insisted everything in town was fine, just "perking right along". That was the end of the proposed city of Clackamas, and the land surrounding the city remains unincorporated as of 2018.

(Quick trivia note here, the woman who replaced Goode as mayor had once been a traveling evangelist with Oral Roberts (yes, that Oral Roberts) during the 1940s and 1950s, according to her 1993 obit)

The city was in the news again briefly in January 1975 a former Johnson City cop was shot while trying to rob a Clackamas bank. Johnson was quoted saying "I don't think he'd rob a bank".

Another controversy arrived in March 1978, when the council proposed a new zoning ordinance that would prevent Johnson from redeveloping the city into a shopping center. Johnson's son pointed out that if his father really wanted to build a shopping center, he could just evict everyone and do it. The article mentions that Johnson had raised rents back in January, leading to two failed rent strikes. Johnson had told residents he might just kick everyone out and subdivide the land if they didn't pay up, which led to suspicions that he was planning to do that. The son mentioned his father planned to sue the city if the ordinance went forward. So the council killed the idea on a 4-1 vote a week later, also voting to expel the one holdout from the council. Who also got an eviction notice from Johnson around the same time, because democracy.

Local politics quieted down for a couple of decades after the shopping center incident, and we next heard from the city when Johnson passed away in April 1985. His obit described him as "flamboyant". At some point after 1978 he had moved to Las Vegas and started a jojoba oil plantation in the California desert, leaving his kids to run the city.

The city's 1994 municipal elections got a bit touchy. A husband and wife were running for two of the three city council seats, competing with two other candidates, and the city was also set to vote on a proposed charter amendment that would prohibit spouses or relatives from serving on the council at the same time. Voters elected the husband and the two other candidates, and approved the charter amendment, which was a somewhat awkward outcome. An article just after the election chuckled at the odd little city, interviewing a few locals & a co-owner. The article mentions that one of the city's main revenue sources, other than money from the state, was cat licensing fees. Seriously. Dogs were (and apparently still are) illegal in the city because they might attack the geese in the park.

In August 1996, city residents were up in arms about a proposal to ban skateboards, rollerblades, etc. from hilly streets of the city, which just happened to include the street in front of the mayor's trailer. An angry city council meeting followed, with residents largely opposing the idea & saying the city should have other priorities. The article mentioned that as the city now lacked a police force, the mayor would be in charge of issuing fines and confiscating skateboards and rollerblades.

Just over a month later, residents filed a recall petition against the mayor, claiming he'd been abusing his authority for years. One resident said the skateboard ban was the last straw. In October, the recall passed by a vote of 101 to 63. The council member who took over as temporary mayor insisted Mayor Lang had been "set up" by another council member (who happened to be the husband in the awkward 1994 election), and the whole thing was a personality conflict that had gotten out of hand. The recall came just a week before the regular 1996 general election for council seats, which again featured four candidates vying bitterly for three seats, plus an organized write in campaign, and a Byzantine set of scenarios around who would get to be mayor, depending on whether the county certified election results before the next city council meeting.

An article after the election said the Johnson City races were still too close to call, as 42 votes separated the four candidates, and there were still a bunch of write-ins to tally. The Oregonian didn't seem to publish a follow-up explaining how this fascinating saga turned out in the end, though a 1997 article mentioned that one of the recall campaigners was now a council member.

The city made the news occasionally through the 2000s. A July 2000 article chuckled again at the weird tiny city. Like the similar 1994 article, it related the same business about cats and dogs as before, and mentioned that as far as anyone knew it was the only 100% mobile home city in the entire United States, and therefore probably the world. The city celebrated its 30th birthday in September 2000; local citizens and a Johnson grandson talked fondly about the city's colorful history, although the article doesn't get into details of exactly how colorful it got at times. The warm fuzzies didn't last long, as the park's management company published 17 pages of strict new tenant rules in 2001. Residents were upset about this, and formed a tenants' association after their unique city government refused to get involved. I couldn't locate a follow-up article to see how this one turned out.

