Saturday, October 24, 2020

Beaver Falls

Ok, next up we're doing the short hike to Beaver Falls, along a stretch of the old Columbia River Highway between Rainier and Clatskanie, on the way to Astoria. This waterfall is not exactly famous, and the surrounding area isn't touristy, and the present-day road doesn't look particularly significant, and this would be a prime opportunity for me to score some hipster points explaining how incredibly obscure everything is, if hipster points were a thing worth having. Right up there with listing off bands nobody on the planet has ever heard of, or chuckling when someone mispronounces your favorite artisanal goat breed, or whatever.

For readers outside the Northwest, or who aren't familiar with this ongoing occasional project of mine, here's a little background. The original Columbia River Highway was a major engineering project of the early 20th century, promoted as the region's first 'modern' road -- by Model T-era standards -- with one section heading east from Portland to The Dalles and points east -- including the famous tourist-clogged stretch through the Columbia River Gorge -- and another leg (the Lower Columbia River Highway) going westbound to Astoria and the coast. The highway was designed to showcase the region, wandering around the landscape in search of waterfalls and other scenery, with state-of-the-art concrete bridges, and walls and other structures built by Italian stone masons. Unfortunately as the only modern road in the area, and the only road at all in some areas, it made itself obsolete almost immediately thanks to induced demand & was replaced by bigger, better, faster, wider, straighter ultra-modern boring roads starting in the 1940s, with this stretch getting the treatment in 1955.

As with the eastern leg of the highway, the bypassed bits and pieces of the old road typically became lightly-used side roads or were abandoned entirely, and scenic highlights along these parts quickly faded into obscurity. But unlike the stretch through the Gorge, the surviving parts on the way to Astoria don't have road signs, or shiny new ODOT-funded bike paths, or glossy guidebooks, or really any publicity at all. But the roads themselves are still there, and the scenic bits that were there a century ago are still there, if you know where to look. The waterfalls are maybe not of the same scale or quantity as in the Gorge -- which is famous for a reason -- but fame draws crowds, and like a lot of people I'm all about avoiding crowds right now. Beaver Falls did get a brief bit of attention back in July when an Oregonian article covered it as one of several waterfalls that weren't barricaded off for the ongoing pandemic. Which actually was very useful information, since nobody seems to be tracking which destinations are currently open and which aren't across the region, and I'm not inclined to make the long drive without knowing that little detail.

I think I ought to start by explaining how to get there, or at least how I got there, and then I'll get to the trail and the falls themselves. The fastest and easiest way -- which is not what I did -- is to just stay on US 30 westbound past Rainier until the the turnoff for Beaver Falls Road at the tiny sorta-town of Delena, then stay on the road for another 3.6 miles. You'll see an unsigned parking lot on your left with room for maybe a dozen cars (this is a guess; I did not actually count the cars when I was there). GPS coordinates for the parking lot, not the falls, are 46.1038712, -123.1282997, if that helps at all.

As for what I actually did, I'd noticed that there was another stretch of the old highway starting in downtown Rainier, and I wanted to see what it was like while I was in the area. Rainier and Clatskanie are both right at river level, but there's a hill between them, and the Columbia bends north for a bit at that point and then back. So to go between the two towns you either follow the river several miles out of the way (like the railroad line does), or go over the hill, which is what both the old and current highways do. But while today's US 30 just goes directly up and over the hill and down the other side, the original route made several switchbacks ascending from downtown Rainier, and then followed Beaver Creek down the other side before bending south into downtown Clatskanie.

I haven't figured out how to embed a Google map with custom directions -- I could swear I've done that before, but now the embeddable map reverts to the default route on US 30, which I don't want -- but at least I can still make a link showing the old route, so you can see what it looks like in another tab. As you can see there, the old route (which now goes by "Old Rainier Road") starts south of 30, at the west end of downtown Rainier. By accident I actually turned off 30 a bit before the map does, and drove around in downtown Rainier a bit looking for where I'd planned to be, and ran across an unrelated historic bridge in the process, but didn't stop for photos & eventually found the turn I wanted. In any case, it climbs the hill via the switchbacks I mentioned, but unfortunately this stretch of the old highway clearly hasn't been paved in ages, and the forest around it is overgrown and starting to encroach on the road, giving that stretch a weird claustrophobic feel. Parts of the road have very old guardrails that might date back to the state highway days; these are in poor shape, unfortunately, and it's clear they've been crashed into a lot over however many decades they've been there.

A note at Recreating the HCRH says there was once a state highway wayside somewhere along this stretch (the "Ditto Wayside", named for local philanthropists), with a trail to some nearby springs. But there isn't a wayside or viewpoint here now, nor is there much of a view anymore thanks to trees growing over the last century or so. I even checked the Columbia County GIS system out of curiosity, in case it was still there somewhere but overgrown and forgotten, but it shows no public property nearby, so maybe the state unloaded it after the road stopped being a state highway.

At the top of the hill the road improves and you're in ordinary rural country for a while til you get back to US 30 at the tiny burg of Alston, with the next segment of old road just across the highway. The intersection is a little sketchy, but there's bound to be a gap in traffic eventually and then you can scoot across when nobody's looking. The road heads west from there as Alston Rd. for a few blocks, and then you have to merge onto 30 just for a few hundred feet or so before leaving it again at the Beaver Falls Road turnoff I mentioned earlier.

So however you got to Beaver Falls Road, one thing you'll notice on the way to the trailhead is that the road crosses and recrosses Beaver Creek several times on old bridges that look original to the century-old road, or at least inspired by the originals. Somewhere along that stretch, two miles upstream from Beaver Falls is where you'd stop to go look at Upper Beaver Falls, if only you knew where to stop. I wasn't sure where it was, exactly, so I skipped that side trip and continued on to the main event. The parking lot for the main falls was easier to find, since there were other cars there and a seasonal official sign next to the trailhead warning visitors about county forest fire rules. A blog post from February 2017 I ran across showed no such list of rules or any other sort of sign for the falls, so knowing you're in the right place might be a little harder in the off season.

From the trailhead, a short but kind of rocky trail leads down to the falls. I should point out that photos taken in August will not really do the falls justice; unlike falls in the Gorge, Beaver Creek doesn't have high altitude snowmelt feeding it in the summer, and it dwindles to a fraction of its winter and springtime volume. August is when I got the idea to go visit, and I sadly don't have a way to fast-forward us all to maybe mid-April 2021 so we can go see them then instead. And the additional tradeoff with waiting until next spring is that I gather the trail gets slippery and treacherous when wet. It also would've helped, photo-wise, if I'd stopped by at any time of day other than when the sun was directly above the falls and you have to bob and weave and shade your phone with one hand trying to keep both the sun and your hand out of your shot. All I can say to that is that I certainly wanted to take quality photos of the falls, but sleeping in on weekend mornings is also pretty great, and I feel like I struck a reasonable balance among several competing priorities. I may go back at some point to find the other waterfall upstream and maybe take some bridge photos if there's anywhere to park to do that. If I do that, I may give Beaver Falls another try too, and the upper falls too if I can find them.

