Monday, June 30, 2008

The Seven Wonders of the Castle5000 Environs

The Monday Quiz XIV, back in February, carried a special bonus prize. The winner was entitled to assign a blog post topic. Mrs.5000 -- hail, victor! -- took the first E.P., so here is the topic she chose.

Michael5000 will be on the road when this thing is set to post, so the formatting will probably be screwy at first.

The Seven Wonders of the Castle5000 Environs

1. Laurelhurst Park! Designed in 1912 by Frederick Law Olmstead's firm, Laurelhurst Park is like some idealized golden-tinged movie version of what a city park might be. Strangely, it's real. Many years ago, visiting from Kansas, I had an odd vision that Laurelhurst Park was the source of all the green in the world. Although I now live three blocks away, it is not technically true that the Park is my private running track. It's just that it might as well be.

2. The Famous Building! The Belmont Condomiums, a few corners from Castle5000, has been featured in glowing suck-up articles in most of your leading architectural and metrosexual journals, including Dwell and Metropolitan Home. It features a fauncy restaurant on the ground floor to which Mrs.5000 can take her more sophisticated friends on occasion, while I stay home and enjoy the simple but hearty fare to which I became accustomed in the long years of my bachelorhood.

3. Joan D'Arc! In the middle of an oddly out-of-context roundabout is an oddly out-of-context statue of the "Maid of Orleans," Joan of Arc. Why a salute to France's 15th Century populist woman warrior and religious nut, here in the City of Roses? Well, having braved the traffic to take her photograph, I found a little placard explaining that Joan is our local World War I monument. Which is cool, but isn't an important aspect of a monument that people need to know what it commemorates?
Whatevs. Joan is a most excellent citizen of the neighborhood, and I enjoy her somewhat random quality.

4. Dixie Mattress! In the very middle of a moderately properous neighborhood strip, in an area where property values have multiplied fourfold over the last fifteen years, this mysterious commercial (or perhaps industrial) building is an enigma. One can see a few mattresses inside, yes, but also miscellaneous junk and a thick layer of dust. Yellowing, handwritten notes on the doors give numbers to call "in case of emergency." There is no sign that anyone makes mattresses here, or even meth. No one seems to go into the building at all. [Update: Since I wrote this, an article in the 'Gonian has taught us that an occasional mattress is still repaired in Dixie Mattress by its, uh, loveably irrascable owners. Hello, Pulitzer!]

5. The Kitchiest Statue Ever Erected! A tribute to emergency services personel who died fighting a large fire in an East Coast city in the early 2000s. Their service and sacrifice is commemorated by this portrayal of a bare-chested man who thrusts forth a lantern with his left hand, barely missing a eagle that is just then taking wing. An American flag is caught in its talons. You would think this eagle would startle the guy, but he don't seem to notice it.

In his right hand, strangely, the man clutches the neck of a really big snake. Yep. A really big snake. Or maybe he's just happy to see you.

6. The Belmont Branch! One of the smallest branches of the Multnomah County Library in sheer size, it is one of the largest in terms of volume of books reserved and checked out. Only some of that is due to me. But really, it's an amazing thing. From right here on the internet, I can put a hold on almost any piece of cultural production that comes to mind. A few days later, I walk two blocks and pick it up. What's not to love? Nothing's not to love! This is a branch library that gets its own love letters!

7. The Castle5000 Raspberry Patch. Decended through several generations from the stock planted by Grandpa5000 years ago, the Castle5000 patch is the envy of all who behold its produce. The right hand patch produces around a quart of berries a day in July and early August. The left hand patch is new this year; since raspberries are biennial, it won't add to the crop until Summer 2009. Mmm... Raspberries....

What are the seven wonders of YOUR neighborhood?


Anonymous said...

Alas it is too bad that the Belmont "famous building" is really an example of bad design. It's out of scale with the neighborhood and does nothing to encourage livability in its vicinity.

Sure, it shunts its residents directly into their little boxes and does a great job of keeping the masses from hanging out near it....just like so many other modernist and postmodern abominations.

As contrast take the triple nickel: smelly, tattered, vomit stained and still people would rather hang out there than at its..gollum.."famousness".

So I suppose it is a great building, providing you are an architect or designer and not a human who has to live in the vicinity.....

Anonymous said...

1 / is
2 / can't be
3 / is
4 / I'll say is
5 / isn't...clearly you made that one up
6 / isn't...too perfect to be true
7 / is

Rebel said...

Dude... I miss living in the People's Republic of SE Portland. That was totally my 'hood.

Yankee in England said...

Okay so I am ready to pack up and move. Maybe you should do the seven reasons not to live in the area before I call the moving company and make my husband apply for a green card.

Christine M. said...