Despite the occasional drama, being a city council member apparently left plenty of time for hobbies. In 2004, a Johnson City councilman was arrested for moonlighting as an anti-graffiti vigilante, painting silver circles over other taggers' work. His big mistake seems to have been venturing beyond his city limits in search of graffiti; Portland Police nabbed him doing his thing in the Buckman neighborhood. They decided to charge him with many counts of vandalism, since legally his motive was irrelevant, and the paint he was using was actually harder to remove than the usual graffiti paint.

2006 saw another bout of resident anxiety about the owners selling or redeveloping their fair city, due to a recent rash of other mobile home parks closing and being turned into subdivisions or minimalls. The Johnsons again insisted they had no plans to do this anytime soon, and state law has since been changed to make it a little harder to just abruptly push everyone out of a trailer park.

A 2013 Tribune article concerns the city thinking about joining the surrounding Clackamas River water district, so that residents could vote in water board elections. Apparently a previous water board had tried to block selling water to Johnson City for reasons the article doesn't make clear. It seems that Johnson City had spent the previous few decades largely opting out of countywide and special district services, like the water district, which is ironic as many of these districts were created after the state made it hard to incorporate new cities. Among the various things they opted out of, Johnson City residents were (and are) the only people in the entire tri-county area ineligible for Clackamas County library cards; even Multnomah & Washington county residents could get them, thanks to reciprocal arrangements, but not Johnson City, so locals would have to get by with just the tiny honor system library inside city hall. Johnson City also opted out of the North Clackamas parks district, so hopefully Mordock Park here (named after a longtime mayor) addresses everyone's recreational needs.

County & special district services are normally funded through property taxes, so I imagine the deal is that the city's sole property owners didn't want to pay more, even though any tax hike could just be passed along to residents as a rent hike. An Oregon League of Cities doc I ran across indicated the city received no property tax revenue at all in FY 2011-2012, and I imagine this is true every year, meaning the city also doesn't levy any property taxes of its own. I suppose trying to tax your landlord would be a great way to get evicted.

One thing the city does have, though, it its own municipal court (something the City of Portland doesn't have), with a single part-time judge who's also a judge for Gladstone, Happy Valley, and Lake Oswego. A 2006 profile of Judge Ringle mentioned he'd been in this role for the city of Gladstone since 1965 (before Johnson City even existed), making him the state's longest-serving judge. He was also interviewed for a 2010 issue of the Oregon State Bar magazine. He sounds like a decent guy in the interview so I'm going to forego any Valkenvania jokes, not that anyone would get them anyway.

I am, however, puzzled by what (to me) looks like an obvious missed opportunity. The city has few sources of revenue outside of grants from the state and cat licensing, but it does have a municipal court, and it's maybe 1/8 mile east of I-205, separated only by a small nature preserve. I'm surprised they didn't pull the same trick as the city of Coburg (a bit north of Eugene) did with I-5, annexing a narrow strip of land out to the freeway, plus a stretch of the freeway itself, and then setting up an infamous speed trap, so infamous that one conservative website proclaimed Coburg the "Worst Little Town in America". While not winning any popularity contests, the traffic ticket business came to be up to 80% of the city's total revenue before the state stepped in and reined them in a bit. I suppose the taboo about annexing land beyond the trailer park is so strong they just won't do it even to rake in a massive pile of cash. Please note that I am not proposing the city actually do this, just saying I'm surprised they passed up the chance. A great 2014 Washington Post article explains how small cash-strapped cities across the St. Louis metro area came to depend on traffic fine revenue, and how that contributed to abusive and racist policing in cities like Ferguson. So yeah, if you happen to be an elected official in Johnson City and you're reading this, please don't even think about this idea; in fact, you can just forget you saw this entire paragraph, if you don't mind.

