The Day We Went to 4 Parks, a travelogue of South Portland

PART I: COUNCIL CREST PARK, SW PORTLAND

Sitting at the top of Council Crest inspires a certain kind of curiosity. What came before it in this place? How many stars did people see on summer nights? What sorts of things did they talk about when they came here? What sort of view did they have? Well, certainly an intact Mount St. Helens! For one, I do know that Council Crest used to be the site of the Council Crest Amusement Park which operated from 1907-1929, but what was this attraction really like? Who went? What was there to do there? Endless questions abound.

—Katie Boehnlein, in the midst

“Let’s see how high up we can get in Portland, in as many ways possible.”

—Melissa Hart, the Eugene Register Guard, “Rose City high: Looking up to Eugene’s Big Sister,” about seeking vistas in Portland. (When I first read this sentence my mind did not perceive the word “up” and I, naturally, laughed)

Of the five of us in the car three had been to Council Crest, and we decided that that was enough to bring us back. It was my birthday and we had just had breakfast in the pit of the Roadrunner Cafe, an excellent eventuality that came of an impossible wait at a hip swedish place further from my house. A Kafka quote did come of our first stop:

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It was instructive and we went back closer to home and had a delicious breakfast, improvising a plan for how the unmasked world would unroll itself at our feet.

First some historic names for Council Crest:

The Top of the Town

Dreamland of the Northwest

Portland’s Roof Garden

And some historic pictures (thanks, internet!):

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And the amazing fact realized in research days after the visit: Council Crest was an amusement park! But I digress, for this fact was not even considered a possibility the day of the visit.

Of the five of us in the car three had cell phones with internet access, but, it was resolved as we crossed the Ross Island Bridge and began to ascend, we would find the highest point in Portland by simply going upward by the most logical means until we no longer could. We used our knowledge of the West Hills and started our ascent from Hillsdale, going up and avoiding DEAD ENDs, knowing that the way was simply a series of spiraled streets and that knowing which was which would weaken the mystery taking down adventure and magic in the process. Streets that curved down were abandoned. U-turns were taken. With no deadline, however, such distractions were not an impediment but a part of the destination.

We found Council Crest Drive and decided we would go right, for it felt right. We passed a playground and a group of children, half on one side of the street, the other half on the other, feeding a chicken. It was then decided that we chose wrong, for we were going down and a huge radio tower retreated behind us. One child remained with the chicken, the rest of the party stood on the other side of the street. We decided we would take Council Crest Drive to its end and that would take us to our destination, and so we did and found the transformation of Council Crest Drive into gravel along with a no trespassing sign at the base of the aforementioned radio tower. Naturally we turned around and agreed to amend our process slightly by asking the children for directions. They were all with the chicken this time and the leader responded, “just keep going on Council Crest Drive until it ends and then go up.” We thanked the children and continued on Council Crest Drive and accidentally went down because I thought I recognized where we were from my one twilit visit to the site a half dozen years previous and thusly I went right so as to take the loop clockwise as a decent, god-fearing citizen would. However, we were feet from arriving and I took us instead on historic SW Fairmount Boulevard which makes a larger loop a few hundred feet below Council Crest, beautiful though anticlimactic, so to speak. When the loop finished we re-found Council Crest Drive, kept going down it and then went up, as was initially advised.

We were a party of three the first time I went to Council Crest and a mix CD was made specifically for the voyage from Southeast Portland and I listened to “Dancing Queen” by ABBA for the first time out of context and I was genuinely moved and ecstatic to hear it as we drove up Marquam Hill in that utopian 2007 evening that resides in the upper echelons of my consciousness.

The park seemed so much more massive in the dusk of my memory, or perhaps just at dusk, or when I was 21 going on 22, or when one sees it for the first time, or when one smokes pot and blares ABBA full blast en route, or when high school shout and cavort in all directions as the sun goes down, or…

It has no bathroom, which was an initial concern, which faded into how incredible of a day was that of my birth. We ate the fruit of my father’s apple tree, arrived via post the day before to bring me a bit of home, in the massive compass rose situated at the very top, which affords those at the center an inexplicable echo chamber in which the voices of all those in the circle reverberate as though recorded and produced by Phil Specter, and I recorded myself reading the story of Council Crest at the periphery of the circle as my co-adventurers performed improvised choreography at the top of the town.