Hmm. Neighborhood glories. We have a Graeter's Ice Cream two blocks away. Yum. The library I work at is 5 blocks away. We have a tea shop run by an English couple that makes great egg salad and cakes. There's a pet store around the corner with cute Humane Society kittens during kitten season.

Yankee in England said...

No No stop telling me how wonderful it is. I am all about the ice cream shop

Anonymous said...

What a great idea for a post! I like your list, and the quirky way it gets to 7 completely viable wonders while leaving out such obvious landmarks as Peacock Lane, the Bagdad Theater, or the Belmont Dairy (or, slightly further afield, the Laurelhurst Theater or Mt. Tabor). Laurelhurst Park of course deserves top billing in any list. What a lush, outsized marvel it seemed when I moved here after four years in Tucson. . .

Chance said...

Ah, the Belmont branch... sniff... I spent many hours inside its walls, checking out books and girls in summer dresses. And avoiding hobos.

Man, these posts make me miss Portland (Dixie Mattress is still around?!??!) despite the hobos.

And I mean this in the nicest way, but doesn't your wife win your contests suspiciously often? You do share the same interests. And address. I'm just saying.

photobrea said...

Since Wonder #1 mentioned Kansas, here are 7 wonders from my neighborhood in an itty bitty town in NE KS:
1. naked man across the street -- ok, so he's not actually naked, but tighty whities and nothing else don't equal dressed.
2. baby foxes that lived under naked man's porch -- in hindsight, it probably looked bad when I sat out on my porch every night staring at his house with my binoculars. oops.
3. junk man down the street -- aka pirate guy -- a man who's only source of income is hauling junk back and forth on a huge flatbed trailer pulled by a big truck that runs on 7 cyclinders, unless he opens the hood and yells at it, then it runs on all 8 cylinders for about a block
4. The guy at the end of the street who I spotted laying on the ground adding a new layer of black paint to his lawn jockey -- yikes. yes our town was pro-slavery in the Civil War, but news flash, they lost, let's move on shall we?
it's not all bad though --
5. my yard -- after 10+ years of apartment life I have my own yard (almost an acre) AND my own riding lawn mower
6. said riding lawn mower can be used as a form of transportation here, although I'm too much of a city girl to actually ride it anywhere
7. and finally, being far enough out of town to actually be able to see the stars at night. beautiful.

Unknown said...

marvelous. i envy your park, and your curious mattress factory.

i would like to point out that your charmingly random joan of arc is a replica of the one in the place des pyramides in paris:

Michael5000 said...

@mac: Some certainly feel that way. I personally feel it's a reasonably handsome building, although the south face is no great shakes. I have no special allegiance to it, but (like the Triple Nickel) it has become one of the landmarks of home for me, and I'm fond of it for that reason.

@karma: The Belmont Branch IS too perfect to be true! And yet it is! Can I talk to you about Friends of the Library?!?

@Reb: When you get back from SE Asia, you can come back to SE PDX.

@Yank: I'm not going to do seven reasons not to live in the 97214, but I'm sure if you brainstormed you could think of some amenities available in London that would be hard to find in the Beaver State. Have a flapjack for me sometime, will ya?

@La Gring: Ice cream, library, kittens.... I'm there!

@Chance: As lower Belmont condos up, the hobo quotient has gone down noticeably. The summer dresses are still around.

It's true that Mrs.5000 wins a lot of contests, but I think it's understandable that I would have a slight bias towards someone who shares my bed. Oh, and by the way -- nice job on the Monday Quiz, Chance. Sweetie.

@Photobrea: Hey, I've been in that small town in NE Kansas! ...not that I know the naked guy, though. But I've been in ALL the towns in NE Kansas, so I must have been in yours at some point.

@Becky: I'll be damned. I'm torn between how we got a mere copy, and how it's a groovy connection to things Parisien. Also, if I ever need an art historian on staff, you are hired. (Well, you and g both.)

Yankee in England said...

mmmmmmm the chocolate chip flap jacks from M&S are to die for. I do miss the leafy green of you envioron. That is something that is hard to find in Southend on Sea. Though I just found the local park last week(that only took two years) and it is picnic inspiring.

Chance said...

*sniff* That's all I wanted to hear you say!

Anonymous said...

Handsomeness and landmarkishness are not incompatible with being a bad building. From a functional perspective and from how it impacts the surrounding community is it still a crappy building. Perhaps its best feature is that is isn't as humongous as the even worse design of the behomoth at 2121 Belmont.

I will also venture that the hobos have less of a negative impact on the neighborhood than the condos. At least bums can be reasoned with..

Unknown said...

mac, you are awfully grumpy about the second wonder. Geez.

