BY FRED LEESON
Aside from moving people from one place to another, how often does a strip of pavement add to civility of the city, provide emotional respite and inspiration, and even rank as a tourist attraction?
If it’s Terwilliger Parkway, think “all of the above.” The roadway that skirts Portland’s West Hills from SW Sheridan Street to Barbur Boulevard turns 100 later this year, and citizen activists and the Portland Parks Bureau hope to generate new attention for the Parkway and its interesting history.
In one sense, Terwilliger is more than 100 years old. Its genesis lies in the ground-breaking 1903 report to the Portland Park Board by the pioneering landscape architects John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmstad. Though Frederick is the better known of the brothers, it was John who did most of the legwork in the 1903 report that urged the creation of an extensive park system, a looping trail around the city and scenic roadways connecting major parks.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the Olmsteds came to Portland to plan grounds for the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition in Northwest Portland. But the amazing sweep of their vision included far, far more, and proved to have a long-lasting impact. Many of its recommendations have been adopted over the years, and many others still lie unfulfilled. Yet contemporary park planners remain aware of the 1903 plan and refer to it on occasion.
The Olmsteds are back in the news now because some devoted citizens who formed Friends of Terwilliger and the Portland Parks Bureau hope to install gateway markers at either end of the Parkway that will – eventually, perhaps – tells visitors and passersby about the Parkway’s fuller story.
“The sequence of views and natural setting is really spectacular,” Rouse said.
For now, however, there will be only one “gateway,” most likely a low-lying blade sign in Duniway Park saying “Terwilliger Parkway” and probably “1912.” “Unfortunately, we have a very limited budget,” said Allison Rouse, the Parks Bureau project manager. In some subsequent year, Rouse said, the city would like to see a similar gateway near the south end. It also would like to add interpretive information about the Olmsteds and other scenic attributes of the roadway.
The blade sign would be designed to catch the eyes of motorists, while the interpretive panels would be views by thousands who use the Parkway daily for walking, jogging and cycling. The preferred location for the market would require the relocation of a stone marker and bronze plate commemorating the life of Abigail Scott Duniway, who carved a reputation as the Oregon’s foremost activist for women’s suffrage, also finally approved – coincidentally – in 1912, the year the Parkway opened.
The original Parkway was a dirt road, which wasn’t paved until 1917 when water damage became apparent. The city government in the 1920s expanded parkway boundaries to include 100 feet on both sides of the road, to preserve the bucolic setting. The city government in the 1980s went further, approving a plan that would regulate development in the corridor and protect specified views.
Overall, “It’s a great piece of history that most Portlanders don’t know about,” said Brian Emerick, an architect and member of the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission. “Most Portlanders don’t know where Terwilliger is,” he added.
One challenge the Parks Bureau faces in creating the blade signs is the city’s own sign code. Rouse said the maximum sign size allowed without a variance is 10 square feet. She added that letters need to be five to seven inches tall to be seen by motorists. The formality of a sign code adjustment appears inevitable.
Rouse said the Parks Bureau hopes to complete the gateway design in March, start building it in April and install it in June. A parade and other events marking the Parkway centennial are scheduled for July 20 to 22.
“Overall, we think it’s a great idea,” said Carrie Richter, landmarks commission chair.