Ten of Portland’s Top Architectural Landmarks

Portland Building, SW corner

SW Corner of the Portland Building

Portland lands on a lot of internet top ten lists these days, but one list it might not make is one of top architectural cities. The Rose City hasn’t been graced by a plethora of major architectural works from the likes of a Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry or I.M. Pei. Portland is a city that likes to let its nature due to the talking, and I think most of us are OK with that. Still, the city isn’t bereft of interesting buildings created by talented, if not world-famous, architects. This list isn’t a top ten nor is it presented in any particular order. It is simply a list of some of Portland’s best-known and most interesting architectural treasures.
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Portlandia in Pictures: The Broadway Bridge

View of the Broadway Bridge from the west side. over the roof tops of Union Station

View of the Broadway Bridge from the west side. over the roof tops of Union Station

We continue our picture gallery tour of Portland with another of its iconic bridges, the Broadway Bridge. Located slightly north of the central core, the Broadway Bridge is not quite as well-known to tourists as the Hawthorne and Steel Bridges, but like those bridges, it has some unique characteristics that do make it well-known to engineers around the world. In fact, it was given the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement award on its 100th anniversary in September of 2012 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places two months later.

The Broadway Bridge was the longest bascule bridge in the world at the time it was built, and is now the longest Rall-type bascule bridge still in existence. The bridge has gone through many changes and repairs over the years. One interesting development is that streetcar tracks were built into the original bridge deck, removed in 1940 and then restored in 2010 to connect the north end of the Portland Streetcar loop, adding it to the list of bridges in Portland that carry rail, vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. Continue reading

Portlandia in Pictures: The Steel Bridge

Steel Bridge from the Eastbank Esplanade

Steel Bridge from the Eastbank Esplanade

We’ve already taken one look at the Steel Bridge, so this time I wanted to get a little more up-close and personal with Portland’s second oldest bridge across the Willamette River. The walk across the bottom deck, directly connecting the Eastbank Esplanade with Waterfront Park, is actually a relatively new feature of the bridge. Added in 2001, the walkway is cantilevered off the south side of the bridge, and is a testament to how well-engineered the 100 year-old bridge really is. As I said before, this bridge is the ultimate in multi-modal transportation infrastructure, carrying cars, trucks, light rail, freight and passenger trains, and pedestrians. One word of warning: if you find yourself sharing the lower deck with a freight or Amtrak train, beware of incredibly loud horn blasts that reverberate through the bridge (and your skull).
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Scenes from the 2013 Grand Floral Parade

A marching band from one of our Asian sister cities passes the White Stag building and sign.

A marching band from one of our Asian sister cities passes the White Stag building and sign.

One of the great advantages to living within walking distance of downtown is accidentally wandering into a major event while on a leisurely stroll. While other people had to endure serious traffic and parking hassles, its nice to enjoy an event like the Grand Floral Parade without any stress in getting there because you didn’t even know it was going on in the first place. So, what was to be a nice walk into downtown and Saturday Market became a chance encounter with a Portland tradition.

The problem with chance encounters, of course, is that you aren’t prepared for them, so I only had my iPhone handy for picture taking. The day was absolutely perfect, one of the best parade days in recent memory, from what I can recall. If you missed it, here’s a few snapshots of the parade’s journey over the historic Burnside Bridge and into downtown Portland.
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Portland Then and Now: Downtown Waterfront

Downtown Waterfront - 1928

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.
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A Walk in Reed Canyon

The Blue Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over Reed Lake

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.
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Portland Then and Now: The Thompson Elk Fountain

The Thompson Elk Fountain in 1901

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.
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Disappearing History: Sellwood’s Golf Junction

Golf Junction in the early 20th century (via pdxhistory.com)

Golf Junction in the early 20th century (via pdxhistory.com)

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.
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Portlandia in Pictures: The Former Berry Botanic Garden

Pathways in the Berry Botanic Garden just starting to be reclaimed by nature

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.
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Portlandia in Pictures: Elk Rock Garden of the Bishop’s Close

Open grassy area in Elk Rock Garden

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.
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