Thursday, April 7, 2022


Trying to encourage historic preservation in Portland can be a lonely and depressing task.  Yet when something positive happens, all the effort is worth it.

 Within just a couple days in the last week of March, two encouraging results emerged.  First, the Portland Parks Foundation expressed support for restoring the David Thompson Fountain, and authorized a study of how best to do it. The fountain and the elk statue that stood above it dated to 1900. 

 Soon thereafter, the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office announced that the South Park Blocks had been approved for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.  This was a victory for the Downtown Neighborhood Association, which spent 2 1/2 years working on the nomination.  The roots of the 12-block linear park date to 1877. 

If you wonder why the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation did not announce this pleasing result it is because the bureau opposed the nomination from the start and tried its best to derail it in a series of public meetings.  Some park bureau critics think the bureau wanted to turn over six of the blocks to Portland State University as part of a strategy to cut maintenance costs.

 Building on History takes pride in momentum to restore the Thompson Fountain because the substantial number of page views from our report dated March 10 helped City Commissioner Dan Ryan and many other people realize that there was strong support for restoration.  While many of these blog posts received fewer than 1,000 “hits,” the fountain article attracted more than 18,400.

 Commissioner Ryan deserves praise for being the first city commissioner to announce political support for the fountain.  Journalist and architecture critic Brian Libby also has been strongly supportive. The public should thank former City Commissioner Mike Lindberg and dedicated citizens Stephen Kafoury and Henry Kunowski for their work in approaching the levers of  city power.

The ad hoc Friends of the Thompson Elk Fountain want the city government to take four actions:

---Withdraw the pending application to withdraw the fountain as a historic landmark;

---Restore the entire artwork, including the fountain, troughs, pedestal and the elk and recreate any missing pieces consistent with National Park Service preservation standards;

---Restore the landmark artwork to its original location on SW Main Street;

---Address roadway improvements after the restoration. 

Concern about the fountain’s future remains.  The PPF board took notable action in trying to reach a conclusion about the fountain's fate.  However, preservation is far from assured.  The study committee is expected to look at other options in addition to historic restoration; one "preservation" member on the committee could easily be out-voted.  We hope the PPF board will be both diligent and  vigilant as this process moves forward.   

 As a personal note, this month marks the end of the second year of weekly posts by Building on History.  The blog’s goal was to attempt to increase public support for preservation of important historic buildings and places.  It would be imprudent to claim wild success on behalf of preservation.  Your author is heartened, however, by consequences from the Thompson Fountain article.   Building on History shall continue to blunder ahead with hope in its heart.

We all lose if we give up on what made us what we are. 

 ----Fred Leeson

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  1. Fred a great run of two years of keeping the flame burning for historic preservation in Portland. Thanks for all you have done!

  2. You credit everyone else here; I hope you will also get kudos for your tireless work! This blog, your leadiership of a very active committee, your ability to summon the right people to do the right thing - you live and breathe historic preservation. Portland is very lucky to have you! I thank you sincerely, and look forward to more of your important work.

  3. This is very encouraging news. As said above, thank you for all that you've done and for letting the powers that be know why historic preservation is important.

  4. Restore the entire artwork, including the fountain, troughs, pedestal and the elk and recreate any missing pieces consistent with National Park Service preservation standards