I should point out herethat that although the wider world may have forgotten Beaver Falls, it's still a popular local swimming hole, and there were more people there than I would've preferred to encounter while hiking during a pandemic, and mask use was far from universal (ugh), though I obviously lived to tell the tale this time. The falls are about 50 feet high, with a deep pool at the base, and teens were jumping from the top of the falls while I was there. I suppose they've probably all done this hundreds of times and learned how from older teens, and almost nobody ever lands headfirst or hits a rock or tangles with the submerged car wreckage the Oregonian article insists is somewhere down in the deep pool below the falls. But it still stressed me out a little. I don't really have a rational basis for this, just a random worry someone might try an extreme new stunt for the first time just then and it would go badly, I guess. Everybody was fine; I just didn't stay as long as I would have, otherwise. Retraced my steps back to the parking lot, then continued along the remaining bit of old highway into Clatskanie, and got on present-day Highway 30 to head home.

For what it's worth, I did actually verify this is a county park and not just a traditional local trespassin' spot where the owner almost never shows up with a shotgun. I kind of like to double-check that sort of thing before encouraging random internet strangers to do something I did. It's not shown as a park on Google Maps, nor is it listed on the county parks website, so I figured it was at least an open question. So I checked the county GIS system again and sure enough, the system says it's called "Beaver Falls Park", 29.06 acres, with a map tax lot number of 7412-00-00601, in case anyone out there wants to triple-check my double-checking. I gather that the county classifies it as "unimproved" despite the trail and the parking lot, which may be why they don't really advertise that it exists, and why they stick to encouraging you not to set the forest on fire, and don't post any friendly "Welcome to Beaver Falls County Park, this way to the falls, lodge and spa that way." signage. The trail is surprisingly new, too; the county updated the master plan for its 24 parks in 2007, and putting in a trail was one of the suggested future improvements back then. In 2009 there was an ODOT-funded road project [doc] here, repaving this stretch of road, installing vintage-looking guardrails, and adding fencing so people could safely view the falls from the road. It doesn't mention anything about working on parking at the trailhead, or about a trailhead existing at that point, but I'm not sure whether that counts as a data point.

I kept reading that Beaver Falls was much more well-known decades ago, and faded out of public awareness after the highway was rerouted. Which stands to reason, I guess, but it made wonder whether the falls had ever been all that famous, and if so, what it had been like back in that era. So I took another dive back into the local library's historic newspaper databases to see if I could find anything interesting about the place, whether about the falls themselves, the highway and how it came to be, the doings of local residents in the Greater Beaver Falls metro area, that sort of thing. The finished product ended up as more of a story about the road than the falls, and to some degree about reporters who covered the new road, and various old cars they made the journey in.

Let me point out that "Beaver Falls" is not one of the easier keyword searches, so I might have missed a thing or two while wading through all the noise. The Northwest's early US settlers seem to have been a literal-minded, unimaginative bunch, so except for a few places where they decided to swipe an existing native name, places ended up with generic names like "Beaver Falls" and "Beaver Creek", along with Deer, Eagle, Salmon, etc. creeks. A Gnat Creek exists elsewhere in the northern coast range, and it apparently sports a few waterfalls too, though the name may cut down on the tourist trade. Other uncreative names include Whale Cove, Elk Rock, Wildcat Mountain, probably all named due to some early pioneer seeing an animal nearby. And when they didn't name a creek after an animal, they went with some mundane aspect of the creek: Big Creeek, or Deep, or Silver (as in whitewater); or Mill Creek if somebody built a sawmill on a creek before naming the creek; or if the first thing they noticed was a waterfall, Fall Creek, or maybe Falls Creek if they saw more than one. And then falls are often named after the creek, like Pup Creek Falls recently. The falls here have sometimes gone by Beaver Creek Falls. Fall Creek Falls is not uncommon, and elsewhere in the state there's a Falls City Falls, in which the falls are named for the town that's named for the falls. If another waterfall is found later and it needs a name too, it becomes Upper or Lower Animal Creek Falls. If the creek forks, you get stuff like North and South Falls at Silver Falls State Park, and yes, there's an Upper North Falls.

So the oldest mention of the 'right' Beaver Falls that I ran across was an April 2nd 1899 news item (predating the highway by roughly 20 years) relating someone's visit to the falls during a recent fishing trip. It describes the falls much as they are today, albeit with very different directions for getting there:

The falls are eight miles from Mayger's Landing on the Columbia River, and six miles from Beaver Station, on the Astoria railroad. The county road to Beaver Valley, in good weather, is passable for bicycles. From the end of the county road to the falls is about 1 1/2 miles on a poor trail, through the brush and in the bed of the creek.
The article was published as a small item on that day's Woman's Page. Much of of the rest of the page is devoted to 1899's most fashionable looks for Easter direct from New York and abroad, meaning lots of corsets and embroidery, and elaborate hats with feathers from the world's endangered birds.

The next mention of the Beaver Falls area came in 1909, as Columbia County voted on adopting Prohibition countywide. Voters rejected the idea (though it eventually passed statewide in 1914), with Clatskanie rejecting it narrowly and Rainier by a nearly 2:1 margin. At press time, results were not yet in for Beaver Falls and a couple of other then-remote precincts. The article states they were expected to vote majority-dry, though it's not clear how or why the writer would have known that.

Then we get to the origins of the old highway, starting with "Boulevard to Pacific Ocean Would Be Scenic Marvel", February 18th 1912. In which department store magnate (and future governor) Julius Meier explained in great detail how amazing it would be if there was a road to the coast -- which he insisted would be both practical and affordable -- and announced he was forming a lobbying group to bring this road into being. It seems that Clatskanie-area boosters were the ones who had first sold him on this route, and so Meier spent a large portion of the article explaining how their stretch of the Lower Columbia region would soon be densely populated and incredibly prosperous, perhaps a second Holland in the making. (Many wetlands along the river were being diked and drained for farming around this time, so there was a superficial resemblance). Toward the end he pointed out that Portland would need to kick in some cash toward the road, as Clatskanie had not, as yet, made a great deal of progress toward its destiny as a future Amsterdam-on-the-Columbia.

Meier apparently had enough pull with his fellow movers and shakers that the road was already in the works by October of that year, with the eventual route largely decided upon, including the route along Beaver Creek on the way to Clatskanie. In an October 13th 2012 article "Bowlby Opines on Highway Plan", highway promoters had invited Major H.L. Bowlby -- former Washington highway commissioner, and current head of the Pacific Highway Association, a "Good Roads" lobbying group -- to travel the proposed route and offer his expert opinions on the project. He was enthusiastic overall, with a few minor quibbles and some platitudes about listening to the locals while planning the final route. He went on to explain that these sorts of projects were usually financed with public bond measures and paid off over 20 or 30 years, and the proposed highway would likely need to do this.

