Historic Restoration of the Portland Open Space Sequence

Five decades ago, New York Times architecture critic Ada L. Huxtable witnessed the opening of “one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance,” – Forecourt Fountain – a 13,000- gallon-per-minute cascade of water of which no city had seen before. As the final in a sequence of four plazas designed for Portland, Forecourt Fountain (later renamed Ira Keller), marked the beginning of the renaissance – for downtown Portland and American public spaces. A unique cultural treasure, the innovative series of open space has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Sharing the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s (TCLF) mission of connecting people to places the site was honored by the 2017 Stewardship Excellence Award followed by the 2020 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Oregon Fellows Award and the 2021 American Society of Landscape Architecture (ASLA) Landmark Award.

Like many American inner cities, downtown Portland rapidly fell into decline after WWII. With the Federal Housing Act of 1949 providing $12 million in federal funds, the Prosper Portland (PDC) set aside three city downtown blocks and a series of adjoining streets to design the sequence of open and setting a course for a new era of public realm.

One of the smallest fountains in the city and the first of the Sequence, the Source depicts stages of a stream as they pass from mountains to lowlands. Lovejoy is a 1-acre plaza with vegetation kept at the perimeter while the plaza holds an active fountain mimicking the nearby Cascade Range. Pettygrove, the center park in the sequence consists of paths meandering along landscaped hillocks featuring a now dense canopy. The plan is naturalistic, simulating clumps of trees within a woodland setting. Toward the center, a large stage-like plaza is framed by Rocky Butte curved stone walls and “The Dreamer” by Manuel Izquierdo can be found to the southeast. Integral to the Sequence, the promenades provide access from public streets into the district. Anchoring the Sequence’s northern edge, a full city block, is the Forecourt Fountain Park. The centerpiece is a dramatic tiered reinforced concrete fountain with 25-ft waterfalls. At the base is a sunken rectilinear pool are reinforced concrete pads allowing access over the water and serving as stages for choreography of civic life.

Over time, aged infrastructure and deferred maintenance left the Sequence in dire need of care and restoration. In 2016, the City of Portland partnered with Halprin Landscape Conservancy to generate local support and create a voluntary Local Improvement District (LID) to restore the historic fountains and plazas. PLACE was commissioned to restore Lawrence Halprin & Associates’ design and infusing renewed vitality to amplify the original design intent and celebrate the Charles Moore’s iconic shelter and the work of pioneer women landscape designer, Angela Danadjieva.

Considered the largest as well as the most complex, comprehensive, and sophisticated expressions of Halprin‘s concepts for public plazas, the Sequence would later be repeated in varying forms for the next four decades. The restoration was essential in retaining the use and historically significant character of the site as one of the most significant open spaces in the nation.

Where the severity of deterioration required replacement, new features were matched with the original color, texture, overall visual qualities, and materials. Mock-ups were fabricated to ensure the integrity of new materials verifying color, size, and shape of aggregate and scoring. Lighting was updated to improve walkability and safety, restoring the original lighting design whenever possible. Improvements such as drain grates, afforded synergy of modern and efficient technology while maintaining the historic qualities of the site, accessibility requirements, and delivering functionality and ease of maintenance.

The Sequence created a unique, vibrant, people-pleasing setting encouraging growth within the district and fostering expansion of urban regeneration. Its success established a local expectation in urban design carried forward in the Pioneer Courthouse Square, Director Park, and a similarly orchestrated sequence of urban spaces — Jamison Square, Tanner Springs Park, and The Fields.

With the completion of the restoration, the groundbreaking public-private partnership continues to steward the preservation, maintenance, and programming of the Sequence year-round, further encouraging investments within the area.

Marking the 50th anniversary amidst uncertainty of COVID-19, PLACE teamed up with local artists to curate a virtual experience celebrating the heritage and positive impact of the Sequence. Through press and social media, a non-public socially distance art/cultural performance was held on-site to commemorate the vision and beauty as well as environmental and social value the Sequence brings to the community and the world.

Project location:
Ira Keller Fountain Park: SW 3rd Ave & SW Clay St, Portland, OR 97201 
Lovejoy Park: 1990 SW 4th Ave, Portland, OR 97201
Source Fountain: North of SW Lincoln between 3rd and 4th Avenues, Portland, OR 97201
Pettygrove Park: SW 1st Ave & SW Harrison St, Portland, OR 97201

Design year: 1966

Year Restored: 2019

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