Parking - Street parking
- Paved accessible pathways from all four corners to all park features
- 50 feet to play area
Play Area - Synthetic unitary surfacing for universal access
- Ramp into play area
- Fenced on three sides
Play Equipment - Universally accessible equipment
- Two universally-accessible adaptive swings
- Sensory play elements
Other Amenities - Accessible restroom
- Accessible picnic shelter
- Accessible gazebo
- Accessible drinking fountain
- Accessible basketball court
- Accessible picnic tables
- Accessible interactive water feature with historic interpretive elements
- Accessible central loop pathway
Dawson Park is named in honor of an Episcopal minister, the Rev. John Dawson, who was an advocate of child welfare and civic improvement in the 1920s. This space was once a cow pasture and then a ballfield used by the Immaculate Heart Church and School. It was also a frequent stopping place for small circuses and medicine shows. 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.
The gazebo in the park was built in 1978 to showcase the 120 year-old cupola salvaged from the Hill Block Building, once a cornerstone of the old Albina commercial district and an informal gathering place for the African-American community. The onion-like dome was landmark architecture on the Hill Block Building located on the northwest corner of the intersection of N. Russell & Williams. The building and many others were torn down in the early 1970s to make room for a proposed expansion of the Emanuel Hospital campus. The expansion did not take place due to a cut in federal funds. The gazebo was renovated in 2008.
The summer of 2000 saw an increase of criminal activity in the park. A partnership was formed between the Portland Police Bureau, Portland Parks & Recreation, the Eliot Neighborhood Association, Legacy Emanuel Hospital, Immaculate Heart Church, neighbors, and local businesses to address the problem. This community effort resulted in a revitalization of the park, adding amenities like permanent checkers tables and promoting positive activities for all ages.
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. With funding 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.
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.