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In 1898 a party of thirty church ministers, seeking the larger view, boarded six horse-drawn carriages in town and headed uphill at 4:30 pm. Two hours later they arrived here. Convinced that native people had held council at this lofty site, the ministers named it Council Crest. Today, a two-hour drive leads to the limits of this view and beyond—to untold forest, snow-capped peaks, or the rugged Oregon Coast. And still, seeking the larger view, we gather here to gaze upon Portland, a city great but merely human in the grandeur of its natural setting.

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PART II: WASHINGTON PARK INTERNATIONAL ROSE TEST GARDEN, SW PORTLAND

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This essay should be written as a scene improvised by three on the rose garden’s concrete amphitheater stage, its 20-foot evergreen hedges as its boundaries, however penetrated by tag-playing children, for it is a blessedly sunny summer day, and a weekend at that—though really just Friday—and it was my birthday and therefore a certain looseness, a spirit of experimentation, was thus justified, to be required, one might argue (what is expected anyhow of structured, predetermined renderings of the experience of visiting the Washington Park International Rose Test Garden other than overthinking and blemishing the ecstatic bee-becoming of the garden’s visitor who should let eyes and nose mercilessly drag the remaining senses willy-nilly over the grass from blossom to blossom?) that all’s to do, especially after visiting so recently and dedicating an hour of appreciation and pollination upon such a visit, is to tumble down those stairs along with the summer-snowball revolution of feeling that life is
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a) an adventure
b) a peaceful conquest / violent letting go
c) an improvised piece of never-ending theater
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that the play must be performed before we remember about the weather and the cold and the lack of readily available fruit, or perhaps it is the tiger’s blood (strawberry / coconut) / peach snow cone purchased and consumed after the conclusion / applause / rejoinder with “non-illusory reality” from the snack truck only open until early October which represents the way that freedom, love of life, satisfaction-in-the-journey-as-opposed-to-the-end incite an improvised action, an attempt to both be in a moment and catalogue it, but this is weeks later, I am alone, out of the moment, only in it as I describe it, an outdoor one act in which, first, I woke up in Pittsburg and, finally, the three of us decided, hand-in-hand, that we would descend onto the grass and meet our fates, to the scattered applause of park visitors pausing a moment on the amphitheater steps to stop and not smell the roses.
Some
“Historical Information”
taken from the internet version of Portland, whose quality reminds one of the WPA guides written in the ’30s, anonymous artistry, dedicated to the love of place, in general, and, specifically—as in America—and America in general.
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Portland has long had a love affair with roses. In 1888, Georgiana Burton Pittock, wife of publisher Henry Pittock, invited her
friends and neighbors to exhibit their roses in a tent set up in her garden; thus the Portland Rose Society was established. Madame Caroline Testout was a late 19th century French dressmaker from Grenoble, the proprietor of fashionable salons in London and Paris. She regularly purchased silks from Lyon, which was an important center for rose breeding. The nurseryman Joseph Pernet-Ducher was called ‘The Wizard of Lyon’ due to his success in developing hybrid tea roses. Madame Testout was an astute businesswoman and understood the value of good publicity. She asked Perner-Ducher to name one of his new roses after her. He agreed, but considered her choice of seedling to be mediocre. The ‘Madame Caroline Testout’ rose made its debut at the salon’s 1890 spring fashion show. It was not strong on scent, but became an immediate success with Madame Testout’s well to do customers as well as the gardening public for its abundant silky, rose-pink flowers. The new variety’s popularity spread to America, and in Portland, nearly half a million bushes of ‘Caroline Testout’ were planted along the sidewalks. By 1905 Portland had 200 miles of rose-bordered streets which helped attract visitors to the Lewis and Clark Centennial celebration. Portland came to be known as the ‘City of Roses’. In 1915 Jesse A. Currey, rose hobbyist and Sunday editor of theOregon Journal, convinced city officials to institute a rose test garden to serve as a safe haven during World War I for hybrid roses grown in Europe. Rose lovers feared that these unique plants would be destroyed in the bombings. The Park Bureau approved the idea in 1917 and by early 1918, hybridists from England began to send roses. In 1921 Florence Holmes Gerke, the landscape architect for the city of Portland, was charged with designing the International Rose Test Garden and the amphitheatre. The garden was dedicated in June 1924. Currey was appointed as the garden’s first rose curator and served in that capacity until his death in 1927. Part of the original design, the Royal Rosarian Garden is home to the namesake roses of all past Prime Ministers of the Royal Rosarians, a civic group which serves as the official greeters and goodwill ambassadors for the City of Portland. Founded in 1912, the Order of Royal Rosarians modeled their mythical ‘Realm of Rosaria’ after the government of England’s King Henry VII, whose rise to the throne in 1485 ended the War of the Roses. Members are ‘knighted’ into the organization under their chosen variety of rose, which is then their ‘namesake’ rose. The garden also features a stone bench honoring Jesse Currey. In 1945, the Shakespeare Garden, located at Crystal Springs Lake in southeast Portland, was moved to Washington Park to allow for expansion of Eastmoreland Golf Course. Designed by Glenn Stanton and Florence Gerke, it was originally intended to include only herbs, trees, and flowers mentioned in William Shakespeare’s plays. The garden continues to honor the Bard with roses named after characters in his plays. The focal point of the garden is the Shakespeare Memorial, a brick wall with a plaque featuring Shakespeare’s image and his quote, “Of all flowers methinks a rose is best.” Donated by the LaBarre Shakespeare Club, it was dedicated on April 23, 1946 – the 382nd anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. In 1957 the club added a sundial to the garden. In 1967, rose curator Rudolph Kalmbach wanted to establish a formal garden featuring Gold Award roses. (In 1919 the City of Portland issued its first annual Gold Award for the best new rose variety.) With the support of the Portland Rose Society, Wallace Kay Huntington was selected to design the garden which was dedicated in June 1970. In 1991, the Portland Rose Society donated the pavilion which overlooks these award-winning roses. Established in 1975, the Miniature Rose Garden is one of only six testing grounds for the American Rose Society (ARS) miniature rose test program. The national annual winners from both ARS and AARS associations are displayed in the middle of the garden along the center aisle. 

