12 May 2014

[pdx] The Legend of Piccolo Park

Just about everyone reading this may have heard of something called a piccolo. In orchestra, it's a half-size flute that plays an octave higher than written, though in Italian, the instrument is called an ottavino.

This is probably due to something being lost in translation. Outside of Italy, piccolo means piccolo. Inside of Italy, piccolo means small. The long-time Portland toy store, Piccolo Mondo, translates to 'small world'. And so on.

In Portland particularly, Piccolo is a park whose size befits its diminutive name. It stretches between SE 27th and 28th Avenues, and is midway between SE Division and Clinton Streets. It lays in a place where SE Ivon Street would be, if it ran through. It marks an especial place where something would have run through, had a slightly earlier generation of Portlanders not done something about it.

The following I'm about to relate has been gleaned from years of reading and absorbing. The gentle reader is going have to take my word for this, as I have no references to share. That said, here goes:

Back in the 1970s, Portland was set to go on developing a city-girdling grid of freeways. Particularly pertinent (and iconic of a sea-change in Portland growth) was the Mount Hood Freeway. This brobdingnagian monster was set to diverge southeastward from the east end of the Marquam Bridge, following the diagonal portion of SE Division Street, laying between Division and Clinton until about SE 42nd Avenue, swerving south to SE 52nd and Powell, and obliterating Powell Blvd from SE 52nd Avenue all the way out to I-205. Traces of the freeway that was to be can be seen if you know where to look. SE Powell Blvd's design from 52nd out to 82nd takes advantage of the fact that the strip on the south side of the boulevard was vacated in anticipation of freeway construction; that's what all those off-street parking areas that the cross-avenues feed into are doing there.

The only bit that you can find west of there, aside from the stub ramps from the eastside approach to the Marquam Bridge, though, are in this neighborhood …

SE 28th Avenue at Piccolo Park, looking south. This would have
been about the median of I-80N (later I-84) had the Mount
Hood Freeway been built.
 … and it would have went through this piece of property:

The SE 28th Avenue entrance to Piccolo Park.
This would have been a freeway.
According to my measurements on Google Maps Classic, the frontage on SE 28th Avenue is about 150 feet; that on the SE 27th Avenue side is about 100. Three house lots were acquired and cleared for the freeway-that-never-was; then the project died the death, its funds going toward regional transit, eventually toward MAX, and burnishing Portland's reputation as one of the front lines in the freeway revolts of the 1960s and 70s and helping establish our reputation as a smart-growth Mecca.

But without a freeway to run through it, what to do?

What we always do around here. Grow a park in it.

A small park. Un piccolo parco. And, instead of a raging freeway, we have neighborhoods, funky places to go, and a park where a cute young couple and their dog can hang out …

… where public art includes a sundial with the gnomon broken off …

… a totally adorable compass rose with unfinished jigsaw puzzle detail …

… and what has to be the most exquisite hopscotch setup I have ever seen.

 Today's Piccolo Park could have been six lanes of traffic, but, instead, it's plants and flowers …

… grass and dappled sunlight …

… and flowers attracting bees. These particular ones the bumblebees were totally nuts about; I couldn't get a picture of the bees, they were too busy and having too much of a good time macking on that sweet, sweet nectar …

… I'll tell this much though … those rear shanks on those bees were absolutely loaded with pollen. they were making hay …

… while the sun shines, and the spring moon came out. I couldn't help but look up; I took even more pictures of the tree tops than this, so very many, but the  light diffusing through the trees made for the most luminous green. I couldn't help but snap away.

While I adore the gray skies and cool days, I was ready for this fair weather. It was fine, and there was something for everyone …

… including that little guy who. but for some sane heads about forty-odd years ago, wouldn't be here, either.

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