The adjacent nature preserve I mentioned above is the Wetland Conservancy's Hearthwood Preserve. I'd intended to make the visit a twofer and get some nature photos too, but this turned out not to be possible. The info page describes the place:

Hearthwood Preserve is the headwaters of Clackamas County’s Kellogg Creek. The wetland is a very dense willow, red osier dogwood, elderberry and Oregon ash scrub shrub wetland. Being the headwaters of Kellogg Creek, the 16 acre wetland plays an important role in cleaning the water as it heads down to it's confluence with the Willamette River in Milwaukie Oregon. The vegetation on this preserve is so dense that is creates a barrier for people to enter making it extremely valuable habitat for wildlife in this area. TWC has planted native trees such as Red Alder, Western Red Cedar and Oregon White Oak along the periphery of the property and continues to manage for invasive species such as Himalayan Blackberry.

In short, the place is not set up for visitors and there's no way in, therefore no photos and no blog post about it. So I reluctantly crossed it off my big todo list.

While I was putting this post together, I remembered a recent Quartz story that touches on company coal towns in Appalachia. Johnson City is not quite the same thing, of course, but the whole town is a business, and that business is to be its residents' landlord (and occasionally employer, as noted in the history section up above). That's just weird. The more usual company town model in the Northwest was the company timber town; I remember when Valsetz was bulldozed & burned by its corporate owners a bit over 30 years ago. Gilchrist was the last company timber town in Oregon, and its houses were sold to residents some years ago, but a few other company towns still exist, like PGE's tiny burg of Three Lynx, in the Cascades SE of Estacada.

Another fun model (if I can go off on a tangent for a moment) is the incorporated "shell" city with almost no residents, like notorious Vernon, CA. One family and its cronies ran the city for decades and somehow neglected to hold elections for most of that time, as the city evolved into a virtually tax-free and regulation-free industrial dystopia. The state tried to forcibly abolish the city a few years ago but somehow a deal was made and they've promised to clean up their act somehow. An entire season of True Detective was set in a thinly fictionalized version of the City of Vernon a few years back. Elsewhere in the LA metro area, City of Industry also has many businesses and almost no residents (hence the name); it doesn't have the same ugly reputation as Vernon, and when it makes the news it's generally about strippers [link is a safe-for-work news story about state labor laws] rather than Superfund sites. Oh, and then there's Colma, just south of San Francisco, a city made up almost entirely of cemeteries, with 1500 living residents and 1.5 million dead ones.

So... yeah, on that cheery note, back to the Portland area. Johnson City isn't the eastside's only tiny city; Maywood Park (pop. 752) is right on I-205 next to Rocky Butte, surrounded on all sides by the City of Portland. Back in 1967 it was part of unincorporated east Multnomah County when residents banded together to try to block construction of Interstate 205 through their neighborhood. Incorporation succeeded, but the reason they did it turned out to be a lost cause. Still, there's very little chance they'll be absorbed into Portland anytime soon, as their property taxes are significantly lower, and merging would make them just another part of the outer Eastside that city hall's forgotten all about. I haven't visited their fair city yet because despite the name, they don't actually have any city parks. The only real public space they have is, ironically, part of the I-205 bike path. And other than the unusual history and low taxes, the place looks like any other midcentury subdivision, so anyone who's looking for a Monaco or Caymans-style exotic tax haven is bound to be disappointed. I have this occasional idea it would be fun to engineer a bitter civic rivalry between Johnson City and Maywood Park, but I have no idea how one would go about it.

