26 May 2014

[pdx] Photos On Sunday: The Burnside Bridgehead

The block on the north side of the east end of the Burnside Bridge has something of a conflicted history. For a long time, nobody knew what its future would look like. Many people had some definite ideas, but in the end, none of them willed out, in a way that's funny in bike-friendly, liberal, weird Portland.

This block is bounded on the south by East Burnside Street, on the west by NE 3nd Avenue, on the north by NE Couch Street, and on the east by NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, once known as Union Avenue. I became a full-time Portlander in 1985 (with a break from '87-'91, but that's another story) but, by then, being a perhaps-too-avid watcher of the news, had familiarity with at least some of the issues surrounding that square block of Portland.

When I finally did come to the shining city, I knew there was a place of no small notoriety there, and that was sad, because they really did try to fix something. The building on the north side of the bridge was a place that looked disreputable but tried to have a good heart – they called it Baloney Joe's. It was a homeless shelter run by an organization that dissolved in a scandal involving the director, an organization called the Burnside Community Council, and that's sad because there were some good angels hard at work there, some of whom you might know if you hang around the good Portlandians online.

Sometime around 1990, due to the scandal, the BCC ended and Baloney Joe's operation was taken up by the Salvation Army, who renamed it the Recovery Inn, then developers got interested, and the Inn finally closed and moldered for several years while a variety of power and money centers vied for the opportunity to develop it.

Someone wanted to put a Home Depot store there. I, for one, still can't picture it.

Today, the battle has been settled. When whoever thought it was going to be a bonnie idea decided to turn Burnside and Couch into a one-way couplet east and west of the bridge, they needed a place to funnel the west-bound traffic on NE Couch onto the Burnside Bridge westbound. Instead of a Home Depot or lower-income housing or anything regarding the homeless, now, an S-shaped boulevard full of traffic runs through it.

In liberal, weird, transit-and-bike-friendly Portland.

Who says irony is dead? As long as this absurd city remains, thus shall it be. And the debate over what could have been shall 'ere be considered academic.

The skyline of the down, dirty, yet somehow fashionable
CEID looking south from the Burnside Bridge.

The Burnside Bridgehead exists in what was, and still shows many sides of, what we locals called the C.E.I.D – the Central Eastside Industrial District. It's starting to give way to converted loft work/live spaces, trendoid bars, and retail … which, one supposes, was just a matter of time, given that it was in sight of the city core.

The part of the block not given over to the Couch Street connection is carpeted over in long grass and wildflowers. The part of Couch that used to connect SE 3rd Avenue to MLK is now a very short stub which provides convenient and ready parking on a Sunday afternoon to the tyro photographer and his wife, and an opportunity to stretch the legs and look at the urban views.

We all strive for more than just the basics. This is not
Portland, this is universal.

The building on the south side of the bridge at 3rd Avenue has had a sign on it for decades: R.J. Templeton Co. Whatever R.J. Templeton Co, did, it's been gone perhaps even before your humble interlocutor came to town; one remembers the facade mostly bland painted wood where windows must once have been. The windows are back and whatever is going in behind them, you can bet it's going to be pretty spiffy and, no doubt, priced to match.

The area is popular now for skateboarders and bike riders, who have carved their own paths to and from Burnside down to the lower streets. Down closer to the river, along 2nd Avenue, is some of the last 'industrial' businesses in the area; some of Portland's oldest produce merchants are still there, a remnant of what was once so many that they named the area Produce Row. Set deep within the industrial haven, it took advantage of the quick freeway connections and rail access to be a break-in-bulk point for the fruits and veggies coming into and out of Portland.

The era is closing out so very slowly though. We do things in our own time here in Portland, and this is on a timetable of its own. Farther down 2nd, under the Burnside Bridge itself, is a skatepark that went from outlaw to legitimate. We saw murals (which I'll go back and get sometime) and people getting ready, complete with cameras for posterity's sake. We indeed have come so far.

The path from E Burnside down to NE 3rd Avenue.
You can go your own way, baby.
The building in the distance is the Eastside Exchange,
the building addressed with the No.123
rubric seen earlier in this post.

They say that weeds are wildflowers out of place.
Like the homeless people that used to shelter here, they'll
be evicted in their turn, perhaps.
Looking under the bridge at SE 3rd Avenue from NE 3rd Avenue.

Today, the old gives way to the new, a streetcar runs where once traffic did, and it all looks kind of the same, but something more than the obvious seems to have moved on. But this is Oregon, and that means …

… we'll always have the blackberry bushes.

ON EDIT: Fellow PDX Facebooker and curator of the Dead Memories Portland group, Michael Long, shares the news that they are going to put something in more than just a road there … and the idea is so very, very us. It's a real dumbbell …

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