Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cool Things in North Portland: Sidewalks

One of the things I really love about where we live is that, for Oregon, it's pretty old. Now, admittedly, we're not talking old old, like "Your great-great-great-etcetera-great-Grandfather bushwhacked mine back in 1147 and took all his teeth so my great-great-etcetera..." Out here us yonegs don't have that kind of old. That's for the Vanished People, the Multnomahs, Calapooias and such.

We just have sorta-old. North Portland, we're sorta old.

One cool thing we have around from those sorta-old days are our sidewalks and curbs. The top picture is the northeast corner of North Amherst and North Monteith. I love the iron curb corner, a relict of Ragtime Portland, still protecting the concrete masonry after 97 years.

Of couse, these old corners are nastily inhospitable if you're in a wheelchair (or, more likely, on a skateboard). So to help Portland's sk8trboyz get around, we're replacing them with these:
It's very practical, and much more handicapped friendly...but...well...

I'm pretty conflicted over this.

The other cool thing we have are these - hitching rings in the curb. So when your friends Irv and Bubbie come by they can just ground-tie old Miracle and park the buckboard outside the house, right? Prima, einfach! as my German kamaraden would say. The modern mind finds a way to make even these mundane relicts of the preautomobile age a little bit o' Portland wierdness.

Portland has a lot of great history in her streets - someday I want to find out about the wierd concrete that you come across in places like Laurelhurst and Irvington that has these massive fucking chunks of basalt as "aggregate" in it - who let that friking contract is what I'd like to know - and here's some of it as the sidewalks of North Portland.
For the historically curious - though not about NoPo - here's the City's history of the Hawthorne District, an older part of town but a fun and lively one. We're never going to be Hawthorne, I'm afraid, and I'm okay with that.
Couple of side issues I wanted to mention. First, notice the stamped "Kilkenny - Bros 1910" in the center of the bottom picture. These "contractor stamps" were de rigeur, the New Black, of Portland city subcontracting around the first couple of decades of the last century (feels wierd to say that, for me The City's Transportation Department claims to have a "contractor stamp database" but I think that's bullshit. The link at the bottom of this page - Hawthorne again, go figure - goes to a single stamp that takes forever to load. C'mon, Portland, surely you can waste my tax dollars more creatively than that! Anyway, the City subbed their sidewalk out to private concrete guys, and they "signed" their work as the snapshot shows.
The other odd thing is that almost all the stamps around our block are dated in the early teens; 1910 like the Kilkenny stamp, 1911 across Amherst to the west, 1913, the latest are early in the 1920's.
But our little house is among the oldest on the block at 85 years. The Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows several others date from the teens. But only a handful. This part of North Portland was still pretty much open fields and woodlots between the street grid in the Teens and Twenties of the last century. Now, there are parts of North Portland - LOTS of parts of all of Portland - that still have no sidewalks today although every lot has a house on it. So what a strange sight that must that have been, on some hot August ninety years past when golden grass dried rustling in the sun and a whistle drifted up from the Cut through the slumberous hot afternoon, to see the empty lots still with the mark of the farm fields that had been yet surrounded by their bright, new, cheery sidewalks, crisp whispers of the busy future still unthought.
I love this town.


SBird said...

I love all this metal and lettering on the sidewalks. I find manhole covers extrememly aesthetic, so I get this. We have a hitching post here at the post office, but it's wood and is not that old. Ranchers like to keep their trappings up, even when they're much more likely to show up on a quad to collect their mail...

walternatives said...

I'm smitten with the hitching rings and all that steel. Looking forward to seeing all this soon!