SW Capitol Hwy./Bertha Blvd. Viaduct

This humble blog's ongoing bridge project isn't just about Columbia Gorge bridges, though I've been doing a lot of those lately. I started out with Portland-area bridges; I think the Morrison Bridge was the first of the bunch, and I did all the (Portland-area) Willamette bridges after that, and then the Columbia ones, and then some on the Sandy, Clackamas & Tualatin Rivers, and things just sort of got more and more esoteric from there. In general this humble blog doesn't aspire to be a new-Portlandy hipster website, but I think I'm rather good at finding things You Probably Haven't Heard Of. For bridges, this is often guided by ODOT's 2013 Historic Bridge Field Guide, in which the agency listed a bunch of bridges it felt were historically significant, often for technical reasons only a bridge engineer would care about. This is nice if you're looking for blog material, because you can just point at the guide and shrug and say the experts think this bridge is important, and who am I to argue? This policy has led to visiting some really obscure stuff, like the Ochoco St. Bridge, the Denver Ave. - Columbia Blvd. bridge, and the half-viaduct at NW Melinda & Maywood. A couple of those posts turned out to be interesting to work on, even when the subject matter wasn't particularly photogenic. In my defense, I didn't make the trip just to look for this bridge; I was in the area to track down the nearby Sasquatch Brewing pub (which I hadn't been to before), & then realized there was an item on my big TODO list nearby, and it seemed like a good idea after a couple of beers, so here we are. (This isn't a beer blog, for the most part, but I do recommend the pub; good food, good beer.)

So on that note, here we are in the Hillsdale neighborhood to look at an old overpass at the messy intersection of Capitol Highway, Bertha Blvd., Bertha Ct., Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy., & SW 18th Ave. I had sort of assumed it dated to 1950s car mania, back when freeway-style intersections were supposed to be the bright future of getting around town as fast as possible. Turns out it's quite a bit older than that. Here's the blurb from part 4 of the historic bridge guide (which is organized alphabetically by county & split into 5 pdfs):

Description: Seven reinforced concrete girder spans with small curved haunches
Significance: This bridge is one of the few remaining segments of the original route of the Capitol Hwy, later superseded by the West Side Highway. The bridge originally crossed over the Oregon Electric Railway. Widened with two additional girders in 1929, the bridge retains its early feel though the use of a replica of the original decorative railing. A short staircase provides pedestrian access to the underside of the bridge.
Character Defining Features: Decorative railing, Location
Alterations: A 2011 rehab project included repairs to the concrete and replaced the remaining 1915 railing with a replica.

I realize "small curved haunches" is a technical engineering term, but I still kind of giggle at it. I bet bridge engineers giggle too, at least while they're undergrads.

Anyway, the passenger rail line was ripped out & replaced by Bertha Blvd. in the 1930s, and when that happened they just kept the existing bridge over the railroad, like what happened at SW Barbur & Multnomah. Note that ODOT goofed & got the railroad wrong; the trains that ran through Hillsdale were the Southern Pacific's Red Electric service, and the Oregon Electric was a competing company that crossed the West Hills further south.

A few historical items from around the interwebs:

  • The Multnomah Historical Association has a 1920 photo from Capitol Highway looking toward the bridge.
  • A circa-1932 photo showing the old rail line.
  • A SWTrails page about walking the Red Electric Trail, which slowly being pieced together from parts of the old interurban right-of-way.
  • A SW Connection article about present-day remnants of the city's passenger rail history. It mentions in passing that the Bertha stop (and thus the present-day boulevard) was named for the wife of a railroad executive. The stop wasn't called "Hillsdale" like the neighborhood because it sounded too much like Hillsboro, the line's ultimate destination. Inattentive riders have an uncanny way of getting off at the wrong stop; I know this is true, having done so on MAX a few times.
  • A page with facts about the old rail line, and photos showing what a few parts of the old right-of-way look like today.

And then there's a 2015 OregonLive story about the 1920 Red Electric train collision on the old interurban line, in which eight people died and over a hundred were injured; nearly a century later it's still the worst public transit accident in Portland history. The article begins with people waiting at the Bertha stop, but the collision happened further south along the line, somewhere near present-day Stephens Creek Nature Park. The Multnomah Historical Association page has a page all about the wreck, with (fortunately non-gory) photos.