County voters passed the needed bond measure in February 1914 by a vote of 1695 to 1162. The measure came to $360k overall (about $9,357,048 in 2020 dollars), with $260k of that dedicated to the new highway, and the balance spread around the inland parts of the county to try to win support for the measure. Which largely didn't work; the vote breakdown by precinct showed lopsided votes in favor from cities and towns along the proposed highway route -- the riverside mill town of Prescott voting 45 to 1 in favor, as an extreme example -- and lopsided votes against it elsewhere, with the inland town of Yankton voting 9 to 112 against the idea. The most historically significant detail of this election is mentioned in a brief aside: "A total vote of 2857 was cast, in most places the women taking an active part in the voting.". Women's suffrage had finally been approved by the state's all-male electorate in 1912, on the sixth attempt, so this special election would have been the first, or among the first, that did not disenfranchise a majority of the population. The article spent more words assuring voters that the county already had a project manager lined up and construction ought to begin in early spring.

Skipping forward a year, it turns out that Maj. Bowlby's 1912 visit had been more of a job interview than a consulting gig, and he'd landed the overall chief engineering job for the Portland-to-Astoria stretch of the highway. Unfortunately things were not going well. In an article "Columbia County Faces Road Crisis" (March 12th 1915), we learn that the project was substantially over budget, and the county was already running low on cash despite the earlier bond measure. The entire county court had recently been recalled and replaced because of the troubled project, and some residents were calling for Bowlby to be fired, largely from the south side of the county (St. Helens & Scappoose), which had not received a lot of new roadwork at that point in the project. The idea was that the south side already had adequate roads to Portland so the route of the highway would use them rather than building a new road, at least for the time being. Which to me sounds like the right decision, financially, but locals just saw construction being weighted heavily toward Rainier & Clatskanie and were jealous about it. The article includes a couple of grainy photos, one of a large rock wall similar to those on the more famous parts of the highway thru the Gorge, and another of some dignitaries looking at a completed section of road. These photos were in relation to a recent construction incident where some brand-new dry stonework along the road had collapsed. An assistant state highway engineer responsible for day-to-day operations blamed the collapse on contractors' use of cheap non-Italian labor.

He has a theory that the Italian workmen alone know how to build dry walls; that the art was handed down to them from the ancient Romans, whose walls in various parts of Europe remain standing after centuries of use.

The scandal stayed in the headlines over the next few days. In "Misunderstanding of Finances Cause of Columbia Road Crisis" (March 16th 1915), we learn more about how the county got itself into this pickle. It seems that one reason locals were so upset over cost overruns was that during the bond measure campaign, pro-highway advocates had promised, or at least strongly implied, that state government matching funds would pay for a big chunk of the project. It turned out, post-election, that pro-road advocates weren't actually authorized to make any such promise on behalf of the state, and precisely zero dollars arrived from Salem after county voters agreed to kick in their chunk of the tab. The article points out that the entire state highway department budget was only $240k per year at the time and the state simply didn't have that kind of money.

The March 16th article also has two photos; one of Beaver Falls, with a narrow wooden footbridge above it, and another of a modern concrete bridge over the creek. The footbridge above the falls would have been associated with a sawmill that operated above the falls until around 1917, when the local supply of trees worth cutting had been depleted. The original plan at the mill had been to build a splash dam above the falls: You build a temporary dam, let it fill with water and dump all of your logs into it until it's nice and full. Then you break the dam, and let the resulting flash flood wash your logs downstream to somewhere where you can collect them at your leisure. Which I guess could be a practical way to move logs around without building any roads or railroad tracks, assuming you'd done the math right and had stored up enough water to get your logs from point A to point B. The people behind this scheme had not done their math right, and promptly went bankrupt.

In any case, another article "Bowlby Crisis Now Delays Road Work" appeared the next day (March 17th 1915), rehashing the many complaints about Bowlby and his project. The primary ones being that the road was going to cost more than residents felt they'd been promised; that it was also taking longer than promised, in part due to fights with contractors and some ugly eminent domain battles; and that Bowlby was somehow overspending on surveying and design work. Apart from the eminent domain stuff, a lot of that sounds eerily familiar to me even though over a century has passed and I just make software and not highways. A new additional anti-Bowlby complaint was that the route of the highway through St. Helens would bypass the city center and instead run parallel to an existing rail line a mile outside town. Which seems like a fair complaint, honestly; bypassing the county seat and largest town that way does seem like a strange thing to do. However it's also undoubtedly the reason central St. Helens remains cute and historic today. So that actually paid off in the end, though there was no way the people of 1915 could have known that. The article largely stems from an interview with one of the county court members ousted in the earlier recall, so the listed complaints were not exactly coming from an unbiased obbserver.

So this project that was in familiar trouble was faced with the same eternal engineering tradeoff as every other troubled project since the beginning of time. You have three options: You can add resources -- more money, more workers, etc. -- but there was clearly no more money to be had just then; you can stretch out the schedule -- but the previous articles made it clear the public & authorities were already restless over how long it was taking; or you can satisfy the previous two constraints by just doing less -- cutting the scope of the project, or the quality of the finished product. One of the links above -- and I forgot to make a note as to which one -- indicated they'd found a few areas where they could save money and time by just not building a few stretches of the road at first, where there was an existing road they could make do with for now. I'm not sure what this was called in 1915; a more contemporary term is "value engineering", and in the software world you're delivering an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. So they figured out what their MVP looked like: 1.) Given a sufficiently powerful contemporary car, you could start driving from Portland in the morning, and arrive at the beach in time for dinner. and 2.) Some nontrivial part of the road had to be new or improved, so voters could see they'd gotten some return on their investment. And I've been involved in enough of these things to know the implicit 3rd item: The missing parts you didn't have time or money to build or debug are just annoying enough that it shakes loose additional funding to finish the job. But not so annoying that people switch back to the train, or try a different road, or go with a competing software product. With all of that in mind, a big gala grand opening celebration was scheduled for August 1915, just a few months away.

The PR blitz for the new road ramped up weeks ahead of the big day. In a July 18th article, "Julius L. Meier One of the First to Urge Lower Columbia Highway", the paper offered a glowing -- even fawning -- profile going on and on about Meier's foresight in recognizing the need for the road, and his practical ability in organizing the pro-road campaign, and then went on and on about how much prosperity was coming now that the road was (supposedly) almost a reality. This was quickly followed by "Columbia Highway Beauty Described", August 8th, by Meier himself. Among the highlights he mentions are the stone work along the highway at Prescott Point, near Goble; the highway loops ascending Bugby Heights (formerly Bugby Mountain); and the view from the hilltop outside Rainier. Beaver Creek only got a brief mention in connection with the new highway eventually opening up the area to farming, since they ony wanted to talk about the finished parts of the road just then, and the Beaver Creek part was nowhere near being done.

