New Overlook on Terwilliger Parkway

After 110 years, once-private Eagle Point on the Terwilliger Parkway has become a public overlook.

Along Terwilliger Parkway, photo by Friends of Terwilliger

“Generations wanted to achieve what this group has achieved,” said Mike Abbate, director of Portland Parks and Recreation. He spoke Saturday at the celebration of Portland Parks’ recent acquisition of Eagle Point. It’s a 1-acre viewpoint along Southwest Portland’s Terwilliger Parkway. From it, the view of the Willamette River and eastside neighborhoods rises in a crescendo through green-topped Boring Lava Domes to the glaciated slopes of Mount Hood.

The citizens group Abbate referred to is Friends of Terwilliger. In 2012, the Friends alerted the city that the property was for sale by owner. Since 1983 the land had been a key target in the city’s plan for Terwilliger Parkway. The Friends made sure the city acted on the opportunity and kept the transaction at the top of its priority list.

About the parkway

When the renowned landscape designers, the Olmsted Brothers, came to Portland in 1903, they designed a system of interconnecting scenic parkways and parks. After a century of humans leaving the countryside in droves for cities, landscape architects were beginning to address how to get urban residents back to nature.

One proposed parkway was the Hillside Parkway, to run from Riverview Cemetery to Macleay Park (now part of Forest Park). The Olmsteds recommended that several overlooks along the way be preserved for the public. Many (such as Southwest Hawthorne Terrace and Southwest Prospect Circle) were soon developed and remain in private hands.

From The Portland Stairs Book: the grand staircase up from Terwilliger Parkway to the VA Hospital.

Only one of the Olmsteds’ proposed parkways became a reality: in 1912, the Terwilliger Parkway opened along part of the Hillside Parkway alignment. Named for an early day property owner, James Terwilliger, it runs 3.25 miles from Southwest Portland’s Duniway Park to Barbur Boulevard.

Abbate said, “I think of Terwilliger Parkway as the city’s first move to get people back to nature.” It was part of a great burst of Portland park creation: North Portland’s Peninsula Park and its rose garden and the Washington Park International Rose Test Garden were created in the same half decade.

Built when the land had been recently denuded of trees, the parkway originally offered views along its entire length. Now it’s a green ribbon, with a mostly flat asphalt path for bikers and walkers under a canopy of trees, and a 25-mph roadway that undulates along the face of the West Hills in a wonderfully inefficient way. Views pop out here and there, thanks to pruning by Parks crews. Eagle Point, because it juts eastward from the hillside, just became the best view on the route.

Acquiring the land

Along the route that became Terwilliger Parkway, the Olmsteds recommended that two outstanding viewpoints be preserved for the public: Elk Point and Eagle Point. Elk Point is occupied by the Chart House restaurant and a small park with a wonderful totem pole by Chief Lelooska.

Elk Point is owned by the City of Portland, but Eagle Point remained in private hands until a few years ago. When the Friends notified the City that the land was for sale, Abbate said, ‘’Our first phone call was to the Trust for Public Land.”

The trust can move money fast when land becomes available. It purchased the 1-acre site for slightly less than $1 million, then sold it in a pass-through to the city, which used funds from system development charges, the charges developers pay to contribute to park services generated by the demand their new development creates.

A home on the property dated from the 1890s. It has been deconstructed and removed. Invasive ivy, clematis and holly will be removed in the coming year.

On a morning when the clouds covered the view, Friends of Terwilliger, official or not, celebrated the acqusition of Eagle Point

Meanwhile, the overlook is open to the public. Go see what your fellow citizens have done. It fills a Portlander with pride. The viewpoint is at 4099 SW Lowell Lane, a small road off the parkway.

A new book about the Olmsteds and their Portland plans

The Olmsteds came to Portland at the request of L.L. Hawkins, a parks commissioner and early Portland enthusiast. His great-nephew William J. Hawkins, a renowned Portland architect, author and preservationist, inherited L.L.’s passion for Portland. His new book “The Legacy of the Olmsted Brothers in Portland, Oregon” is just out. I love Bill Hawkins writing — it’s where erudition meets enthusiasm. I’m picking up my copy this afternoon. They’ll be in stores eventually but are also available at his office, 503–497–9084.

posted Sept. 29, 2014