Big Changes Ahead for St. Francis Park

April 1, 2013 12:00 am0 commentsViews: 981

By Don MacGillivray and Lee Perlman

The one-acre private park that graced the Buckman neighborhood for 40 years is about to disappear.

The St. Francis Parish is in the process of selling St. Francis Park to Catholic Charities. That institution intends to redevelop the property, bounded by SE 11th and 12th avenues, Stark and Oak streets, for 152 housing units in cooperation with the Gerding-Edlen Company.

Parish representatives declined to discuss the issue. Pietro Ferrari of Catholic Charities confirmed that a sale was in progress but, as of publication, had not been completed.

The non-profit is actively working on its plans for the project. As architect Ted Lundin said at a pre-application conference last month, developers plan to create a podium with 11,688 square feet of retail on Stark and 12th, and row houses facing. 11th. Above this they’ll build four stories of housing, mostly one-bedroom but some studios and two-bedroom units. There will be “at least” 61 parking spaces, he said.

There is one structure on the south side of Oak St.. Consultant Teri Silver said the developers would either give this to someone willing to move it to another site, or deconstruct it.

Silver said Gerding-Edlen has been called in as a partner because of their greater experience with mixed-use projects and market-rate housing. Ferrari told The Southeast Examiner there will be a mixture of housing types, “but we will have as much workforce housing as we can in keeping with our mission”.

Tim Askin of Buckman Community Association praised the developers for including two-bedroom units, and urged them to have as many as possible. He suggested switching the row houses to 12th, where they would be facing the neighborhood, rather than 11th where they would be “cut off from it” and facing the industrial area.

The parish donated the land for the park, which began as a premier example of institutional and grassroots cooperation. In May of 1969, St. Francis brought together architects, artists and sculptors at SE Oak and 12th for “Designer’s Day”.

Three hundred school children, along with folks from the neighborhood came together for a weekend Play Extravaganza. Temporary structures and forms were built from disposable materials like cardboard, cloth, rope and wood.  The success and enthusiasm generated by this event resulted in the park that is there today.

In the fall of 1969, work began. Some fifty truckloads of dirt from the excavation from the downtown Wells Fargo Bank tower were delivered with the children of St. Francis School on the scene to celebrate the effort. The site was then contoured into a rolling landscape over the winter awaiting future additions of plants and structures.

For the next two years, with construction from volunteer labor and donated funds from a long list of individuals and organizations, the park became a community project involving hundreds of children and adults.

A major feature was a large angular steel play-structure in the park’s early years. Another was a totally unique river-fountain system splashing over a sculptural landscape. These elements helped to make a special world where a diverse range of activities overlapped, resulting in a true “adventure playground”.

The fountain in the upper pool cascades over a cubist steel sculpture designed by Portland sculptor, Bruce West. It was the source for the stream running through the park, gushing at thousand of gallons a minute. A series of cascades and whitewater brought the liveliness of a natural mountain stream to the city for children who rarely have the opportunity to experience Oregon’s natural environment. The 50 foot diameter lower pool provided a great “swimming hole” for the Buckman community. In the 70s, the water was turned on and the park officially opened.

St. Francis Park continued its organic growth into a mature, cultivated acre where there was once a vacant, sloping city block. The park is owned by the Catholic Church in Portland and operated by a non-profit organization called Vestpocket Community Center, Inc.

Unfortunately things changed in the 1980’s. St. Francis Parish closed the grade school as the St. Francis Dining Hall was expanding. This changed the community dynamics of the park.

The park sits across the street from Red and Black Café and at a recent community meeting, most people were of the opinion that the park had long since ceased to be a community resource. Some regretted the loss of its trees.

At the pre-app, development team members said they would try to incorporate park features into their project, and Ferrari echoes the desire to preserve “artifacts”. There are plans to build a new City Community Center and Swimming Pool nearby.

Let’s hope stake holders of future developments remember and continue the aspirations and ideals of the founders of St. Francis Park.

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