Skip to Main Content View Text-Only

The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Parks & Recreation

Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-7529

1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204

More Contact Info


As did the Depression and World War I before it, World War II affected the Parks Bureau greatly. The annual recreation report was printed on red, white, and blue paper, and noted in the section on sports, "America is hardening its muscles, toughening up!" An increase in demand for programs was fortunately accompanied by additional community effort, allowing for increased participation in recreation programming. In addition, Peninsula and Sellwood Community Centers were both remodeled, and Couch and Shattuck indoor pools opened. Recreation Director Dorothea Lensch also became involved in developing a defense recreation program for that included soldier recreation, hospitality, and morale; she organized the Portland Recreation Volunteer Corps of the National Civilian Defense Organization. The Oregon WPA Music Project provided 43 summer concerts in the parks. In response to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Bureau closed both and Mt. Tabor Parks, home to Portland's water reservoirs, in fear of sabotage.

In March, a group of citizens requested a bowling green, and Park Superintendent C.P. Keyser began working to meet that need. Development began in Westmoreland Park to include a playground, tennis courts, and a bowling green. That same month, hundreds of Japanese began leaving the Portland area, presumably to avoid the newly imposed 8:00pm-6:00am curfew as well as the impending "evacuation" or internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans. All remaining 1,707 Japanese or Japanese Americans were removed from their homes the first week of May and placed temporarily at the North Portland Assembly Center. That same week the Parks Bureau reopened Washington Park, but had a barbed wire fence placed around the reservoir; the following week, Mt. Tabor Park was reopened with barbed wire fencing around its reservoir as well.

Mrs. Elizabeth Yeon - daughter of John Mock, namesake of Mocks Crest, and widow of John Yeon, former state highway commissioner and civic leader - donated property in Mocks Crest for a parkway on N. Dana between Willamette Boulevard and Lombard Street. Dorothea Lensch paid special attention to the needs of the large groups of war workers in Pier, Columbia, and Peninsula Parks by providing what was essentially free childcare. Playground supervisors in the parks were available to tend to small children whose mothers had to leave them in the park for extended periods of time. In addition, summer playground activities increased, with free zoo trips, bicycle tours, softball, tennis, dance, and crafts.

Juvenile delinquency increased because children lacked supervision, with fathers off to war and mothers working, and consistent blackouts meant evening sports could not be played. The Recreation program expanded to increase the morale and reduce the absenteeism of workers in the war industries. Programs operated in community centers and schools, as well as in war housing projects and church basements. Recreation programs were also offered for the Japanese interned "in concentration at the Livestock Pavilion." People began complaining that "Asiatics" were monopolizing the tennis courts, which caused Superintendent Keyser to fear a race problem - not only with Asian Americans, but also with African Americans. This concern led to plans for a community center to serve ethnic minority groups living in the Albina neighborhood.

However, except for some progress in improvements to playgrounds, all construction was "deferred for the duration" of the war. Despite some concern over the unnecessary expense of running the zoo during wartime, increased attendance and a subsistence garden for hay allowed the zoo to remain open. Work continued in the Arboretum aided by John Duncan, Park Superintendent of Spokane, who suggested that trees be grouped by species, making identification easier and requiring less labeling. Battleship Oregon was re-commissioned and removed to Kalama where it was stripped of its topside gear for scrap metal; fortunately, some concerned citizens removed the upper 100 feet of the topmast to put in Waterfront Park "in lieu of a cenotaph," a monument or tomb for a person whose remains are elsewhere.

Upon the recommendation of Edgar and Henry J. Kaiser, the City employed Robert Moses, New York City's Parks Commissioner, to complete a study and create a public works plan for Portland to ease citizens from a war economy into a peacetime economy. During the 1940s, approximately 137,000 workers moved to the Portland area for war industry work, most notably in the Kaisers' shipbuilding business.

Although many planned to return to their home states after the war, city officials and prominent businessmen were concerned about potentially high unemployment and its accompanying problems that the cessation of war industry activity would likely create. In November, Moses (who was paid $100,000 for his work) presented an 85-page report detailing a $75 million, 2-year plan which would create an estimated 20,000 jobs. While much of the plan focused on projects such as creating an efficient sewage disposal system, widening streets, and constructing "thruways," many park and playground improvements were indicated. Moses also recommended expanding and moving the zoo and purchasing more land for parks in the wooded west hills, downtown, and along the waterfront. Although much of his expensive plan was not to be funded, it provided guidelines for both the City and the Parks Bureau for more than 20 years.