The old Bertha rail station was located around where the Watershed at Hillsdale senior housing complex is now. Before that was built circa 2007, the land sat empty for several decades; it seems it was a contaminated brownfield site, and an Oregon DEQ filing from the construction approval detailed the various uses the site had gone through over the years. First a rural dairy farm, then an interurban rail stop, then a gas station/garage/junkyard, which is where the contamination came from. The study found additional contamination that turned out to be goop from an old dry cleaning operation seeping downhill and ending up here. Yuck.

I don't have any photos from under the bridge because the Capitol/Bertha/Bertha/Beaverton-Hillsdale intersection is not really a fun place to walk around; the streets are busy and congested, and the crosswalks (and sidewalks) are few. But there's at least one improvement in the works nearby. The aforementioned Red Electric Trail project will soon have a new segment through here, detouring west around the busy intersection, partly on the unused right-of-way for a SW Dakota Street that only exists on paper. The planned trail segment isn't that long, but it needs to cross a deep gully next to Beaverton-Hillsdale, so a shiny new footbridge is in the works. They're aiming to make it at least reasonably photogenic, so if I'm in the area again once it's done I might need to stop and take a few photos.

Moffett Creek Bridges

The next installment of the ongoing Columbia Gorge bridge project takes us to a set of bridges over Moffett Creek, between Elowah Falls and the Bonneville Dam / Wahclella Falls area. I'm treating them as a group because they're close together and a lot of my photos ended up with more than one bridge in them, but the main event here is the original Columbia River Highway bridge from 1915. Unlike the CRH bridges further west of here, this one was designed by Lewis Metzger, who also designed the bridge at Eagle Creek. This bridge is said to have been the world's longest "three-hinge concrete bridge" at the time of its construction. Not being a bridge engineer, I was curious what that meant, and found a very in-depth article explaining what a bridge hinge is for and how it works, if you're into that sort of thing. From that article I gather the old Moffett Creek Bridge was built with the bleeding edge advanced technology of its day.

Time and engineering moved on, though, and the old bridge was abandoned in place when Interstate 84 was built. It then sat abandoned for decades, brief glimpses of it visible from the new freeway bridges next door. It's now part of ODOT's pedestrian/bike Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, which the state of Oregon has been slowly building in segments since the late 1990s. The segment from Tanner Creek (Wahclella Falls) west to Moffett Creek opened around 2000 (per an OregonHikers page about the bridge), and then the trail ended at the bridge for over a decade.

A new trail segment finally opened in 2013, winding its way under the adjacent I-84 bridges and along the freeway to the Elowah Falls trailhead. The I-84 bridges are the ones in the background of a lot of these photos. One dates to the 1950s, when the new highway was just US 30 and not an interstate yet. The other was built in 2009-2011 to replace an ugly 1960s bridge that didn't hold up to the elements as well as its older neighbors. The new bridge was built to the state's I-84 design guidelines, so it bears a strong resemblance to the replacement Sandy River bridge that was built around the same time.

Beyond the current and former road bridges, there are a few more bridges along Moffett Creek: An old railroad bridge further downstream that I don't know much about, and a small wooden bridge for Gorge Trail #400 just upstream. Apparently there's also a second trail bridge or crossing of some sort for the Moffett Creek Trail #430 much further upstream in a remote corner of the Gorge. I've never been there and have no photos of that one. Despite the name of the trail, it doesn't follow Moffett Creek upstream like the Eagle Creek Trail does. Moffett Creek unfortunately doesn't have a trail like that, even though there are a few waterfalls along the creek. I gather the state or the Forest Service thought about building a trail around the time the old highway went in, but it didn't happen then, and trail construction in much of the Gorge either happened in the 1910s or not at all, and that's why there isn't a trail a century later.