The long-awaited grand opening was chronicled in "Columbia Highway to Sea Christened", August 13th, in which a 40-car convoy of dignitaries made the 135-mile journey from Portland to Astoria, and then down the coast to the ritzy resort town of Gearhart, in less than seven hours, not counting stops for grand opening ceremonies in various towns along the way, or for digging Meier's car (also carrying the governor and one of the state's US Senators) out of sand it had gotten stuck in further toward the coast. The stretch between Rainier and Clatskanie wasn't complete yet -- the article explains there were just a few bridges over Beaver Creek that weren't finished -- and the convoy had to use a steep, rustic forest road for that portion of their expedition.

Cadillac "8" Makes First Trip Over Highway to Sea, August 15th, a lengthy first-person account from a car The Oregonian sent out ahead of the big convoy. Strictly speaking the journalists were guests of the car's owner, and the paper didn't splurge on a new Cadillac for the occasion. The article raves about the car almost as much as the road. The article claimed Little Jack Falls (along a now-abandoned stretch of highway near Prescott, south of Rainier) was the only waterfall along the road, which would have been true at the time, as nearby Jack Falls tends to dry up in the summer. They had gotten lost heading west from Rainier, and then were unsure of the route again at Delena, so they may have been nowhere near Beaver Falls. The article makes it very clear that the road was still very much under constructon along much of its route, and they kept encountering road crews making frantic last-minute fixes ahead of the dignitaries' arrival.

"Reo Makes Astoria Run in Five Hours", September 12th 1915. This was by Chester A. Moores, the paper's auto editor -- who also wrote the recent Cadillac piece -- and covered largely the same trip as the previous articles. By this point a journey like this had already moved off the front page to the paper's automobile section, next to the car ads. Readers were reassured that you didn't to splurge on a Cadillac to get to the beach; the solidly middle-class REO was up to the job and could even take a turn at rescuing other motorists whose less-sturdy vehicles couldn't handle some downhill sections of the road. (A new REO touring car started at $1250 in 1915 dollars, about $32k now, while a new Cadillac "8" Type 51 started at $1975, roughly $51k in 2020 money). The article has a photo of Little Jack Falls (which the highway ran right at the base of) and another of the long climb up Clatsop Crest (formerly Bugby Heights), and describes the Clatskanie area as a miniature Holland. In other 1915 automotive news, remote starting of a car via the miracle of radio waves was being demonstrated for the first time at the Indiana State Fair: Every five minutes, crowds were wowed by a Model 83 Overland being started by a signal from the Overland factory five miles away, sent by a large and very stationary transmitter. So not exactly a practical device yet. Also the state highway department had issued a statement clarifying how the new auto registration laws worked, confirming that yes, in general you would have to pay the full $2 annual registration fee even if you'd owned the car for less than a year, although if you'd owned it for a month or less when the fees came due you only had to pay $1. And a Chigago gentleman named Otto Nordbo was seeking a car manufacturer to sponsor him as he proposed to drive from New York to San Francisco without eating. He claimed this would demonstrate just how safe modern cars were, and insisted that he knew what he was doing, as he had previously completed a 30 day fast, albeit without driving anywhere.

Moores made the trip again in August 1916, this time riding along with the local Kissel Kar dealer in a shiny new Hundred-Point Six. The car's big claim to fame was that it had both a convertible top for the summer (as seen in the article), and a removable hardtop for the rest of the year. Like many of the era's smaller car companies, Kissel fell on hard times in the Depression and stopped making cars in 1930, per an owners' club history. Moores's account pointed out a number of still-unfinished spots along the highway, but found nothing impassable along the way. Following local advice in Rainier, the adventurers took the longer river route west to Clatskanie, bypassing the whole Beaver Creek area.

Which brings us to a November 26th 1916 article, in which we learn that despite the grand opening, and all the assurances about just a few finishing touches remaining, the Delena-to-Clatskanie segment was still only half-completed over 15 months later, with nine (!) more bridges over Beaver Creek yet to be built. Project officials insisted the road would still be finished by mid-January, after scrounging up another $25k to pay for building it. Half of this money was a donation by Simon Benson, the Portland timber baron and philanthopist. The article explained the new road segment would pass perhaps four or five waterfalls and would be a new highlight of the highway when complete. This was followed by "Cut-Off Through Wonderland of Lower Highway is Now Being Completed Rapidly by Crews, who are Being Paid by S. Benson"December 10th. The article focuses on on Benson's recent donation, and the fact that he had once lived in a tiny cabin in the area when he was young, penniless, and just getting started in the logging industry, which is one of those rags-to-riches stories newspapers have always loved. It mentions he was planning to acquire the land around the old Oregon Lumber Company mill at Beaver Falls and donate it as a park. The article includes several photos, including one of the falls, which at the time were clearly visible from the (still-unpaved) road because the surrounding area had been clearcut quite recently. The article also mentions "Twin Falls" two miles upstream, which I think refers to today's Upper Beaver Falls, unless there's another waterfall upstream that everybody's forgotten about, which is also possible.

An August 1917 article, again by Moores, compared the Lower Columbia Highway to a route further south (present-day Highway 6) as ways to get to and from Astoria, by driving both in a shiny new Hudson Super Six. Moores claimed the Lower Columbia route was shorter -- which it might still be if you're headed to Gearhart -- but the route through the coast range was more scenic, which may also still be true when you aren't being tailgated by angry bros in Porsches, or stuck behind a lumbering RV. The article notes in passing that the Beaver Creek segment was still under construction at this point due to various unfinished bridges. A brief note on March 24th 1918 noted that the state had rejected a bid to build one of the planned Beaver Creek bridges for $6483.60 ($111,252.14 in 2020 dollars) and would go ahead and build it themselves instead.

Moores left the the paper in November 1917 to become private secretary to the governor; he had somehow found time to work his way through law school despite his day job driving all over the Northwest, and passed the bar exam in May. He later went into real estate -- his original beat at the Oregonian before the auto craze hit -- and later ran the Portland Housing Authority during WWII as it built the temporary shipyard housing at Vanport.

