By Kathy Eaton
Photos by John Butenschoen
“Peninsula Park is the heart and soul of our neighborhood. Each spring we look forward to the buds appearing in the historic rose garden that magnetically draw our winter-weary community outdoors,” said Piedmont residents Lisa and Debra McPherson.
Part of the City Beautiful Movement, Portland’s first rose garden opened at the park in 1913. The 16-acre park is also home to the city’s first community center built that same year, complete with an octagonal bandstand and fountain set amid thousands of roses. Mature linden trees form the park’s outside border, and 16 catalpa trees shaped like large gumdrops line the paths inside the rose garden. The park is home to Portland’s official rose, named Mme. Caroline Testout and imported from France in 1905 for the Lewis and Clark Exposition with bushes that produce large fragrant pink blossoms.
Portland’s first park commissioner, Emanuel Mische, a horticulturist who was trained by the Olmsted firm, designed the French sunken garden. The garden is symmetrical with six-foot slopes and was home to the city’s annual rose show from 1913 until 1917, when it was moved to Washington Park.
While plants continued to flourish in the garden, in 2012 concerned community members volunteered to work with Portland Parks to spruce up the garden to celebrate its centennial. Forming the nonprofit group, Friends of Peninsula Park Rose Garden, enthusiastic green-thumbed volunteers planted 4,000 donated plants that were disease-resistant and healthy to preserve and sustain the garden for future generations. Today, Northeast Portland Parks horticulturalist Hillary Maurer, who gets her hands dirty pruning plants and training volunteers, says, “You don’t have to be a Master Gardener to help.”
The Friends board devised a preservation plan with parks staff to maintain healthy, disease-resistant roses, emphasize the history of the garden, ensure community involvement and promote fiscal stability. To focus more attention on the garden’s Ainsworth Street entrance, the group recently planted a drought-resistant garden with native plants to attract pollinators and wildlife. A pergola originally designed for the entrance was never built, according to board member Judy Farmer. “We want to realize that dream, building on the garden’s glorious past by building the pergola with a sight line from the garden entrance to the glorious fountain, historic bandstand, and ending at the Italianate community center located at the north end of the park.”
The board sponsors a few events to help them achieve their goals. Last year they raised funds to restore the original brickwork inside the garden. They’re excited about hosting 35 Pacific Northwest artists for the third annual Art in the Rose Garden Show and Sale on Sunday, July 30, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about this event, and others scheduled throughout the summer, see penrosefriends.org.
Center focuses on community
An Italian villa-style community center inside Peninsula Park is located at 700 North Rosa Parks Way. Originally the site of Liverpool Liz’s Saloon, it had been a roadhouse and racetrack for quarter-mile horse racing; the original parcel also included an auto park and campground. Planned by Oregon architects Ellis Lawrence and Ormond Bean, the park retains many original features, including the Portland Historic Landmark octagonal bandstand, built in 1913 and the last of its kind in Portland.
Today, the bandstand is a popular venue for weddings and other events, such as quinceaneras, the Hispanic tradition of celebrating a young girl’s coming of age at 15. To obtain permits, call Portland Parks at 503-823-2525.
Numerous framed historic photos, trophies and other memorabilia are on display in the community center’s fireside room located off the main lobby. A wooden sculpture of a penguin sitting atop the front counter is a nod to the center’s past. In 1957, the city zoo housed its Humboldt penguins in the center’s pool because the zoo lacked proper facilities to house the penguins when they arrived from Antarctica. According to center director Jeanne Sprague, many Portlanders still refer to it as Penguin Park.
An ice cream social held June 16 in the center’s courtyard kicked off the summer season of 16 camps, numerous classes in art, dance, sports and gymnastics, and the pool’s opening. The outdoor playground is open daily during the summer from 10 a.m to 4 p.m., and according to Sprague, about 150 people enjoy a free lunch offered weekdays during the summer. Community involvement in developing programs to meet neighborhood needs is key to their success, said Sprague.
“We offer a variety of programs for all income levels, making available low-cost camps and classes.” For more information about classes and camps, see www.portlandoregon.gov or call 503-823-3155.