Backstory of a favorite local fire station

Picking up the local fire station thread where we left it: here’s a story about how the siting of public facilities in the early days was more about administrative prerogative and less about public input. Portland Fire Station 14 as we know it today is one such story.

station-14

Portland Fire Bureau Station 14, NE 19th and Killingsworth

In 1958, with the closure of the old fire station on NE 33rd and with a new fire chief in place, Portland set about reconfiguring its overall fire response network. Several of the older smaller stations across the city were closed. New stations were planned. A $3 million bond levy passed by popular vote, and seven new stations went into development across the city, serving (and changing) the neighborhoods where they landed.

Fire officials wanted something more central to the Concordia neighborhood, and they didn’t mind something that would also be expedient. Those criteria focused planners on a parcel the city already owned: a quarter-acre at the southwest corner of the popular 16-acre Alberta City Park, bounded by Killingsworth on the south, Ainsworth on the north, NE 19th on the west and NE 22nd on the east. It’s a great park.

From an expediency standpoint, this made sense: lots of surrounding housing that needed fire protection; it was near a school that would also benefit from quick response; it was on a major east-west thoroughfare for good access. Not quite like building a tennis court or swimming pool, but doable.

Problem was, there wasn’t much conversation with the neighbors.

3-4-1959-construction-men-enter-park

The back-and-forth between the city and the neighborhood that followed would give even the most veteran city PR person the heebie-jeebies. Articles in The Oregonian from July 1958 until March 1959 describe how the neighbors opposed construction at first politely, which ratcheted up to petitions signed by 400 neighbors and sit-in protests against the station by the Vernon PTA, letters from the pastor at the Vernon Presbyterian Church, formation of a lobbying group called “Save Portland Parks,” a strident letter writing campaign by neighbors, and—after the city decided to go forward with the project even in the face of local opposition—an arson attack on the construction site on the night of March 3, 1959. Yes, you read that correctly.

The opposition group leader eventually gave up when the city persisted: “We don’t like it, but we can’t do any more,” Dorothy Rapp told The Oregonian on March 5, 1959. “It’s fruitless to fight city hall any longer. There’s no sense in beating our heads against the wall.”

Today, Station 14 has become part of the fabric of the neighborhood, welcomed and appreciated by all, or at least taken for granted. The engine and four personnel stationed there respond to 2,500 calls for service each year.

We’ve overcome this particular history (and hopefully learned from it), but as we know, it’s always insightful to remember how things came to be.

One response

  1. I sent this article to an old friend of mine who grew up on 8th and Jarrett and in the ’60’s went to Vernon School across from Station 14. His dad, Tony Blaszak was a detective with Portland Police, and raised four boys in that neighborhood. Nick sent me back this reply of his memories.
    ———————-
    Yeah thanks for sending this bit about the fire station. I walked by that station back and forth to Vernon for 7 years. (I was shuttled by car to Kindergarten and some of 1st grade.) I had no idea when it was built but it did not seem like an old building back then. Alberta is a neat park and I can understand why residents back then didn’t want the city to ruin a chunk of it. A few years later the Columbus day storm came along and took out many more trees than this project did.

    I wonder why none of my grade school classes ever took a field trip educational visit to the modern fire station that was right across the street? I have one dim memory of ever having been in the building and I know it was not school related.

    The fire station had something kind of unique about it that I’ve never noticed on any other building. There was always a lawn sprinkler sitting atop the roof connected to a hose that just ran along the roof tiles and down the side of the building. It just looked like a routine household sprinkler with two long arms and so I figured it was placed up there by some fireman at his own initiative, rather than part of the original design. Not sure I ever saw it running water – but maybe I did a time or two during hot Summer days.

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