Meanwhile the vacant auto editor role, and the "Is the road finished yet?" beat, was taken over by L.H. Gregory, who spent a few years doing this early in his long career. Gregory continued the existing theme: Hitch a ride to Astoria and back in one of the year's hottest new cars, courtesy of a local dealership, take some photos, write another piece about current conditions along the road and any quirky stories or misadventures that occurred along the way. In that spirit, Gregory made the journey in May 1918 in a Series Nine Franklin Six -- Franklin being a small maker of quirky air-cooled cars out of Syracuse, NY. He announced that the road was open, even though they were on detour routes almost the entire distance west of Delena; no progress had been made on the long-delayed Beaver Creek bridges over the winter due to high water. I had to reread the article before realizing he meant the road was open for the season after being impassable all winter, not that it was complete. Gregory called the Franklin "a wonderful road car" and overall seems to have had a great time on this trip, marred only by his companions' complete inability to catch any fish anywhere along the way. (Incidentally, after Franklin went bankrupt in the Depression, the factory was taken over and made Carrier air conditioners until 2011, at which point the plant was demolished and the jobs shipped overseas.)

A June 30th 1918 article informs the reader that the journey to Astoria -- the other of Oregon's "two chief cities", as the article puts it -- could also be made in a Willys Six. The article starts boldly, announcing once again that that the road to Astoria was now open, but quickly gets to the qualifiers: It was not actually complete, despite being open, nor was it officially open yet, despite the grand festivities of summer 1915, and as it turns out "complete" did not necessarily mean the road had been paved or even macadamized (i.e. given the modern gravel road treatment.), though these gaps were no more than 7 or 8 miles and should be closed soon. The article advises readers to avoid the Delena-to-Clatskanie segment because the road right at Beaver Falls was still under heavy construction work, and motorists were being detoured around that spot on a steep, harrowing logging road. This detailed description of what not to do tells us that the writer's party did precisely what the reader is told not to attempt. We are also told the car's owner was a bit of a daredevil, and enjoyed driving around with a hole punched into his muffler to make his car sound faster. At a few points along the road, bystanders scattered as the car approached, and yelled and gestured as it rumbled by at 35mph. The Oregonian, as a family newspaper, did not record what these people were yelling.

"To Clatsop Crest, Lower Columbia Highway, in a Buick", April 20th 1919. In which the Gregory tagged along with a rep from the local Buick dealer, who had called in for advice on a nice Sunday drive, one that was obscure and people probably hadn't heard of, because Portland. They only went as far as Clatsop Crest, as the road continuing on to Astoria was known to be impassable when wet, which was a significant problem as Astoria averages ~191 rainy days per year, and ~18 rainy days in April. The Beaver Creek segment must have finally been open, at least, as the article included photos of both Beaver Falls and Little Jack Falls, the latter with the rep's shiny new Buick parked in front. Gregory mistakenly identified Beaver Creek as the Clatskanie River, but seemed to like what he saw, describing Beaver Falls as both a "Yellowstone Falls in miniature" and "a very baby Niagara", and stating that anyone who could drive by without at least stopping for ten minutes should be barred from the highway forever. The only mishap along the way came later near the Clatsop County line, as the car slipped off some wooden planks and sank up to its axles in deep mud, where a submerged plank full of nails ripped up one of the car's tires. A passing motorist noted that county officials had known about the mud pit since at least the previous November but had not done anything about it, speculating that it was "to show what could be done with a mudhole of that kind, or to spite Clatsop County, 100 yards away".

On August 31st, 1919, readers were treated to at least two accounts of driving to Astoria and back; in one article, two guys in a Mercer (a fast, sleek sports car by 1919 standards) set a new record, making it out to Astoria in 3 hours, 50 minutes, beating the old record by ten minutes. They were slowed down somewhat by two flat tires and what sounds like the same construction detour near Beaver Falls that the paper had complained about a year earlier. Seems that at this point the steep, harrowing logging road had a temporary road surface made of haphazardly laid wooden fence rails. In the second article, Gregory made the now-familiar journey once again, this time in a shiny new Chalmers, driven by the local Chalmers rep, along with their spouses and an artist from the paper who drew another route map for the article. In addition to the unpleasant detour, they also had contend with multiple black cats in the road -- which they gingerly shooed out of the way -- and then they inexplicably ran out of gas way out in the middle of nowhere, even though the Chalmers rep swore up and down that he'd filled the tank the night before.

From there we skip past winter again to February 1920, when paving was finally about to begin along the Beaver Creek section of highway. While paving work slogged along, Gregory did the Astoria run in June in another Franklin, and again in July in a Mitchell Scout. I'm not clear on whether that model would have been an infamous "Drunken Mitchell" -- the company wanted a more sleek and modern look, and angled the radiator by a few degrees, which scandalized the motoring public of 1920 for some reason. Having your car nicknamed "drunken" in the year Prohibition went into effect was probably not great from a marketing standpoint; the company backtracked in the next year's model, but the damage was done and they were out of business by 1923. Anyway, the July article mostly talks about the inland route to Astoria, today's OR 202, and laments that readers needed to go see it within the next couple of years as timber companies were already busy clearcutting adjacent forests right up to the road, with no laws on the books to stop them.

In the midst of all of this, a September 11th 1920 article discussed a proposal to buy Beaver Falls and the surrounding old mill site as a park. As I mentioned earlier, it's a county park now, and I've seen mentions of it being a park at least back to the early 1980s, but I still haven't figured out whether it's been a park for the entire time the road's been there.

"Hot Stuff Going Down on the Lower Columbia Highway", September 12th 1920, published exactly 100 years before I wrote this paragraph. In which Gregory hopped in a shiny new Hupmobile, piloted by the local Hupmobile dealer, to investigate whether the road was done yet. We're told that paving work along the route was nearly complete other than 7.5 miles of gaps here and there, and everything should be open by October 10th, weather permitting. It wasn't clear whether these gaps were the same ones mentioned in the June 1918 article. On the bright side, the under-construction bits closer to Astoria were open when road crews weren't working, and modern personal injury law was decades in the future, so drivers were free to take their chances on the freshly-poured asphalt between 9:30pm and 2:30am daily, and all day on Sundays.

You might have guessed where this was going, given the time of year and the "weather permitting" caveat. In "Paving of Lower Columbia Highway Nears Completion" (October 17th 1920), we learn that it was turning out to be the wettest winter in at least 35 years and it had rained almost nonstop for the previous month, and there were still 4.75 miles of highway left to pave, and of course October is just the start of the long rainy season in this part of the world. The article offers several more photos of the road, and another nice hand-drawn map, but not a new completion date.

That was followed by "Columbia Highway Now Open from Hood River to Astoria", November 14th 1920, which announced the road was finally complete for real this time, with almost no remaining gaps. It seems the state Attorney General had belatedly realized the Highway Commission had no authority to build roads within city limits, or to assist anyone else in any way in doing so, and ordered them to stop. Which left one block of gravel in Astoria, another at Hood River city limits, and the whole length of the road through Rainier. We know all this in detail because Gregory covered the whole route in a shiny new Jordan Six, driven by a guy with the local Jordan dealership. (Jordan was a small maker of upscale cars, largely remembered now for its revolutionary and occasionally scandalous auto ads. The firm cratered in the Great Depression, like a lot of the others we've met.) The article includes more photos, yet another cool hand-drawn map, and a "complete" list of key points along the road with their distances from Portland and Astoria. The list mentions Little Jack Falls but not Beaver Falls, which is odd but not unusual. It could be that because Beaver Falls had missed out on the big dignitary parade of 1915, maybe it had registered with everyone that there was exactly one waterfall along the lower highway, and Beaver Falls was not that waterfall, and there wasn't a second PR blitz in 1920 to convince people otherwise. Dunno.