The federal government provided funds through the Lanham Act, augmenting the budget sufficiently to allow operation of 64 facilities year-round, 30 for the three summer months, and 10 others irregularly for spot programming. The Recreation Division began a project to provide experimental recreational planning for rural areas, trailer camps, housing projects, and neighborhoods affected by war industry, in addition to community centers, the military, and schools.

Lanham funds were suddenly and unexpectedly withdrawn in September. Although volunteers already made up a huge part of the Parks Bureau's workforce, the Recreation Division came to rely even more heavily on volunteer manpower this year. Groups that pitched in included the Red Cross, the PTA, Kiwanis and Optimist Clubs, as well as many women's clubs throughout the city. Teen-Age Clubs, made up of young adults between ages 14 and 21, sponsored dance nights, educational lectures on social hygiene (manners) and dating, sports, junior service programs, excursions, and various classes and activities in the community centers.

In November, a group of citizens, in collaboration with retired U.S. Forest researcher Thornton Munger, voted to form a committee to publicize a huge natural area, which had been undergoing oil drilling tests, as a site for a future city park. The Committee of Fifty, chaired by G. E. Cannon, then actuary and future president of Standard Insurance Company, began bringing together people from various conservation-minded clubs around the city. Their goal was the acquisition and development of the area now known as Forest Park. In the winter, the Oregon State Legislature passed a proposal that allowed counties to transfer lands to cities for park purposes.

A population increase, partly due to returning veterans, filled all available housing and lent to the creation of neighborhoods with defined boundaries. Apartment-style housing developments caused an increase in population as well as an increase in the percentage of children in a small area. It became necessary to consider expanding programs, opening new community centers, and creating more activities for youth.

Construction began on St. Johns and Mt. Scott Community Centers and on Normandale Park. The Parks Bureau began charging bowling green use fees and renting equipment. In May, the City Planning Commission delivered a report supporting the Forest Park project. In July, the City Council unanimously approved plans for Forest Park: they dedicated 2,000 acres to the project, including Macleay Park; approved a plan for the acquisition of 6,000 more acres; and agreed to ask Multnomah County to transfer other lands for the project.

Coca-Cola sponsored the Mr. and Miss Portland Teen-Age contest, judged by popular ballot and on an essay entitled "What my Recreation Center has done for me." The winners were sent to New York City where they were featured on a radio broadcast that aired the same night as a Teen-Age Jamboree. Both the contest and event proved very popular and generated quite a bit of publicity for the Bureau.

A huge flood destroyed the City of Vanport (now East Delta Park and Portland International Raceway), causing many families to move into the Guild's Lake area which was being converted into an industrial site. Trailer camps were set up, and University Homes (now University Park) Community Center housed Vanport administrative offices and storage. Children living in the temporary housing spent whole days in Columbia, Pier, and Peninsula Parks, necessitating an increase in supervisory staffing at those parks. The Parks Bureau also extended community center hours in three locations. Dawson Park and the Junior Museum opened their programs three weeks early to accommodate the influx of flood victims.

One of the first in the country, the Junior Museum (later to be called the Children's Museum) opened this year in the Kamm House and featured art classes for children and exhibits of children’s artwork. The World's Championship Softball Tourney was held in Portland. This year marked the first Crippled Children's Camp organized by the Bureau in conjunction with the Oregon Crippled Children's Association and the Lion's Club. It was held at Creston Park and the Junior Museum.

Portland's smallest park - a grassy, former light-post hole in a median strip - was established by Dick Fagan and named after the column he wrote for the Oregon Journal, Mill Ends. At the other end of the size spectrum, Multnomah County transferred 2,000 acres of "delinquent tax owned" land acquired through foreclosure to the City in April for its new wilderness park. On September 25, 4,000 acres in west Portland were dedicated as Forest Park.

Superintendent Charles Paul Keyser stepped down and was succeeded by Harry B. Buckley. Work continued on Forest Park. Much time was dedicated to preparing for the May 1950 election; the emphasis was on promoting a new park levy, the first new levy proposed since the war. The Junior Museum moved to 3037 SW Second, a former nurses' residence of the University of Oregon Medical School.

In January, the City Council approved the purchase of East Vanport from the federal government. The 100-acre tract was purchased from the War Assets Administration for $40,000 even though no funds were yet available for the development of what would become East Delta Park. In the primary election in May, voters passed a .4-mill park levy. The first funds available totaled $207,000. The same election incorporated the Vermont Hills district into the City of Portland. In October, the Parks Bureau purchased an 87-acre tract of land featuring two small creeks and wooded areas between Vermont and Canby Streets for $120,000. Part of the park, referred to as Gabriel Acres, gave the park its name - Gabriel Park. Plans for the funds from the new levy included properties that would eventually become Hancock, Wellington, and Kenton Parks, and part of Rose City Golf Course. Plans also included installing playground equipment at Burlingame, Arbor Lodge, and Berkeley Parks. Four acres of Burlingame Park had been donated in April by Fred Meyer, and picnic tables had been set up for summer use. The Park Forester spent several months determining boundaries and timber thefts in Forest Park.

