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.

1 comment :

DJ Rick said...

I'm enjoying this post, wryly grinning at choice moments (chuckling even), and it just so happened to be while listening to the album "As Happy as Possible" by Les Thugs, which is oddly fitting because it is an album that acknowledged the despair and desperation of so much in the world that is wrong and worsening (as of 1993 (yet many of the lyrics seem as if they were written today)), but shouldering that feeling just enough to find happiness in our lives and hold out hope for our children's tomorrow. Your comment about your priorities in light of our Trumpsterfire at full blaze just intersected this album on the same wavelength by total chance. Pretty uncanny.