Dawson Park Improvements
Dawson Park was acquired by the City of Portland in 1921; it was named for Rev. John Dawson, an advocate for child welfare and civic improvements in the 1920s. The two-acre site had previously been used as a cow pasture, then a ballfield and a touring stop for small traveling circuses. By the late 1940s, it functioned as an unofficial town square for the surrounding African American community. The park was the epicenter of many political and social movements during the next 30 years. Robert F. Kennedy spoke here. Civil rights marches began here.
By 2007, the park had fallen into some disrepair and a Dawson Master Plan, developed with the community, envisioned restoring it as a key community gathering space. The plan prioritized a list of desired improvements, including the restoration of the Dawson Park Gazebo. In 2008, Urban Renewal funds were used to restore the 120-year-old cupola salvaged from the Hill Block Building - once a cornerstone of the old Albina commercial district.
When additional funding was secured in 2011, area residents, community organizations, and area churches provided input to Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) and Portland Development Commission (PDC) on how park improvements could promote better use, create a more inviting feel for families, and highlight the park’s deep cultural and historical roots. The final park design by landscape architects 2.ink Studio reflected all of these elements. The project completed site improvements around the gazebo to make it a functional performance space and provide ADA access.
Construction began in October 2013, managed by PDC to allow flexibility to optimize minority-certified contractor utilization on the project. Primary funding for Dawson Park's redevelopment was provided from PDC’s Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area. Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, in partnership with the non-profit Portland Parks Foundation, donated generous funding toward the newly completed water feature. PP&R and Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz, with advocacy from the Northeast Coalition of Neighbors (NECN) and the non-profit Harper's Playground, funded upgraded playground surfacing for universal accessibility.
Funding: $2.3M Interstate Urban Renewal with support for the waterplay feature from Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, Portland Parks Foundation, and PP&R, as well as support for upgraded universally accessible playground surfacing by PP&R, for a total of $2.7M.