Recreation participation increased by 35%, and the Knott Street Community Center, formerly Eliot School, opened in mid-February. A new feature in the recreation program was a 10-day Festival of Music held in the Garden Theater (now called the Amphitheater) in Washington Park. Zoo attendance continued to increase, and the Parks Bureau and concerned citizens felt the need for an organization to advise the City Council on zoo matters; the Zoo Commission was created and held its first meeting in September. This was the first year concession contracts were awarded on a lump sum rather than a percentage basis, and it increased Parks Bureau revenue. Another revenue booster was an increase in golf greens fees.

Mrs. Elvira Raven, known for her neighborhood Children's Rose Festival parade and for feeding the homeless in her own home, donated her house to the Bureau. Overlook Park was being built at the same time, and the overseer for the park took on the responsibility for the new house, Overlook House, as well. Since the Bureau was somewhat short on funds, the Interior Designers and Decorators' organization, as part of their philanthropic program, furnished the house. The Bureau took care of repainting.

An August fire destroyed huge portions of Forest Park, totaling 600 acres of parkland and 600 acres of private land within proposed park boundaries. 80% of the park required artificial reforestation, and many people volunteered to help. Most notably, the Park Forester supervised the planting of 30,000 trees in Forest Park by high school students from Portland Public Schools. The Bureau acquired an adjacent 63.9 acres of property with a water supply to aid in future fire control. A small headquarters for Forest Park and Macleay Park was built at NW 30 and Thurman.

A memorial water fountain was placed in Dawson Park to honor Albina's pioneer settlers. Leif Erickson Drive was to be opened to the public this year, but damage and debris from the 1951 fire made that impossible. In May, the Portland's first fire finder within city limits was established on a hill in Madrona Park overlooking Swan Island. It would be staffed during daylight hours of the fire season by specially trained high school youth. Several park employees, along with Fire Bureau and Public Works staff, also underwent a training program in fire line location and general fire-fighting techniques.

The 1950 tax levy provided $200,000 to the Parks Bureau each year for ten years, yet a study conducted by the Bureau showed it would need $4 million above that figure over the remaining eight years. So, in his eight-year plan, Superintendent Buckley stressed health and sanitation, relief of congestion, completion of work already underway, and primary development in high priority neighborhoods. Most of the money would go toward improvements such as lawns, playground equipment, picnic tables, and wading pools. Only two major building projects were scheduled: a gym at Mt. Scott Community Center, and a combination dressing (for summer swim) and social (for winter months) room at Montavilla Community Center. East Delta Park required $94,200 for minimum improvements, but Superintendent Buckley stressed its role as a showpiece for Portland and a park for use by all citizens regardless of neighborhood.

Several new construction projects were completed: a headquarters for Hoyt Arboretum, a concession building at Normandale Park, new locker rooms and showers at Peninsula Park Community Center, and modernization and ventilation of two comfort station at SW 8th and Ankeny. Underground irrigation was installed in eight parks and on 6.8 acres of school grounds adjoining parks. Other new additions included eleven new backstops and four new tennis courts. The Parks Bureau purchased the University Homes Commissary Building and a contiguous 12.89 acres from the Portland Housing Authority. The donation of an elephant necessitated the building of an elephant house and parking, and when Rosy, a four-year-old Asian elephant arrived on September 14, she attracted thousands of additional visitors to the zoo. Nighttime vandalism to golf courses in the form of dynamiting of the greens and "squirreling" on greens in cars caused extensive damage and increased costs. High school students continued to replant Forest Park.

An attendance study discerned that children between five and nine years old (the baby boom) and adults over 60 used recreation facilities most often, and their numbers in the Portland population were steadily increasing, creating new challenges for both the Parks Bureau and Portland Public Schools. The Bureau purchased 165.04 acres of land near Progress for a golf course (now RedTail Golf Course), and received several large land donations, including 89.39 acres within the proposed boundaries of Forest Park from Multnomah County.

Thanks in part to Rosy the elephant, voters approved a 1.2-mill tax levy for five years to construct a completely new zoo on a new site. The architect and the Zoo Director visited sixteen zoos and seven aquariums to inform their new plans. The zoo also began a new program for students from the State Blind School in Salem that gave them a special opportunity to hold, feed, and pet the gentler animals.