In any case, with the completion of paving the "Astoria Or Bust" beat quickly stopped being newsworthy, and no further examples of this particular genre graced the Oregonian's pages. Meanwhile, Gregory moved over to the sports page, and remained editor and columnist there until his retirement in 1973. The Oregonian revisited the July 1920 excursion (the Mitchell Scout one) decades later on December 31st 1975 as part of their 125th birthday festivities. A 1976 article explained that the paper's original auto section had been discontinued during the Depression, and the paper's "go drive somewhere and tell us what it was like" columns were scaled back to a single weekly feature, which finally ended in 1974 with the Mideast oil crisis. In 1982 someone at the paper remembered or realized Gregory had briefly been their auto editor decades ago, and some of his original glass plate photos from 1919-1921 were exhibited at that year's Portland Auto Show.

The Oregonian did publish a captioned photo of Beaver Falls on May 7th 1922: "Beaver Creek in High Water Lends Beauty to Lower Columbia Highway"

- photo by Scott Attractive falls bordering highway short distance east of Clatskanie Tourists who travel the lower Columbia river in summer miss much of the beauty which winter and spring bring to this route. Beaver Creek, which parallels the pavement for several miles east of Clatskanie takes the steep grade in riffles, cascades and waterfalls, crossing and recrossing the highway. In winter the stream is quickly swollen with rains on the logged-off hills around it, but in summer it dwindles away to a small creek. Beaver falls, once the power site of a sawmill, but now a ruins, is oneof the most picturesque spots between Portland and Astoria. It marks the high limit which salmon trout and steelheads reach and in early fall and winter its lower stretches are favorite haunts of fishermen from the city.
The accompanying photo shows the same dam and bridge above the falls seen earlier when the mill was operating. Neither are there now, so we have the dam removal narrowed down to an, er, 98 year time window, but that's all the info I've got on that particular detail.

Mentions of Beaver Falls became quite rare after that. There's a 1934 article about the Howard triplets' 18th birthday. Seems they had been born at a logging camp near Beaver Falls in 1916, before the road was complete and it was still a fairly remote area. The triplets had 8 older siblings, the youngest just short of a year old, their mother was 40 when they were born, and they all weighed between 2.5 and 3.5 lbs at birth, were born without a doctor attending, and all survived to at least age 18. Which does actually seem kind of newsworthy, given the era. Because this happened in the early 20th century, there was this little tidbit:

Officials of the state fair board called on the Howards and tried to get their consent to exhibit them at the fair when they were only four months old but the mother refused.
One of the three lived to 1986 and still had a surviving sibling at the time.

In 1940, the WPA Federal Writers Project released Oregon, End of the Trail, a tourist guidebook covering the state's modern highways and what there was to see along them. The Rainier-to-Astoria segment still went down Beaver Creek at that point but didn't mention the falls at all. The Portland-to-Rainier segment did mention Little Jack Falls, so it's not clear to me beats why the guide mentions one and not the other.

I don't have a direct link for when Beaver Creek Road was bypassed, but Recreating the HCRH said it happened in 1955, referencing a 2008 book "Road of Difficulties - Building the Lower Columbia River Highway", which is out of print and Amazon doesn't have in stock, unfortunately.

After being bypassed, Beaver Falls largely fell off the radar, or at least it stopped being newsworthy in Portland. I did find one crime story from 1982 where campers near the falls were pursued and terrorized by a gang of drunk teenagers, causing one of the campers to fall off a 40 foot cliff. I couldn't find a followup story indicating whether the perpetrators were ever caught, or if a gang of drunk 50-somethings is out there to this day, lurking in the forest and preying on unwary tourists. Not the sort of story that makes readers want to visit the place, regardless.

And then nothing much in the paper until the article this summer, plus the handful of useful internet results I dredged up while putting this together, and now the post you're currently reading. Now, I'm not going to claim this here is the definitive page about the place, I mean, I've only been there once, for less than half an hour tops, did not interview anyone for this, etc., but I'm fairly sure this is the longest thing anybody's written about it in quite some time, largely because I kept finding interesting tidbits to add, and I don't have a grumpy chain-smoking editor to keep me from wandering off on tangents and yell at me to just finish the damn blog post already. In any case, this one was fun to write, and I hope it was at least mildly interesting to read.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Out of the Brambles

Ok, so today we're at the Lents/Foster MAX station to look at Out of the Brambles, the multicolored sculpture on the west side of the elevated train platform. (Recall that 'today' is a very flexible word here on this humble blog, this time even more than usual. We'll get to that in a bit.) This sculpture was created by Northwest sculptor Wayne Chabre, who longtime Gentle Reader(s) might remember from old posts about Connections at the Multnomah County offices on Hawthorne, and Second Growth at the Albina/Mississippi MAX station. His description of it, from a Wayback Machine copy of an old page about it:

A common theme during interviews of Lents community members was childhood memories of berry picking. Formidable defenses allow these fruiting vines to survive, reproduce and provide sustenance for animals and humans; berry plants also protect the earth under them, the water beside them, and the multitude of small animals and birds within their thickets. A symbol of tenacious nature, berries helped support the coming of civilization, and will remain to engulf and dismantle what we have built after our tenure on Earth. Berry vines are also a metaphor for life’s struggles: getting past the thorns to the fruits. Wild berries transcend the differences between all the cultures that have populated this area. They were revered and heavily utilized by Native populations, and have been loved, hybridized, cultivated and tended by each succeeding generation and ethnic group.

I had linked to the original page in a 2013 post about Lents Hybrids, the other art at the same MAX station. That and a post at a long-defunct neighborhood business blog were the only mentions I could find about it on the interwebs, and because 2013 was roughly a billion internet years ago -- internet years are still a thing, right? -- both links have long since gone stale. The vanished lents dot biz site went away years ago, was not archived anywhere, and the name now belongs to a shady domain squatter page, which is why I'm not linking to it. And since I didn't quote the relevant blog post of theirs at the time, I have no idea what they actually said about the art here. Oh well.

