What to Look for on Portland Walks

      Laura Foster is the author of several walking guides, including "Portland City Walks," "Portland Hill Walks," and "The Portland Stairs Book" so she is filled with knowledge of details about our local neighborhoods. She stopped by to show us what to look for as we walk around our city.

      You'll find more great information from Laura on her Portland Walks and Urban Hikes blog.

      Horse ring

      • Until around 1903: sidewalks were wooden
      • As they were replaced with concrete, horse rings installed
      • Not, as commonly thought, so homeowners could tie up their horses
      • Instead: for trucks delivering cordwood (for home heating), ice, groceries
      • Some horse-drawn deliveries through 1930s


      • From the 1880s to 1920s, the city was seamed with streetcar lines.
      • When developers planned new neighborhoods like Alameda in NE or Westover in NW, no one would buy a lot unless a streetcar line existed to get them into town.
      • These stairs got homeowners who lived in the heights down to the flatter streets where streetcars ran.
      • Over 200 public stairways in town. Best way to learn about them: my book! The Portland Stairs Book.

      Garage retrofit

      • Many old neighborhoods, notably Sunnyside and Buckman in SE, were built during the streetcar erahomes were built without garages.
      • When people did acquire a car beginning in the 1920s, the question was where to put it. Here's an often seen solution: carve away the front yard and dig out the basement for a garage.
      • The solutionssometimes elegant like this, sometimes clunky--make an interesting sidelight to a walk

      Old and new address

      • In 1932 the city standardized how it names and numbers streets.
      • This home, in North Portland's Humboldt neighborhood, has something akin to finding buried treasure: the old address still visible on the home, next to the new.
      • Can still see old street names in sidewalks -- "33rd St. N", for example, for today's NE 33rd Avenue

      Crystal Springs Creek

      • Before it was settled, Portland was full of creeks, and riverside wetlands and lakes
      • Most of the city's creeks are now undergroundunder fill, running in culverts.
      • This one a gorgeous exception.
      • Begins in Reed Canyon as springs.
      • Flows through Reed Canyon, Eastmoreland Golf Course, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, Westmoreland before flowing into Johnson Creek in Sellwood.
      • Year-round flow from springs; not affected by summer drought

      Open reservoir

      • One of 5 open-air reservoirs filled with water from the Bull Run watershed east of Portland. Water has already been treated; next stop: a Portlander's tap.
      • Very few open air reservoirs left in U.S.
      • All 5 are on hills: to utilize gravity, and avoid need for pumps to get water to end users


      • A more modern water storage solution: closed tanks.
      • The City's Water Bureau claimed many hilltop sites for tanks like this to use gravity in getting water to end users
      • Most were fenced and locked
      • In 2000s Commissioner Randy Leonard unfenced them, creating what Portland calls HydroParkspocket greenspaces.
      • This one is a favorite: the many tanks and trees and lawn create hidden, quiet spaces.
      • In SW Portland, near 45th and Vermont

      Benson Bubbler

      • Simon Benson said, "No one has the right to die and not leave something to the public and for the public good.
      • First one: in 1912.
      • He gave funds to install 20.
      • Originals differ from later bubblers: they have a plaque: "Presented by S. Benson, 1912"
      • 52 of the 4-bowl variety
      • 74 of the 1-bowl variety
      • Flow 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
      • One bubbler, in front of the Oregon Historical Society, was cast by students at Benson High School in 1975. (The school was named for Benson when he gave funds to the city for a polytechnic school.)
      • Even wildlife enjoy them!

      Heritage trees

      • In 1994 the City of Portland started recognizing old and significant trees.
      • Today over 300 trees have this status
      • 111 species represented
      • About half are on public property
      • Find a list by searching Heritage Trees of Portland or download a free app that shows where they are.

      Poetry posts

      • Proliferating in Portland
      • A Grant High graduate (now at USC), Gus Bendinelli, worked with me in 2011 to create a film about them.
      • It features a man who makes and sells posts to homeowners, and a man who is creating a smart phone app (in progress) so you can find where they are.
      • NE has the densest concentration, I'd say

      WPA stonework

      • Rocky Butte, built during the Depression; best view in town
      • Its entire road, with a loop tunnel and the park at the top are on the National Register of Historic Places
      • WPA rockwork was created by unskilled men who were taught by skilled stonemasons. Labor and materials were cheap; they were trying to fill time and give men meaningful work. No need for efficiency.
      • Stone is hand-cutrepresents the end of the hand-craft era, just before WWII and increasing mechanization
      • Other great WPA rockwork in town: Burnside tunnel, Cornell Road tunnels, many stone retaining walls in West Hills

      Faux stone home

      • On NE Garfield
      • Looks like stone but is concrete blockcalled "cast stone"
      • Sears sold kits to pour blocks with different styles on the face, and for columns too
      • Lots of these homes, most not this grand, in North Portland's Kenton neighborhood

      City repair site

      • City Repair is a nonprofit that helps neighbors create such "place-making sites" that help turn a large city into smaller, more personal spaces for people to visit or just enjoy the city
      • Also the group that helps create the colorful painted intersections seen in the city.