Saturday, September 22, 2007

And the tour continues

Before we headed uptown we walked across to Waterfront Park, which runs along the river for about a mile. This land was once freeway. It is now the jewel of this city and the place where we gather for our most important celebrations, but daily it is filled with walkers, runners, sunners and downtown workers who bring their lunch for a peaceful few minutes near the river. Tomorrow morning, early, I am headed to Waterfront Park for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

We paused at Waterfront Park to remember Bill Naito, one of Portland's most beloved citizens. As a teenager, Naito and his family like all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, were sent to an internment camp for the duration of WWII. When the war ended the family returned to their home in Portland and Bill Naito, by then a young man, built the family import business and invested his money in the beautiful old historic buildings we saw at the beginning of the tour. He saved these buildings, restored them and filled them with thriving businesses. He envisioned a city with a richly preserved history and a vigorous inner life and did his part to make it happen. One of his many projects was the beautiful waterfront memorial to the Japanese Americans who spent the war years in internment camps.

Those are the names of the internment camps engraved on the standing stone and those are Japanese Cherry trees planted along the river behind the memorial. When Naito died in 1997 his funeral was held here and he was mourned by all of Portland. For a man who became so wealthy and powerful, he was universally loved by the city to whom he gave so much.

After leaving the waterfront we caught the MAX light rail train to go uptown on our tour. Here, under the Burnside Bridge, the MAX lines run where the old Trolley lines ran in the 1800's.

While on the train, our guide, Rich, told us about the ultimately successful political fight to make riding the MAX free in the heart of the city—what is known as "fareless square". Less than 18% of MAX's budget is covered by fares. Most of it is subsidized by business taxes.

Our destination was Pioneer Courthouse Square, known as "Portland's Living Room." The ever enthusiastic Rich called it the "finest outdoor urban space in America." This beautiful place was once the site of a grand hotel, then of a nasty, treeless parking lot.

That's the Pioneer Courthouse, which gives the square its name there at the end of the bricks and to the left is the historic Meier and Frank Department Store building. M&F, to my sorrow, was purchased recently by Macy's and the store is currently closed and being renovated. M&F started in Portland and has a long history. There is a sweet story about the beginnings of the store and a darning needle that is well-known in these parts. M&F used to run this story in their ads and offer a free darning needle to the first 100 customers in the door on the day of the ad.

Pioneer Courthouse Square is always busy and a beautiful place to pause in the heart of the city. Rich said he picked up his son downtown a few weeks ago and there was a band playing late in the square with lots of people watching and dancing, and as they drove by, enjoying the sights and sounds, a raccoon casually strolled across Broadway in front of Nordstrom's, stopping traffic in both directions.


  1. Terry,
    Thank you for sharing about Portland, both historically and what the city is doing to not just be a concrete wasteland. I'm looking for my next 'home' and a return to the west coast could very well be on the agenda. I love the square and the preserved old buildlings.
    Sofia is extraordinary, so cute and always seems to have a bit of an impish side to her. I love that you share her photos so we can see her growing up, too.

  2. What Rebecca said, except perhaps slightly less articulate due to the early hour and the children who *insist* on talking to me. (Ah, the joys of 6 and 8.)

    Thank you for sharing this, as the tour is something we mean to do and never get around to accomplishing.
    (Though I'm convinced that MAX would bring in a ton more money if they would just check fares outside of Fareless Square! I've never seen anyone checking tickets in over a year of regular riding.)

  3. THANKS for posting all those photos of Portland....was there in 1999 and didn't get a chance to tour the city totally. It felt lovely!