Still walking

Back in March when the pandemic changed the way the world works, we were amazed and inspired by all the walkers, runners, riders and extra-neighborliness afoot in these Northeast Portland neighborhoods. With all of us under shelter-in-place orders back then and still trying to come to terms with what was going on around us, we needed a new routine, some activity, a little uplift to our spirits and some exercise.

That’s walking.

Back then, we wrote up a few exploratory history walks around the neighborhood, and a little historical perspective on pandemics from 1918. If you haven’t walked those walks, they’re still there for you: the Broadway streetcar loop, the jaunt around the Pearson farm, the Alameda Park perimeter walk.

This afternoon when we were out for a long walk at dusk–which begins about 4:15 p.m. here at the bottom of the year–we were once again impressed with just how many people were out, even in the cold. Most everyone was wearing masks, all of us politely shifting to the other side of the street or up the middle, often with a wave, to make way for walkers headed in our direction. It’s the new social compact: we wondered how in a post-pandemic environment we’re going to train ourselves out of what has become an instinctual response to cross the street.

There’s plenty of other interesting history walks you might add to your walking routine. Don’t forget about the system of alleys between Ainsworth and Prescott from 33rd to 24th. You could cover a lot of territory in that network and get a whole other perspective on the neighborhood. Maybe walk the old Alberta Streetcar route. Or go find and walk around the block where Old Vernon School used to sit and see if you can find the clues of change.

Here’s another idea for a build-your-own history walk: There’s a section here on the blog called The Builders that features biographies of 12 of the most prolific homebuilders in this part of Northeast Portland. With each builder, we’ve also included a pretty complete list of houses and addresses built by that person. Pick out any of the builders and go walk by their work, spot the design or construction similarities.

Go, for instance, to the Kenny Birkemeier entry and string together a route past the addresses of 20 homes he built, all within walking distance. There’s even some old photos to compare against when you get there. You’d get a chance to climb some hills. Could be fun for an old house wonk like you.

If you have a young person in your midst looking for a lesson plan that’s a little different, check out the seven Home History School lesson plans we put together this spring. Good for kids of all ages.

How to get started? Start small with a simple stroll around your own block. There are intriguing clues to look for.

Stay well. Wear the mask. Keep walking.

Sidewalk history – Josie lives!

There’s a stretch of sidewalk we’ve walked thousands of times in our 30 years here in the neighborhood. One piece of it is distinctive for the moment in time it captures, when a little girl scratched her name into fresh concrete and claimed the sidewalk out in front of her house as her own.

She wrote: “Josie lives here. Yay!”

As we’ve stepped across her graffiti over the years, we’ve often wondered where Josie went; it must be a good few years since that concrete was fresh.

That particular stretch of sidewalk has been in rough shape recently, heaved up by roots from nearby big trees and just generally tired. After all, these sidewalks were made more than 100 years ago and have been patched up over the years. That’s a lot of freeze-thaw and wear and tear.

A couple weeks back, we noted the current safety-minded owner had quite reasonably pulled out the entire sidewalk and formed up for a new one. When we saw the pile of rubble left over from the broken pieces, we figured that was the end of Josie’s concrete. Hey, this was only a sidewalk, and it was a serious tripping hazard that needed to be replaced. Sorry Josie, but it was time.

Still, there was a tiny pang. It’s just a small thing, but as AH readers know, we tend to get a little sentimental about losing places that have meant something to people over time.

So, imagine our wonder when on second look we noted the owner had carefully carved out Josie’s graffiti and was preparing to add it to the new sidewalk (at least, that’s what it looks like to us). This was not an easy thing to do and required some intentional thought and planning, maybe rental of a concrete saw, and careful handling. It would have been way easier to just keep working away with the jack hammer.

Again, it’s a small thing. But we noticed. This little job is a tip of the hat to the past and show of respect. Important to note even small examples when people go out of their way to bring the past along into the future. Bravo!

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