Sunday, June 6, 2010

City of Roses

It’s June and the City of Roses is gearing up for another Rose Festival, another Grand Floral Parade, and another year of celebrating the city’s best known flower. When locals and out-of-towners want to stop and smell the roses, they generally head for the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. But, Portland has another rose garden; one that is older and bigger, but not as well known.
Located in the Piedmont neighborhood in North Portland, Peninsula Park is bordered by Rosa Parks Way on the north and Ainsworth Avenue on the south with Albina and Kerby forming the east and west sides. The inspiration for the park was the City Beautiful Movement of the early 1900s, a nationwide effort at urban revitalization aimed at making cities more attractive and appealing places with parks, recreational opportunities, and community pride. While Portland lacked the industrial blight of older, Eastern cities, it was experiencing a period of rapid growth and expansion and prime for some urban development. The city responded by hiring the Olmsted Brothers, the premier landscape architects of that time, to visit the city and develop an open space and park plan. Their contributions continue to be enjoyed today in many of the city’s most popular parks- Forest, Washington, Laurelhurst, Sellwood, Mt. Tabor, Westmoreland, Peninsula and others.
The 16-acre parcel of land designated for Peninsula Park was purchased in 1909 for $60,000 and, according to the Department of Parks and Recreation, was formerly the site of a roadhouse and horse racetrack owned by businesswoman Liverpool Liz. When completed in 1913, the land was transformed into an outstanding example of a neighborhood park of that era, and included a community center with swimming pool, children’s playground, and Portland’s first public rose garden.
The two acres devoted to the garden were laid out in a formal, classic, European-style with symmetrical rows, neatly trimmed boxwood hedges outlining the flower beds, brick pathways, and a large water fountain and pool in the center. The sunken garden was situated six feet below street level and contained nearly 9,000 roses representing 65 varieties. The official rose of Portland, Mme. Caroline Testout, was cultivated here and can still be seen growing in the garden. This deep pink rose was extremely popular at the turn of the century. After World War I, the city planted 10,000 of them along 20 miles of street ways; thus earning the moniker, City of Roses.
Overlooking the garden is an ornate, octagonal band shell built in 1913. It served as the setting for patriotic rallies during World War I and is now a popular venue for summer weddings and concerts. The last of its kind in Portland, the building is a National Heritage Historical Structure and official Portland Historic Landmark.
When the rose garden first opened in 1913, it was an immediate hit and received over 300,000 visitors in the first year. Floral enthusiasts made it the home of the annual rose show. In the meantime, the city with the support of the American Rose Society was developing a rose test garden in Washington Park on Portland’s west side. When the International Rose Test Garden opened in 1917, rose festival activities moved there leaving Peninsula Park’s lovely garden to enjoy its quiet, neighborhood ambiance.
While on the eastside of town, another place to view an outstanding assortment of roses is in the Ladd’s Addition Rose Gardens. This urban, residential neighborhood in southeast Portland off Hawthorne Avenue was originally laid out in 1891. While most of the area streets are on a grid system, the Ladd’s Addition consists of diagonal streets extending outward from a central park. At each of the four compass points are diamond-shaped rose gardens with a total of 3,000 plants.
Not in Portland, but another charming rose garden on the eastside is the Sara Hite Memorial Rose Garden located on Kellogg Creek Road in the southeast suburb of Milwaukie, across from the Milwaukie Senior Center. With over 450 rose bushes in neatly manicured beds, the garden also features a lovely gazebo, large brick plaza, and plenty of benches for stopping and smelling the roses.

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