BEHIND LOCKED GATES: Outer East Portland neighbors dream about expanding Parklane Park

Will the property north of Centennial Community Association park – now surrounded by a barbed-wire-topped chain link fence – actually become an oasis? Find out what neighbors, and City officials, are saying …

For the first time since it was fenced off, neighbors have had the opportunity to explore the barricaded property destined to become an expanded outer East Portland Park.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Hidden deep in the Centennial Community Association, at SE Main Street and 152nd Place, is a triangle-shaped public space called Parklane Park. There is a play area, a softball field, and picnic area – but that’s about it.

Along the north side of the property is a barbed-wire-topped chain link fence, with sturdy gates kept closed with thick chains and hefty locks. This large parcel of cordoned- off property – at least twice the size of the existing park –was supposed to become the “real” Parklane Park.

After dozens of meetings and hours of public input, Portland Parks & Recreation prepared a Master Plan for the park – a plan stalled by lack of funding. But, to keep the dream alive, neighborhood and parks advocates staged a unique event on May 6 they called “Behind the Gates”.

Neighbor Kathy Scheer, and Rick Larson of the Centennial School District, look at parts of the Parklane Park Master Plan.

Remembers the gravel pit
One neighbor who came out to the afternoon event, Kathy Sheer, said she moved there in December, 1960.

“At that time, it was a gravel pit,” Sheer recalled. “It was a dangerous thing to have in what was a relatively new neighborhood; a big open pit. We mothers and kids picketed the place until the owner fenced it off.”

Although somewhat skeptical of its development, Sheer said it was a “wonderful” plan. “You know, originally, was supposed to be a sunken garden. Now it’s really sunken, but it’s not a garden.”

Says will improve nearby school’s facility
Rick Larson, Director of Business Operation for the Centennial School District, said he was buoyed by the talks with the community association. “Instead of a fence, it will be open to the children who go to Harold Oliver Primary School, located just east of the property. By the way, we’re changing the name of the school next year to Parklane Elementary.”

Zari Santner, director of Portland Parks & Recreation, is welcomed to the “Behind the Gates” event by the Chair of the Centennial Community Association, Tom Lewis.

Effort is worthwhile, for children
Tom Lewis, Chair of the Centennial Community Association, told us he’s lived in the neighborhood since he was three years old. During the time Portland annexed east Multnomah County, and put in sanitary sewers, the pit as filled with gravel left over from the project. “The hole was mostly filled in, but they never put in the top soil.”

This public event was deemed important because it showed the Portland Parks Department is getting their “ducks in a row” to move ahead with improving long-vacant land. “It’s a chance to improve our community. It’s important because most of us have children growing up in the area. We want to keep Centennial a good family neighborhood.”

Bo Mevue, a volunteer who worked on the Parklane Park Master Plan committee, tells the history of the land, destined to someday become a park.

Park project provides historic information
A member of the volunteer Parklane Park Master Plan Committee, Bo Mevue, spoke briefly at the formal presentation, before the property tour began.

“One of the things that everybody talked about in our meetings was how the property changed, and changed so quickly,” Mevue told the group. “Some people remember when this land was an airport; others, when it became a quarry. People shared how they remembered swimming in that.

“People also talked about how the Centennial Neighborhood was named in honor of the centennial of the State of Oregon, and how this park would commemorate the State’s 150th anniversary,” Mevue continued.

As changes came to the area, the park became the center of the neighborhood – along with the nearby schools. “It is, in fact, our civic center,” Mevue concluded. “It was great to hear people share the history of this area – and see how this could be something that gives our neighborhood a boost.”

Having erected a large canopy in case of rain, the group holds their formal meeting under it, and hears about plans for the park.

Parks director offers hope, but not promises
Zari Santner, director of Portland Parks & Recreation told us before the formal gathering that she was pleased to see so many people, ready to venture into the land beyond the “locked gates” and the fencing that keeps people out.

“The development of this park has the highest priority for us,” Santner stated. “And, even though we have delayed issuing the Parks bond – whenever we get funding, we will make sure that this project gets on the bond list.”

During the meeting, Santner told the folks there, “People saw this land as something of value. We didn’t have the money to buy it, and asked the Trust for Public Land to hold it until we could gather the money.”

For the first time, neighbors are able to hike “Behind the Gates”, in the property north of Parklane Park.

When the deal went through, Santner continued, it was the first time in many years that the City of Portland had purchased a large piece of property. “As you know the City was developing very fast, particularly on the Eastside and outer East Portland.”

However, Santner cautioned the group, “We don’t have money stashed away to build this park. But, I’m hoping that no later than five years from now, this will be a magnificent park.”

Portland Parks & Recreation East Zone Manager Doug Brenner points out features to be included in the expanded park – whenever the improvements are funded.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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