Set in a sunken section on the upper level of the garden, the Frank Beach Memorial Fountain was dedicated in June 1975. The stainless steel sculpture, titled Water Sculpture, was designed and built by Oregon artist Lee Kelly. The fountain was a gift from the Beach family to honor their father, Frank Edwin Beach (1853-1934), the man who is said to have christened Portland the ‘City of Roses’ and who first proposed the annual Rose Festival. 

PART III: LAURELWOOD PARK, SE PORTLAND

We paused between Holgate and Foster on our way to the fancy beer store.

Laurelwood Park is not half an acre and, though possessing picnic

tables, is described as claiming unpaved paths as its sole

amenity.  A piece of writing about the park

should be a concrete poem

in its shape.

Paths – Unpaved

PART IV: CLINTON PARK, SE PORTLAND

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I am working on the thesis that the best park in Portland is the one closest to your house—or closest to you at any given point (I am at my house so I am not in a position to discuss the difference)—which works for me because Clinton Park is a short walk around a couple corners, well-kept tennis courts, expansive grass waiting just off the bike route, catered by an adjacent 1950s-era Dairy Queen.

Here is the Historical Information provided by Portland Parks and Recreation:

Clinton Park is named after Clinton Street which abuts the park. Clinton Street is named for a popular pioneer minister, the Rev. Clinton Kelly. Kelly’s brother, the Rev. Albert Kelly, has a park in southwest Portland as his namesake (Albert Kelly Park).
This was the last park visited on my birthday, when I decided my ideal dinner would be a pizza picnic in the park at sunset. We barely made sunset, but we did:
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The grass was lovely, the play equipment ample, and the bathrooms remained open, with the lights on, for the remainder of our stay. At other visits the park is in the hands of either high schoolers from adjacent Franklin High, dog park people in the late afternoon, children/parents when the time is right. But this dusk at the end of August it was ours, as was my present from the amiable co-editor of the Van Duzer Corridor:
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flattering this author to learn he had invented the picnic:
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Ian told us about the stars and I was informed of a vague birthday surprise that began “first we hit him on the head really hard,” had me wake up on an eastbound train as the second act, ultimately ending up in Pittsburgh where I would find a series of clues that would bring me back to Portland one year later to celebrate my birthday. The performance in Washington Park’s title, Andrew Wakes up in Pittsburgh, made more sense all of sudden, to me at least.
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As we collected our things—now dark, the process precise—I received a phone call from a friend who earlier was to meet us at the park. “Clinton Park is the biggest park in the world!” She was at what she considered a small park where we also were but where were we? The Division side is much less inviting to those electing Clinton for the first time. Find Woodward, but know it is a bike route (for, as before noted, Clinton Street abuts Clinton Park, and the famed Clinton Bike route is rerouted) and be conscious of bicyclists.
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We elected a new spot for the second term of picnic, let’s call it 1996, and enjoyed the largest samosa the world has ever seen and Le Chouffe, which I had once in Amsterdam and not since, to this author the most delicious beer from Belgium, if not the world outside the west coast of these United States. But I digress.
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