Work in Forest Park continued with students planting trees; by that time, 17.5 acres had been planted with 19,000 trees, mostly Douglas fir, but also 2,650 Ponderosa pines. The Park Forester began supervising a group of Junior Foresters - high school and college students employed in the summer to staff fire lookouts and perform road and trail work. The Junior Foresters, along with prisoners from the County Jail, worked to clear and prepare Leif Erickson Drive. The Fire Bureau offered a Fire Training School for park personnel. Elk, coyote, deer, and even a half-grown bear were observed in Forest Park; Portland's wilderness park was slowly coming back to life.

Mt. Scott Community Center was finally completed, along with a lunchroom in Washington Park and a grandstand in Westmoreland Park. New skylights were installed in the Forestry Building, 36 new park name signs were placed, and 25 pieces of new playground equipment were installed. The Parks Bureau had been slowly acquiring more riverfront property; by 1955, they owned 8,500 feet. 127.46 acres were added to Forest Park, more trails were completed, and 13,550 new trees were planted. Leif Erickson Drive opened for public viewing on two days in July and October. The Bureau granted the Bonneville Power Administration and Portland Gas & Coke Company permission to cross park areas. Grading for the new zoo was completed, and building plans awaited approval. The West Hills Golf Course was closed and work started soon after on a new smaller course using 16 acres of the West Hills municipal course.

Fear of the atomic bomb resulted in the creation of a national Warden Service for Disaster Relief and Civil Defense. In Portland, Park Superintendent Buckley was in charge of the program, which focused on 1) facility protection, 2) unallocated manpower, 3) special operations, and 4) an operations plan. Essentially, this program called for the creation of emergency plans for schools, industries, and commercial establishments. Superintendent Buckley was also charged with the responsibility of creating a plan for the recruitment, organization, and training of various wardens who would help implement the plans.

Participation in the Recreation Division's social activities increased dramatically this year with more interest in teen dances, party nights, game nights, and armchair caravans. The Community Music Center was founded this year, housed in the Woodstock Community Building and headed by Isadore Tinkleman, a well-connected and accomplished violinist. Volunteers in the Recreation Division numbered 14,000. Funds from outside associations totaled $86,068 - the majority of which came from the Portland Metro Softball Association, Portland Basketball Association, and World Women's Softball Tournament.

Workers completed the remodeling of Montavilla Community Center and work on the vista indicator at Council Crest Park. Several buildings were re-roofed and tennis courts were resurfaced. A hard freeze and a wet winter caused severe damage to many parks; Superintendent Buckley estimated it would take several years to restore and cover scars and landslides. The Hoyt Park Pitch and Putt Golf Course was 95% complete, utilizing greens from the previous West Hills course. Mrs. Florence Laberee bequeathed $6,700 for a fountain to be placed in Council Crest Park; Frederic Littman created a bronze sculpture of a mother and child to portray the joy of playing in a park.

The zoo received many gifts. The King of Thailand made a present of a four-year-old male elephant, and Orville Hosmer donated a female named Tuy-Hoa after the valley in Vietnam where she was born. The San Diego Zoo donated a Great grey kangaroo and a Sarus crane, the San Antonio Zoo also donated a Sarus crane, and the Calgary Zoo donated two Platinum foxes. The zoo also exchanged an old polar bear for a black leopard from a Texas zoo. The water and sewer systems for the zoo were completed and the construction of the roads, parking area, and bear grottos was underway. Plans for a zoo train began and hopes were high that the new zoo would be completed by October 1957.

The zoo acquired a penguin colony. Construction on the new zoo was delayed, but it was scheduled to open in May 1958. The OMSI building was erected in Washington Park by volunteers in one day. Parks Commissioner Ormond Bean traded with PGE 14.5 acres of downtown street areas already within PGE property for 100 acres in Oaks Bottom (now the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge). The initial plans for the new Oaks Bottom property consisted of a man-made lake with a waterway giving access to the Willamette; the lake would feature a boat ramp, swimming areas, and an "aquatheater" - and would be a financially self-sustaining venture.

In April, the City announced fairly drastic budget cuts, citing the previous year's pay increases as the cause. The Parks Bureau faced the loss of $140,000, resulting in the closure of seven of the eleven swimming pools, 27 unstaffed playgrounds, and the elimination of several camps and community centers. Junior Foresters, who provided much needed fire protection services, could not be employed. The Bureau also had to trim maintenance crews; therefore, ballfields received very little care and sprinkling was conducted during the day (night crews were too expensive) leaving fewer free and dry park areas available for daytime use. Remarkably, and to the great credit of Portland citizens, 3,500 volunteers managed to keep summer programs operating at a more productive level. Programs for teen and senior citizens still suffered; fortunately, many teens found a positive alternative volunteering with the younger children's activities.

