The Park Blocks
The South Park Blocks - In 1852, the farsighted pioneers set aside 25 blocks of parkland running north to south through Portland intending the blocks to serve as both a promenade and possibly a firebreak between real estate investments and the wooded hills above the new townsite. By the 1870s, the South Park Blocks had become a prestigious residential district lined with Italianate mansions and churches.
Through the end of the nineteenth century, the Park Blocks developed as a "promenade ground," complete with Dutch elms planted in rows and even, briefly, a racetrack.
Now known as the Cultural District, as the city moved westward, the "South Park Blocks" were chosen as the ideal place to locate some of the citys most important institutions like...
The Oregon History Center & Sovereign Hotel, on our right, from 1966 & 1923. The far building has 2 huge murals, one depicting the Lewis & Clark Expedition on the west side, and the South side, the Pioneer Period.
In 1966, the Oregon Historical Society built its new Oregon History Center, and in later years, bought the historic Sovereign Hotel to house the society's offices.
Permanent exhibits at the museum include:
Oregon's 1st car--The Benson, cobbled together in someone's garage in 1904.
The massive guestbook of the 1905 World's Fair.
The Portland Penny.
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See Pictures, Portland Penny.
Let me know if you want to view or learn more about the Portland Penny.
And last, Oregon My Oregon, a 7,000-square-foot display covering Oregon’s history from early settlement to current times. Significant items include a reproduction of a ship's hull, a 1940s-era mercantile store, a complete lunch counter from a diner, and a 9,000-year-old sandal.
The 1st Congregational Church, in front of us, on the right, is from eighteen ninety five.
The lovely Venetian Gothic First Congregational Church is a serene and stately presence on the South Park Blocks. Designed by the swiss Henry Hefty at a cost of 110,000 dollars over a 5 year Period. It is Venetian Gothic, resembling Boston’s New Old South Church. Originally had 3 towers in the 1940s, only the main 185 ft. one remains in a modernization attempt. The main floor slopes downward, and seats 1100 people.
Heroic statues of Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, and the elegant, diminutive Rebecca at the Well fountain, to our right, from 1926, were donated to the city to add art and history to the Park Blocks. Made of bronze and sandstone, the fountain has 3 inner fountains for people and 3 outer fountains for animals. It has a biblically inspired design.
Calumet (esquire) Hotel –1907- is the older of only 2 remaining examples in the city of the French Renaissance or “Edwardian Baroque” style applied to a hotel. It was erected during a time of rapid economic growth following the success of the Lewis and Clark exposition in 1905. It exhibits a highly textured and detailed front elevation: a rare feature in small-scale hotel construction of the period.
Historic Cornelius Hotel May Soon Be Demolished
The French Renaissance-style Cornelius Hotel, to the right, was designed by local architectural firm Bennes, Hendricks and Tobey. It opened May 18, 1908, when guests rented rooms for $1.50 a night, and it’s notable for its elaborate mansard roof. The Cornelius was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
While certainly never as large or as grand as the Portland Hotel, Benson Hotel, or the Multnomah Hotel, the Cornelius has stood for more than 100 years as a testament to Portland’s aspirations as a growing city after the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition. After years of dereliction, the much larger Multnomah Hotel was rehabbed and opened once again as a hotel. Just down the street from the Cornelius, the Calumet Hotel (now known as the Esquire Apartments and home to Park Avenue Fine Wines, was rehabbed and reopened a few years ago. It would be wonderful to see something similar happen to the Cornelius rather than the proposed demolition. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
The Masonic Temple (1924), to our right, is a foreboding, tomb-like building with historical associations, with its Greek cast-iron colonnade, window grilles and Byzantine central door with an exotic sunken ballroom. Now it's part of the Portland Art Museum.
Next door is the Portland Art Museum - (The Building is from 1930; but founded in 1892, making it the oldest art museum on the West Coast). It was the first of local Pietro Bellushi’s buildings to receive national recognition, and was included in the 1938 Best Designs list compiled by the A. I. of A. for the preceding 20 years. Though the massive brick building, with its Travertine trim, displays some aspects of the Roman architecture popular in the 30s, the clean delineation of form, unencumbered by the normal classical ornamentation, demonstrates Bellushi’s contemporary aesthetic.
Next door is St. James Lutheran Church – 1891- It is a downtown landmark due to its stonework façade and tower. It was the first English speaking Lutheran Church in Oregon. It’s a rare late Gothic Revival architectural. style. The original wood frame was built in 1890, and was replaced by the current limestone in 1908. The large tower deteriorated and was removed from the building in 1951. In 1974, a new tower was built looking at old photos.
To our left, is Lincoln High School (built in eighteen sixty nine) -
It's one of the oldest high schools west of the Mississippi. In 1952, Lincoln High, the City's 1st high school, was transformed into Lincoln Hall, the 1st building on the Park Blocks campus of Portland State University.
The American Renaissance Revival building was designed by the same designers of the Rockefeller Center (Whitehouse & Fouilhoux).
Our next stop on the park blocks, is the Simon Benson House -
Simon Benson was a wealthy Portland lumberman and was the principal benefactor of the Columbia River Historic Highway. He also donated Multnomah Falls and Wahkeena Falls to Portland in 1915. The home is in the Queen Anne style with detailed ornamentation.
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See Picture #, Simon Benson.
In the photograph Simon Benson poses in front of one of the twenty bronze drinking fountains he donated to the city. He hoped that the fountains, which cost $317 apiece, would encourage temperance.
Benson was an inventive lumberman, concerned with efficiency. At his lumber company, Benson replaced oxen, used to drag timber, with railroad engines made of salvaged parts thereby reducing both labor costs and saving time. When Benson decided to send his logs directly to San Diego, he designed log rafts, 835-feet in length, in order to avoid what he considered exorbitant freight rates. A wise decision—Benson’s company saved $150,000 dollars a year with this alteration in business standards.
Benson’s legacy lives on in Portland with the once derelict 100-year-old Benson family home (built in 1900), was renovated and moved in 2000 to the campus of Portland State University. Outside the stately home stands another Benson legacy: a Benson Bubbler fountain, installed all over downtown, and continues to splash fresh water for passers-by to enjoy.
Let me know if you want to know more about Queen Anne architecture.
Also here, is the home to the biggest Farmers Market in Portland, every Saturday from 8:30-2pm.
Our last stop along the park blocks is THE OLD CHURCH, from 1882. Now a concert hall.
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See Picture #, Old Church.
Calvary Presbyterian Church (Old Church)-1882- Designed by a premier architect of the time, Warren Williams, is arguably the finest example of a late Victorian-era church in the state. The exterior is carpenter Gothic, with slender pointed arches, elegant window tracery, a belfry tower, and buttresses. Details of an eclectic interior include Gothic vaulted ceilings of gilt wooden ribs and white plaster, Renaissance-style cast-iron columns, Victorian furniture and stained glass, and ornate plaster window moldings in the Baroque style. There is a historic Hook and Hastings Tracker organ and a free concert is given every Wednesday at noon.
Old Church, has outlasted all the other churches before it. A self-guided tour is possible between 11 and 3 Tuesday through Saturday. Free admission.
For more info, go to, the old church dot org.
More Portland Historical Architecture.
NEXT is the Portland Building and Portlandia
But before that, what makes Portland unique?