There also isn't a parking lot off I-84 (or at least not an official one) or a trailhead at Moffett Creek; I got here by walking from the Elowah Falls trailhead, on the new circa-2013 trail segment. It runs riiiight next to I-84 the entire way to Moffett Creek (except for a small detour at McCord Creek), with semis zooming by at freeway speeds just a few feet away, so I can't honestly describe this as a fun or enjoyable walk. I think this trail is mostly intended for cyclists, since bikes are banned on most Gorge hiking trails. If you aren't on a bike and you aren't doing this for the novelty, a better way here would be to take the trail to Elowah Falls and continue on along Gorge Trail #400 from there; when you get to Moffett Creek there's a trail spur over to the HCRH trail just before it ducks under the I-84 bridges. In any case, I turned around just after the old bridge, since that was what I'd come to see, and there's only so much walking next to freeway traffic I'm willing to endure in one go. However the Oregonian article about the trail opening points out that the new paved trail is not just a bike path; it's also one of the very few wheelchair-accessible trails in the Gorge, which is something I hadn't considered when I started grumbling about the ambience.

In any case, you can't get to the old bridge on either trail at the moment thanks to the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, which heavily damaged the Moffett Creek area. It could be years before either trail reopens. I haven't been out to the Gorge since the fire, since I'm not sure I want to see the damage in person; instead I've been working my way through a big backlog of Gorge photo posts and remembering what it was like before the fire. I'm not sure whether this is actually helping or not, but it's what I've got, so it's what I'm doing.

I'd been to the Moffett Creek area exactly once before I took these photos, back in the early 90s when you had to rely on paper maps and vague directions in library books. A map suggested that if you followed the Gorge Trail east from Elowah Falls, there'd be one or more waterfalls along Moffett Creek somewhere vaguely upstream of the trail. I'd also read somewhere that there was a cool abandoned bridge, overgrown with weeds, somewhere in the vicinity. That sounded promising, so I went there based on this scant information and was unable to find either the falls or the bridge, which was sufficiently annoying that I didn't go back for a couple of decades.

I still haven't found the waterfalls, truth be told, and even now in 2018 the available information about them seems kind of sketchy and unreliable. There are photos proving there's more than one waterfall along the creek, along with evidence that the names "Moffett Falls" and "Wahe Falls" have been kicked around for over a century. And that's about where the consensus ends. It seems that one of them (and I'm not clear on which) was dubbed Wahe Falls by the Mazamas circa 1916, and then USGS maps called it Moffett Falls for decades, which Wahe partisans say was a big dumb mistake.

Which leads to the wider question of what makes a place name authoritative. In the Northwest, 1916 was around the heyday of white people giving places romanticized sorta-Indian names, and I haven't seen any evidence that local tribes actually called it "Wahe", or that anyone at all did before a few sentimental Victorians came along. And legally speaking, USGS names are supposed to be authoritative, even if they screwed up or didn't exactly follow earlier naming. I dunno.

There are all sorts of variations on the dispute: Two names for one waterfall, while the other goes unnamed; one is Moffett and one is Wahe, but nobody can agree which is which; one of the names is invalid, and you have either Moffett or Wahe, plus an Upper or Lower sibling, depending on which one you think is the main waterfall. I genuinely and sincerely have no opinion on the dispute. I have never been to any of them, have no photos of them, and have not needed to pick a name to use for a blog post title. If it comes to it, I might just go with GPS coordinates or something to avoid antagonizing anyone.

In any case, there's a Recreating the HCRH page about the waterfalls, and Waterfalls Northwest pages for them (dubbing them "Wahe Falls" and "Upper Wahe Falls"). WyEast Blog has a couple of posts with post-fire photos, with notes about maybe building trails to the falls someday. A few OregonHikers posts talk about hiking or bushwhacking up along the creek and visiting assorted waterfalls, while going the other direction a RopeWiki page has details about rappelling down Moffett Creek from the top. A Canyoneering Northwest page mentions the creek actually has eleven(!) waterfalls, if you have the technical chops to visit them all.