The curtailment in staff in 1957 caused a drop in effectiveness of programs while participation increased approximately 20% overall, with participation increases of 55% in social activities and 40% in physical activities. The efforts of 18,000 volunteers and $152,000 in funds raised by sports and outside groups helped greatly. Various construction projects were completed: new shower facilities were built at University Park Community Center; an electric kitchen was installed at Creston Park; and Fulton Park School was transformed into a new community center. More women and older people were playing golf than ever before, bringing in more revenue. Hoyt's Pitch and Putt course was not attracting as many people as expected, but it was not easily accessible so plans were made to remedy that problem. Pop Warner Football started in the fall with four teams.

The construction contracts for the new zoo were all behind schedule. The bear grottos were not completed until February - 15 months late. The Commissary and paddocks, finished in October, were one year late. While the Penguin Pool was being completed, 47 Emperor and Adelie penguins were housed in the pool at Peninsula Park. Fortunately, the Penguin Pool was finished on schedule in May, so the penguins were moved to the new zoo along with some bears and some "hayeaters." Over half of the penguins died before the Penguin Pool was ready, which caused some concern, yet keepers acquired new penguins and hoped the new pool would help keep them healthy. Besides being inconvenient for animals, keepers, and the public, these delays caused a financial problem as well since construction costs increased by 26% from the time the project began in 1953. It was possible that money set aside for the project would not be sufficient to cover the increasing costs.

The Parks Bureau purchased 120 acres of land for Forest Park for $20,118. PGE granted 15.3 acres for easement rights at Sellwood and Oaks Parks. After much deliberation, the federal government agreed to sell Vanport to the City of Portland. The 625-acre tract (now Portland International Raceway and Heron Lakes Golf Course) was purchased from the General Services Administration for $175,000, at half its assessed value since it would be developed for recreational purposes. Knott Street Community Center, remodeled from a school, opened and featured a new boxing center. In addition, the Woodstock firehouse was acquired and renovated to serve as a community building. Relations with Portland Public Schools continued to improve, with 53 schools now available for public use.

Participation in recreation programs increased 25%, highlighting the need for all of the new community centers opened over the past several years. The Portland Soccer Association formed and began to offer a soccer league for youth and adults. Summer Fitness Camps were extended this year to three seasons, but still separated boys' and girls' activities. A track meet for girls was added to the schedule. The Learn to Swim campaign began and received an enthusiastic response.

The new zoo continued to face delays, this time from excessive rain and slide conditions. Nonetheless, enough work was completed to move in bears, elephants, and primates, and the new zoo opened from July 3 to November 24 to 316,229 visitors bringing in a total of $65,229. The two zoo trains were especially popular. Poor animal health continued to pose problems in the zoo. Although penguin mortality decreased, young spider monkeys were dying rapidly due to a mite infestation. The various and continuous health problems necessitated the hiring of a full-time zoo veterinarian, who began work at the end of October.

To create Delta Park, the Parks Bureau purchased 635.01 acres in West Vanport on contract, with a $136,000 balance. A pioneer sawmill was constructed at the Forestry Building. More fire training and water supplies made Forest Park safer than ever, which was becoming a common destination for educational field trips. In addition, the Park Forester and the new Outdoor Education Activities Committee began to program topics in forestry, soils and water, plant identification, wildlife, and fire control. The Pioneer Church was donated to the City and moved by barge from Milwaukie to Sellwood, and placed at the south end of Sellwood and Oaks Parks.

At the zoo, income doubled while animal mortality decreased. The Washington Park Zoo train extension opened and proved very popular. A group called Friends of the Zoo formed to promote a zoo levy for completion of the new zoo; the levy failed in November, but the Friends group remained active as the Zoological Society. The Centennial Totem Pole carved by Lelooska tribe members was installed at the zoo.

Huge increases in Recreation program attendance were especially marked in Social Dance (40%) and Individual Sports (57%). Financial curtailments, however, forced the closure of several pools, so swimming attendance dropped unavoidably. A group of concerned citizens formed The Community Music Center, Inc. to provide continuous funding for the CMC. The Merry Go Round television show on KGW-TV featured information and stories about various Bureau activities, and this year, Knott Street Community Center's amateur boxing appeared one hour per week on KPTV. Radio station KPOJ began to feature a regular Recreation Highlight, providing more publicity for various Recreation Division activities.