You 've got two complaints, as far as I can tell. One is that the building is bigger than its neighbors. Sure. But that's to be expected as the neighborhood urbanizes, which -- being two miles from the core of a growing city -- it's gonna. It is at approximately the same scale as at least three other condo developments going up along the Belmont strip, or for that matter the old apartment building at 37th and Belmont. And if it's handsome, then who cares if it's big?

Secondly, you don't like that "it shunts its residents directly into their little boxes and does a great job of keeping the masses from hanging out near it...." Dude, it's a RESIDENTIAL BUILDING. That's what residential buildings do. That's what residential buildings are FOR. You compare it with the Trip Nick, and point out that people would rather hang out at the latter. Well, of course they would. It's a public space. (As far as the restaurant in the ground floor of the Belmont Condos, it seems to be doing fine despite a menu that I personally find pretty daunting. I don't think the building is alienating their customers.)

I don't know, man. I've tried to feel the hate the last few days, but it just isn't coming to me.

Anonymous said...

Hi Micheal.
You've missed the idea entirely. Residential buildings are failures if they isolate residents from their neighbors. Think "kitty genovese".
Belief that they should isolate individuals is a product packaged and sold after WWII by such architectural failures as "Le corbu".
Bigger is not inherently a problem. Bigger that is not in character with its surrounding is a problem. Bigger that creates wastelands of dead space surrounding its largeness is a problem.
but enough....I will concede that the dictates of modernism are inherently superior to the idea of creating livable communities, architects are living gods and progress in better than stasis.

Michael5000 said...

Hi, Mac,

I haven't missed the idea entirely. I understand why you don't like the building. We just don't agree, is all.

What has raised my hackles about your comments -- and I apologize if I've seemed disrespectful of your thoughts -- is that you seem very quick to disregard the thoughts of an actual person who lives near the building. You say it is an abomination, that it lowers the quality of life in the neighborhood. My opinion is, it isn't, and it hasn't. And on this point, like it or not, my vote counts. If you really want to know what impact the building is having on quality of life in the neighborhood, I'm one of the people you have to ask.

Perhaps you live near the building too, and feel that your quality of life has been compromised. That would mean it's a building that the community has a range of feelings about -- a conclusion which should not surprise anyone.

And, sorry to blather on, but it's such an interesting topic:

1) For the record, I do not consider architects to be living gods, with the exception of the goddesslike Mrs.5000. I actually consider the culture and pretensions of the profession fairly silly. Don't tell her!

2) The intent of Modernist residential architecture was not by any means, as you imply by the "packaged and sold" remark, to isolate people. The intent of Modernist architecture was, well, to create close-knit, livable communities. Its often-spectacular failures stem not from its intentions but from a) its many false assumptions; b) the fact that it was generally implemented on the cheap in buildings managed with barely-concealed hostility towards their residents; and c) from the unwillingness of the people who had to live within its spaces to be socially engineered.

3) One precept underlying Modernism and New Urbanism alike is the proposition that everyone will be happier if people are encouraged by their environment to be buddies with whoever happens to move in next door. This idea is morally unassailable -- and therefore deserves the very closest of scrutiny.

4) Newspapers of the 1960s made the death of Kitty Genovese into a classic horror story about urban alienation. In doing so, they got almost all of the facts wrong. The real story, as it turns out, makes a disappointingly weak case for the bankruptcy of modern society.

Anonymous said...

Michael, Sorry for the delay in firing off this next round. So, instead of the usual froth filled rant I'll stick with a short and quick version...

1) I do live in the area and frankly the recent surge in condos has affected my and my neighbors lifestyles.

2)The primary architects of modernism created an inherently flawed product. I suspect we're generally in agreement here, but the routes taken to arrive at this conclusion are rather different.

3) I'll skip the marketed (a.k.a. packaged) and sold rebuttal for now. Theres that whole little angle of using reactions Nazi state architecture as a selling point too, but I digress.

4) The real core of the problem as I see it is that otherwise intelligent, reasonable people see buildings such as the Belmont structure and 2121 Belmont and the place at the corner of 20th and Morrison, as the inevitable outcome of development without considering other better alternatives.

Development does not have to be out of scale and character with its surroundings to be effective. Take as a case study the 'vintage -living' structure that occupies much of the block from Se 28th to Se 29 and Se Taylor to Se Salmon. While it is a vintage facility, it could just as easily be residential condos.
It is densely built, it has parking, it has some green space AND it fits in the locale.

These are traits that the above condos and the (3) proposed and (2) under construction projects in the 20th to 27th, Morrison to Hawthorne area fail miserably at. (BTW, The counts cited are the ones I can think of on an immediate basis, there are likely more. )

Aren't you glad this is the short version? As MacArthur said...