The Moffett Creek area pops up in the library's historical Oregonian database now and then:

  • Early on the stories were all about planning and building the old highway, such as "Road is Feasible, Engineer Says" (January 9th 1910). The article explains that the highway (which it still referred to as a new wagon road) in this area would roughly follow the route of an older road or trail. The unnamed older route (as the Eagle Creek Bridge post explained) might have been the Dalles and Sandy Wagon Road, although it was located further up slope in many areas. Though the article goes on to mention that this older road appeared unfinished further east at Tanner Creek, so the old route could also have been some other road I'm unfamiliar with. The article doesn't explain how the older road crossed the creek here, whether there was a previous bridge on the site, or travelers had to find a flat spot to ford the creek. An archived ODOT page from March 2012 about the new trail includes a historic photo of the bridge under construction, which is the only one I've encountered.

  • In the 1920s, the area hosted a 50 acre YWCA campground, with a few wood buildings that were probably somewhere near the bridge. The place was profiled in "Wauneka Appeals to Business Girls" (July 20th 1924). The first couple of paragraphs make it sound pretty idyllic.
    A book, an Indian blanket and a ferny spot beside the hurried little Moffett’s creek for the girl who is tired of typewriters and time-clocks; a climb up a mountain trail or a walk along the highway for her more energetic sister, are on the unwritten recreational programme at Wauneka, vacation camp of the Portland Y.W.C.A. on Moffett’s creek, 45 miles up the Columbia highway.

    There’s nothing to do but enjoy yourself, and sleep and eat and rest, at Wauneka, say the officials of the Y.W.C.A., whose only share in the proceedings is to keep excellent caretakers on the place in order to provide chaperonage, cooking and upkeep. There is no educational or any other sort of arranged programme, and the business girls who go there can do anything they please, within reason, except pick the ferns and flowers and wild greenery that keep Wauneka beautiful.

    I'm not entirely sure where this 50 acre parcel would've been. Possibly much of it is under I-84 now. The land's currently divided between the state (the "John B. Yeon State Scenic Corridor") and the US Forest Service. One of the state-owned parcels might include parts of the YWCA site, but I'm just guessing here. Incidentally, the state park's History/FAQ page explains that it's illegal to fly drones anywhere along the historic highway trail, as well as in most state parks through the Gorge, at least unless you get a special use permit (and it reads as if those permits are rarely granted). The rare exceptions to the rule being Dalton Point on the river, a few parks out near Hood River, and George W. Joseph State Natural Area, which is home to Upper Latourell Falls, but not the main falls. But I digress.

  • There weren't many other mentions of the YWCA campground in the paper, so I don't know how long it was there, but there was at least one private residence near the bridge in the 1930s, per a small May 28th 1935 news item about the house being burglarized.

  • November 19th 1953: The Forest Service bought a chunk of riverfront property that extended upriver from Warrendale/Dodson up to Moffett Creek. This land was the former site of a salmon cannery (which closed in 1934), some ruins of which were still around back then. Frank Warren (the plant's founder, and namesake of Warrendale) died on the Titanic.

  • Moffett Creek largely vanished from the paper for several decades after that; this coincided with the present-day freeway going in. They didn't include a Moffett Creek exit on the new Interstate, so it seems the place largely fell off the radar until the 1980s. One exception was an October 10th 1971 article about the abandoned bridge, slowly being reclaimed by nature at the time.

  • April 19th 1981: "Drive intensifies to preserve scenic gorge highway". A comprehensive survey was done after 1981 to figure out what was left of the old road and what could be saved, which at least was a first step. In passing, the article claims the old bridge was still the world's longest three-hinge concrete bridge at the time. I have no idea whether this is still true; I'm old enough to think of 1981 as "recent", but it really isn't anymore, and a lot of bridges have been built since then.

  • September 7th 1982: "Scenic gorge route's tarnished gems being polished"

  • August 19, 1987: "Highway options pondered", in which something along the lines of the present-day trail was one of the options. It obviously took a while; I think it was off the table for a long time until they figured out how to fund it via ODOT.