View of harbor wall construction in 1928, from the west end of Hawthorne Bridge
Before the construction of the harbor wall along the west side of Portland’s waterfront, the river’s edge was mix of wharves and industrial buildings that once bustled with activity. By the 1920s, however, the waterfront had become less of a thriving area of commerce, and more of a run-down eyesore. The harbor wall would add much-needed space to the already crowded downtown area, and more importantly, protect Portland from the inevitable flooding that the Willamette River brings on a regular basis. In addition, the wall included a sewage interceptor, solving the ongoing problem of sewage backups in a large area of downtown. City engineer Olaf Laurgaard designed the structure, which was completed by the J.F. Shea Company in 1929.
The Blue Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over Reed Lake
A lot of Portlanders think of Reed College as a closed campus, or at least a campus they’d rather avoid. That is unfortunate, because hidden on the campus is a Portland treasure, Reed Canyon. An excellent example of an urban wildlife area, the canyon is formed by Crystal Springs Creek on the east end of the campus, then flows into Reed Lake and then out the west side of campus and into Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. Recent restoration projects have resulted in even more wildlife, less invasive species and a more natural setting throughout the canyon, although there is still some work to be done in this regard.
The Thompson Elk Fountain in 1901
(City of Portland archives)
For our first “Then and Now” post, we have a true Portland icon: The Thompson Elk Fountain. The fountain was presented to the city in 1900 by former mayor David P. Thompson, and features a bronze statue of an elk towering over stone drinking basins meant for horses and dogs. While the statue may be somewhat unremarkable, its location directly in the middle of the street makes it memorable for anyone who has driven SW Main (between SW 3rd and SW 4th). Attempts to move the fountain have, obviously, been unsuccessful and that is unlikely to change now, as the statue and the surrounding Chapman and Lownsdale Squares are all on the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, after the change over to one-way streets downtown, traffic on SW Main only sees the back of the statue.
In a sleepy corner of Sellwood, nestled against the city limits and the Waverly Golf Club, is a disappearing part of Portland’s extensive history of rail transportation. The non-descript entrance to the hidden Garthwick neighborhood and the extant buildings don’t give a lot of clues to the bustling activity you would have seen here one hundred years ago. While many people know Portland once had an extensive streetcar system, they often don’t know that Portland also had the nation’s first interurban railway, what we today would call “light rail”. These trains connected urban town centers (hence “interurban”) such as Oregon City, Milwaukee, Troutdale and Gresham to Portland and each other. This differed from the streetcar system, which connected close-in neighborhoods such as Buckman, Kerns, Montvilla, Woodstock, King’s Heights, Council Crest, etc. to the city center.
Pathways in the Berry Botanic Garden just starting to be reclaimed by nature
The Berry Botanic Garden began life as the property of Rae and Alfred Berry, with Rae, an avid plant collector, being the driving force behind the creation of the garden. They chose the property due to its diverse habitats (including a creek, ravine, meadow and even marsh), which gave Rae the chance to plant a wide diversity of plant life. Unfortunately, she did not plan for its survival after her death in 1976, but a non-profit group stepped in and saved the property from developers until 2010, when the garden closed to the public. Like the Elk Rock Garden of the Bishop’s Close, which we profiled earlier this month
, the Berry Botanic Garden is at the end of a dead-end road in the super spendy Dunthorpe neighborhood, but is even more hidden and difficult to access than Elk Rock. Wealthy neighbors weren’t thrilled about any attempts to increase the number of visitors (like decent signage and a bigger parking lot) to their quiet neighborhood, so the garden ultimately couldn’t make ends meet. The property was sold in 2011.
Open grassy area in Elk Rock Garden
In addition to having one of the coolest names of any garden anywhere, the Elk Rock Garden of the Bishop’s Close is also one of the quietest, least-visited gardens in the city. Located at the dead-end of Military Road in the intensely upscale Dunthorpe neighborhood, very few people happen upon the garden by chance, and they don’t really go out of their way to advertise, either. We found the garden (and a lot of other stuff on this blog) thanks to Laura Foster’s book Portland Hill Walks
. It is well worth a visit, and while you might feel a little intrusive, the garden is indeed open to the public.
The view from Council Crest is amazing, but it isn’t the highest point in Portland.
A question often asked by visitors and newcomers to the city is “where is the highest point in Portland?”. It isn’t obvious where the highest point is, even if you’ve lived here for years. While Mt. Tabor and Rocky Butte are among the most prominent, they both fall well under the height of the West Hills. In many cities, a good guess is “whichever hill has all the radio towers on it”, and in Portland’s case, that is Healy Heights, at 1043 feet. While it appears to be the tallest of the West Hills due to its location on the eastern edge of the range (and the radio towers don’t hurt), it is not the highest point.
Historic postcard of downtown Lents, before annexation by Portland (image via Vintage Portland
The rise of the automobile as the most common form of transportation after World War II made building highways a top post-war priority. As cities were connected by larger highways with higher capacities, and the suburbs blossomed on the edges of urban areas, the need for high-capacity corridors through major cities became more acute. Before 1950, most highways were routed on city streets in urban areas, streets that often were designed for a fraction of the traffic.
Posted in Articles, History, Lists, Politics
Tagged Albina, bridges, Brooklyn, Corbett, freeways, Gibbs Street Bridge, Lair Hill, Lents, preservation
Early 20th-century architects tried hiding multi-unit apartment buildings by making them look like very large houses.
For many, growing up in 20th-century America meant that the “American Dream” centered around home ownership. The ultimate goal of any true red-blooded American born prior to about 1970 is a big house with a manicured front lawn. This idea has driven American consumer culture for over 100 years. Indeed, as the 19th century came to a close, apartment buildings as we know them really didn’t exist. There were tenement buildings, meant for the poverty-stricken lower class, but anyone with a modicum of wealth owned a home. This began to change in the early 20th century, as more young single men and women entered the workforce and lived on their own before getting married.
Residents of Portlandia have an unending debate about the worst streets, onramps and intersections in the city. One of the challenges of living in a town that values history is that the quirky nature of early road building efforts don’t get bulldozed into 6-lane arterials and 10-lane intersections. Add that to a wealth of interesting topography and you are bound to have some neighborhoods where driving is a major challenge. I’ve never been more afraid driving in a major urban area than when I got lost heading to Council Crest Park and ended up on some harrowingly narrow and steep streets that cling to the side of the West Hills only because gravity hasn’t quite got around to them yet.
Posted in Articles, Life