The rest of my notes for this post seemed to naturally fall into a rough timeline. Partly about the art itself, and partly the chain of events leading up to this post happening in late 2020 (which I realize might be completely uninteresting to everyone besides me):

  • The MAX Green Line opened on September 12th 2009. As part of the grand opening, TriMet created public art tour guides for the I-205 and downtown parts of the new line, which I treated as sort of a "gotta catch 'em all" todo list for a while. Note that both of those links are also Wayback Machine copies, again because link rot. At least they left the pages up until sometime in 2016, which I guess is a respectable amount of time.
  • Here are a few old posts from 2006-07 when they were busy building the downtown part of the new line. Not really relevant to anything in this post, but they came up in a search and 2006 is roughly 4 billion internet years ago, so I figured I'd work them in somewhere.
  • I finally got around to riding the semi-new line on July 2nd 2010. I know this because I thought I'd be hip with the latest social media technology and live-tweet my semi-thrilling adventures riding the train out to a suburban mall and back during a heavy rainstorm. While taking photos with a new Blackberry -- my first phone with a camera -- and posting them to a long-defunct add-on service called "Twitpic", which is why the photo links in that thread don't work anymore.
  • The page I quoted about Out of the Brambles gives a date of 2012, so it went in after the MAX line opened (and after my little 2010 snarkfest). I guess this would explain why it wasn't listed in the 2009 TriMet art guide. The other 2010 photos look dark and miserable enough that I suspect I would have skipped Out of the Brambles that day anyway, had it been there, since you can't see it without getting off the train.
  • On the other hand, the entire "Lents Town Center" area has been completely transformed in the years after I took those original photos. The Portland Development Commission -- the autonomous agency tasked with doing the thing they know not to call "urban renewal" anymore -- had dreamed of gentrifying this area for decades and finally got their wish, and the mishmash of parking lots and low-rise commercial buildings has been transformed into a few square blocks of apartment buildings -- unfortunately of uniform height and fairly nondescript style. So it might have been interesting to have a few 'before' photos for comparison, but it was raining that day and I didn't realize what was coming, so I don't. Oh well.
  • As for why it showed up after the line opened, my personal theory is that it wasn't part of the original plan, but when people got a look at the hulking grey concrete structure for the MAX platform, it was a lot uglier in person than in the early-2000s CGI that had sold people on the plan, and something had to be done. And Out of the Brambles does a great job in that respect, as the concrete train platform becomes just a neutral backdrop instead of the focus of attention.
  • A bit later I realized I could get a few public art posts out of those poor-quality Blackberry photos, and since it's the internet (and nobody's paying me to do this) I could just make some self-deprecating remarks about the photos instead of going back again to take better ones. So I spent a bit of time in December 2013 writing them up and tagged them all with "greenline" in case anybody wants to binge (briefly) on bad photos of circa-2009 public art. The Lents Hybrids post I mentioned earlier was part of this batch, and in putting it together I found that one long-gone blog post mentioning Out of the Brambles, and it went on one of my todo lists. Not as a super high priority, but as something to track down at whatever point I was in the area again and remembered to look at the right todo list.
  • Just for comparison, the Second Growth post happened around this time too. That post went from taking photos to hitting "Publish" in 5 days, which goes to show that I can sometimes get things done in a reasonable amount of time, so long as I remember not to forget, and prioritize (or misprioritize) getting them done ahead of various other professional and personal goals.
  • While putting this current post together, I realized Chabre made a couple of other things at the same MAX station, with their own separate names and everything, so two more todo items just went onto another list. Obviously there's no ETA on if or when those might show up here, but they definitely won't appear before this dumb pandemic is over.
  • I did check the library's database of Oregonian back issues, and found a few articles mentioning Second Growth (like this review) from around then when the MAX Yellow Line opened, or an entertaining interview from 2002. I don't see anything similar for Out of the Brambles, I think largely because the Oregonian no longer has the staff, or the spare column inches, or the inclination to publish stories about art these days.
  • Earlier in 2014, the Twitpic service either went out of business or was about to, so I had to go back and replace all my embedded Twitpics with Flickr copies of the same photos. I'd apparently had the foresight to make backups of my crappy Blackberry photos, or maybe I'd been warned this was coming, I don't recall now. Anyway, I re-uploaded them to Flickr this time and updated the affected posts, in yet another episode in the long twilight struggle against bit rot. The end of Twitpic was inevitable after Twitter introduced their own builtin photo sharing feature, but I was kind of sad to see them go, since embedding those photos in blog posts involved a completely unapproved kludge I'd hacked together somehow. I have no idea how it worked anymore, but I was just a little proud of it at the time.
  • Next we skip forward to July 2016, when I finally had a reason to be out in that corner of town anyway, namely to visit the new-ish Zoiglhaus brewpub just steps away from the MAX station. So if you don't care for this set of photos, I'm going to blame it on me starting to drift off into a pilsner-assisted schnitzel coma for the afternoon.
  • And then the hard work of writing a blog post began, by which I mean those photos sat around in Flickr for about a year, until I created a draft post for them in June 2017, saved it, and didn't touch it again until a few days ago. By which I mean mid-October 2020, in case other stuff comes up and I forget about this post again for another few years or whatever.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Bliss Dance

You may have heard me grumble about my Drafts folder before here. Truth be told, a lot of these drafts are just a photoset and maybe a link or two, serving as more of a todo list reminder than an actual draft. Which is fine in theory, but the drafts I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about are the ones I tend to forget all about.

A weird side effect of this situation is that untouched drafts from a few years ago start to feel like they're from a different lifetime, or another parallel timeline, like the one here. We used to go to Las Vegas every now and then as a quick break from Portland: Stay in a swanky hotel for a few nights, see a show or two, maybe order room service, maybe feed a few dollars into a slot machine, and generally wander around staring at the sheer weirdness of the place, which was usually good for a fresh post or two here. Haven't been there since September 2016, though, which is when these photos were taken. Mostly the place just wasn't as interesting anymore, and it kind of felt like the point of diminishing returns had been reached for a while. It also didn't help that there'd been a spate of high-profile random shootings along the Strip -- this was before the big Mandalay Bay mass shooting in October 2017 -- plus it was becoming clear that roughly 100% of the local casino owners (i.e. the ones that weren't vast Wall Street conglomerates) were longtime Trump cronies and generous supporters of his campaign. If they were just mobsters it would be fine; bit of local color and all that. But if someone like Trump isn't an instant pariah in your industry, it makes me not want to give you another penny, at least not while he's anywhere near the levers of power.

So anyway, pivoting awkwardly from that to the actual subject of the post, here are a few photos of Bliss Dance, a ginormous sculpture by artist Marco Cochrane, which has a cool light show at night that I unfortunately have no photos of. It's currently located at the new-as-of-2016 "The Park" entertainment district, between the Park MGM (the former Monte Carlo) and the New York New York casinos. Before it was here, it spent a few years at Treasure Island -- not the casino, but the island in San Francisco Bay -- but it started to rust in the sea air and was removed in 2015. And prior to that it appeared at Burning Man 2010. Burning Man to Vegas is an unusual journey, but there are only so many places you can put a 40' statue that comes with a lightshow. New York or Miami might work, except for the sea air problem. Too big and flashy for the Northwest, too risqué for Texas, too everything for the Midwest, but it seems right at home in Vegas. For now, at least; at some point in the future the vast megacorp that owns the whole area is bound to want to "reimagine the space" based on whatever current trends happen to be, and I suppose the statue will need another new home at that point. Maybe by then the Smithsonian will be interested -- maybe they'll be tasked with adding a "What The Early 21st Century Was Really Like" wing to the American History Museum, and they realize Bliss Dance would be a perfect centerpiece for the new grand rotunda, similar to the taxidermied elephant in the Natural History Museum next door, or the battling dinosaur skeletons at the AMNH in New York. Who knows.

