|(State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation)|
Though consequences are yet unclear,
Though consequences are yet unclear,a devoted group of volunteers trying to save historic fabric of one of Portland’s oldest parks has won a major step toward placing the South Park Blocks on the National Register of Historic Places.
What remains murky is the effect the designation could or would have on the Parks Bureau’s 50-year masterplan that would allow gradual death of dozens of historic deciduous trees, add conifers, change walking paths and impair the historic landscape plan with its five axial tree rows. Despite substantial public opposition, the City Council earlier this year approved the plan for the 12-block stretch of narrow park blocks in Southwest Portland, even though there is no budget yet for making the proposed changes.
Four earlier posts on Building on History were devoted to master planning and its consequences. earlier.
If the park were a “building” instead of a park, substantial proposed changes would have to undergo a historical review to assess whether changes were necessary and historically appropriate. However, there apparently is no such standard under the federal rules for public parks. And even if major changes were to require historical review, it is probably that a series of smaller changes could slip through piecemeal.
A knowledgeable preservation expert predicts the city will "do everything possible to minimize" the impact of the designation.
The detailed and heavily-documented nomination report was written by volunteer historical consultants Brooke Best and Kirk Ranzetta. They were assisted by a handful of volunteers who helped with research and graphics. Wendy Rahm, a neighborhood association board member, recruited, managed, cajoled and encouraged the volunteers in an extraordinary example of citizen participation.
The nomination is based on the history of planning and development for Portland parks and for the distinctive landscape architecture.
Given the recent preoccupation with ethnic awareness and inclusion, the nomination includes a concise narrative of indigenous history before the park was created. Nevertheless, the Parks Bureau, which steadfastly opposed the nomination, asked for “a more nuanced narrative" -- whatever that means.
Stephen Beckham, a well-known Pacific Northwest historian who chairs the state committee, seemed to push back on what might be an idyllic view of native life in and around the Park Blocks. He listed tribes in Western Oregon that engaged in slavery, and noted that when first surveyed in the 1850s, the Park Blocks were composed of dense, old-growth trees showing no signs of human habitation.
The one vote cast against the National Register nomination was from John Arroyo, an assistant professor at the University of Oregon. He said the number of “non-contributing” elements in the blocks outnumbered the historical contributing elements.
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