Block Island

A Portland landmark looks forward

If all goes according to plans set forth by the Portland Development Commission (PDC), the view looking north on Couch Street between NW Park and 8th in the year 2020 will differ significantly from what you see today. That is, the distant view will change—you may very well see a shiny glass office building rising 500 feet above the horizon, with shorter but still prodigious residential and business towers flanking it. In your immediate path, however, you’ll likely behold the same verdant elm-shaded green lawns that Portland co-founder John H. Couch would have laid eyes on nearly 150 years ago.

Throughout the city’s dynamic history, the North Park Blocks have been a lush and leafy constant, and a gracious public space marking the intersection between downtown, Old Town, and the Pearl District. The aforementioned PDC plans, to redevelop the Post Office site at Hoyt and Broadway, call for new greenways and paths connecting to Broadway Bridge and Union Station and an extension of the Park Blocks, which will effectively become a green carpet connecting the new community to downtown.

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In 1865, Captain Couch donated the land for the North Park Blocks, which extend from Burnside to Glisan Streets. In 1906, the city installed a playground on the Couch–Davis Street block. It was rebuilt in the early 1990s and remains, along with bocce and basketball courts, one of the park’s greatest assets. On warm days, a canopy of towering American elm, black locust, and big leaf maple trees shades park visitors, who include local residents, office workers, and students from the adjacent Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Throughout the city’s dynamic history, the North Park Blocks have been a lush and leafy constant, and a gracious public space marking the intersection between downtown, Old Town, and the Pearl District.

Of course, tourists also saunter through the blocks, many pausing for photos in front of Da Tung and Xi’an Bao Bao, two ornate bronze elephant statues—one little one perched atop its giant father. Art and animal lovers also adore Dog Bowl, a functional sculpture by noted Weimaraner photographer William Wegman consisting of a bronze bowl on a black-and-white granite grid.

At different times of year, the blocks host events or parade processions, including the acclaimed Art in the Pearl festival over Labor Day weekend, the Pride Northwest Portland LGBTQ Parade in June, and the Portland Rose Festival Starlight Parade in May. The eclectic architecture flanking both sides of the blocks ranges from late Victorian to contemporary and includes the new home of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, which is slated to open in June in the former Museum of Contemporary Craft; a new Pearl District Hampton Inn & Suites, also set to open later in 2017; and several other notable businesses, including Santé Bar and JJH Law.

As the surrounding neighborhood evolves, the five original Park Blocks remain true to their origins, as a natural green buffer within downtown Portland’s busy urban hum. —Andrew Collins | Photos by Stuart Mullenberg

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