Kalakaua Ave. Bridge

So here's a photoset of Honolulu's Kalakaua Avenue Bridge, a 1929 Art Deco structure over the Ala Wai Canal at the ewa end of Waikiki. Hawaii is famous for a lot of things, but an abundance of interesting bridges to look at is not really one of them. On O'ahu there's the one here, and the Rainbow Bridge up in Haleiwa on the north shore, and... that's about it. BridgeHunter has a whole page of links for the island, but most of the others are either small and utilitarian, or aren't bridges at all; there are a few tunnels listed (like this one for example), which is not unusual for the site, but they also list the Koko Crater Trail, an abandoned railway that -- as cool and fun as it is -- is in no way a bridge or a tunnel.

In 2014 the state conducted a fairly exhaustive study of potentially-historic bridges around the state, because -- as the introduction chapter explains -- federal transportation money is tied to having done an evaluation like this, and a previous attempt in 2008 was incomplete and had not been done correctly, and an earlier effort in 1983-1990 was now outdated and its results had been inconsistent between islands. And this was at a time when the state was trying to lock down a few extra billion dollars from the feds for Honolulu's upcoming light rail system, so there was a lot riding on getting the job done properly this time. So the O'ahu chapter of the study comes to 451 pages (although this number again includes a few tunnels along with the bridges; no Koko Crater Trail though). The Kalakaua Avenue Bridge part starts on page 338 and explains that this overly-swanky bridge helped persuade people that Waikiki -- which had been a swamp a few short years earlier -- was now highly desirable real estate. We're told that the bridge originally had globe-shaped street lights at either end, but these had been removed at some unknown date, and despite this alteration the bridge had been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985.

The study mentions elsewhere that there's another NRHP bridge over on the windward side of the island: The He'eia Viaduct (near He'eia State Park) dates to 1921, is 892 feet long, and (according to a 1986 history paper) was the longest bridge in the state for decades afterward. And I've been over it any number of times on a bus without noticing it. Was I really staring at my phone every single time passing through here? Or am I really that unobservant? Or both? In any case, it's on one of my many todo lists now, so I may pay it a visit at some point if the global pandemic ever goes away.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Whaling Wall, Waikiki

Here are a few photos of Earth Day Hawaii, a 16-story whale mural on the side of a condo tower in Waikiki. This was painted for Earth Day 1995 by artist Robert Wyland, part of his Whaling Walls series of 100 murals painted between 1981 and 2008, including several others on O'ahu and elsewhere around the state. That weirdly comprehensive Wikipedia page notes that this one is #67 of 100, and classifies the murals that no longer exist as "EXTINCT" in all caps, including the short-lived one in Portland (1993-97), which was demolished along with the whole city block it was on to make way for today's Fox Tower. The one in Portland, Maine was at risk from redevelopment around 2014 but has survived so far, while one painted in Mexico City as part of the deal to free Keiko -- the famous orca from Free Willy -- apparently has not. The Waikiki one is only at risk from the hot tropical sun, and the mural was repainted in 2018 so it should be around for a few more decades at least.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

unflashed

So one of the less fun things about having a blog -- or really any sort of website -- for almost 15 years is having to deal with bit rot periodically, which I just did again over the weekend. You might have seen that Adobe Flash will be officially dead, really most sincerely dead, on December 31st, unsupported by both Adobe and all major browsers. I absolutly approve of this given that Flash was a truly endless source of CVEs over the years; the problem was that there was stil a bunch of old Flash here for me to deal with. Back in the early years of this humble blog, if you needed to embed anything beyond a simple <img>, Flash was almost unavoidable. HTML5 didn't exist, Javascript wasn't up to the job yet, and building it with a Java applet or ActiveX control would have been even worse.

I've always tended to take more photos than will fit comfortably in a blog post, so it was a huge step forward when Flickr added an embeddable slideshow widget; I could just paste that in at the top of a post, embed a map below it, and voila, a long-running formula was born. And of course this new widget was Flash-based. They later replaced that widget with an iframe-based one in 2014, after Flash became nonessential and unpopular, and a couple of years after that they switched to a JS solution for better mobile support. Over time, Chrome and other browsers started turning Flash off by default, in anticipation of killing it off entirely someday, but I never quite got around to going back and un-Flash-ifying all my old Flickr slideshows. I had updated a few when I bumped into them, but were still about 200 of them left on posts in the 2006-2014 timeframe, and it just seemed like a huge hassle and I never got around to it. But like I said, Flash goes away entirely at the end of the year, and I gave myself a TODO item a few months ago to go rescue my poor decaying vintage content before then. I finally made some time over a much-needed staycation that wrapped up last weekend, so I think this long-running corner of the interwebs is now 100% Flash-free.

I figured I needed a way to at least semi-automate this update process so it wouldn't be quite as tedious, and I remembered a little tool I put together some years ago to help generate an embeddable Google map with placemarks for geotagged blog posts. The Map page for this humble log explains in more detail how that process works, which is still sadly not automatic after all these years. Speaking of which, I should probably update that map again while I'm thinking of it. Anyway, since I already had a tool that spoke Blogger's GeoRSS dialect, I figured I'd just adapt it to my new problem. The fastest & most automated way would have been to emit an updated GeoRSS file that I could just re-import over top of the existing blog. I couldn't quite persuade myself to trust that, though, so instead I just had it create a CSV file listing the posts with offending slideshows, along with some generated html for a non-flash replacement slideshow. So at least I only had to open each offending post, paste the new html onto the old slideshow, save, wash, rinse, repeat.

While I was doing that over the course of a few hours, it occurred to me that a lot of those old posts were kind of fun to go back and read, so I added an "unflashed" tag to all those posts I updated, as an easy way to go back and look at a bunch of them at a time. I dunno, I kind of like reminders from thatt distant pre-pandemic era when you could just go outside whenever you wanted, unmasked, and the president was not a malignant orange lunatic who still might kill us all sometime between now and Inauguration Day next year. I also figured this update was worth a blog post, partly due to the trouble I'd gone to, but mostly just to pat myself on the back for finally fixing something I'd been procrastinating over for years. Anyway, have fun & enjoy the old posts if you're interested, or morbidly curious, or whatever.