The Addendum

Cultural Landscapes Defined

So just what are cultural landscape studies? As the study of them plays a significant role in my academic work, I get asked this question a lot, so I felt I should try and answer it here. Consider this, then, the most cursory of definitions, leaving much out, and concentrating much on my own personal experiences and studies.

The term “cultural landscape” is not new, in some circles of geography its study is considered a bit outdated. In simple terms, the idea is that by studying the landscape—literally, the shaped land—for how humans have altered it, one can infer knowledge of local life. Conversely, this also assumes that human cultures vary over geographic space and alter those spaces in distinct ways. The local landscape means not just land itself, or things altered in the land such as plantings, crops, water courses, and the like, but essentially all human alteration to the world’s organization, including built form. It is an interpretive art, and in some ways it is kin to the way that archaeologists interpret the ruins of long-gone cultures.

John Brinckerhoff Jackson (1909-1996) did not invent cultural landscape studies, but he was perhaps one of the most influential American forces shaping it in the second half of the last century. That era’s thinking about place has been a huge influence on my photography, my writing, and my own thinking. One of the reasons I applied at and eventually entered graduate school at UC Berkeley was the ability to work with Paul Groth, one of Jackson’s protogés, and the person who inherited teaching his landmark undergraduate class, American Cultural Landscapes. Last semester, I had the honor and privilige of working as a graduate student instructor for the B-half of the course, which covers from 1900 to present.

The first issue of Landscape, J.B. Jackson's magazine of cultural landscape studies, printed in spring of 1951.

The first issue of Landscape, J.B. Jackson’s magazine of cultural landscape studies, printed in spring of 1951.

“Landscape” is a key word, and it was also the title used by Jackson for his publication on the cultural geography of America. Founded in 1951, Landscape was part magazine, part literary publication, part academic journal. In it, he republished European pieces about cultural geography along with writing about the American landscape. Jackson particularly loved the Southwest region—the magazine was based in New Mexico. Often he wrote the pieces himself, sometimes using his own name, and often using pseudonyms. We still don’t know how many of the latter he used, and this sort of thing—along with a lifelong aversion to footnotes or citations—made him a bit of an academic rebel. Yet his sense of observation was keen and interpretations brilliant. By the mid 1960s, this man—without an advanced degree—was lecturing at Berkeley and at Harvard, teaching his American Cultural Landscapes course.

For photographers of landscapes and industry, cultural geography in the vein of Jackson’s provides a strong philosophical basis for work. For example, the concept of a “sense of place” has become so used by photographers that it is now nearly a cliché. In a broader sense, the idea that landscape itself tells a story, even before photographed, is compelling. It gives purpose to the photography of place, as it gives to photographers not just the power of expression but also the role of revelation.

“Sense of place” was also the title of the first Jackson book I picked up, A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996). It was before I knew anything significant about cultural geography, when I was still only a writer and photographer who was also a lover of place. One day I saw it on a shelf and idly picked up a copy at the Burnside Powell’s Books in Portland, and skimmed through it. I can’t remember now if it was chance, or if it had been recommended to me by another photographer.

What I do remember was finding a book of essays by a man who dared to suggest that roads belonged in a landscape, that the way that humans change the world is as much a part of the world as is nature itself.

Above all, it was a work by someone who clearly loved place, and for me, place had always mattered. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, in what Stewart Holbrook (who was not a cutural geographer and yet often wrote like one) called the nation’s Far Corner (New York: McMillan, 1952). I had always felt that somehow the soil of the fields, the stones of the mountains, and the water of the Columbia river were mixed in with my blood. I still do feel that way. So it is little surprise that I loved Jackson’s work. I put $4.95 down on the checkout counter, and the book went home with me. Little did I know that almost ten years later I would be the student of one of Jackson’s students, and helping teach his class. (The experience was special, and for which I am profoundly grateful.)

Some might question how an undergraduate education in communications meshes, in any way, with the cultural landscape studies, but the uncanny thing is just how much connection there actually is. Treating landscape as a subject of interpretation is to treat it like a text to be read. Meaning, message, medium; all are present in the landscape. Power dynamics, conflict? You can’t find a place that is not shaped by them. The study of cultural landscapes, then, is in many ways a communicative method that analyzes and interprets one of the greatest texts ever crafted: the Earth itself.

* * *

A note on sources: much of the story of cultural geography and J.B. Jackson came from many conversations with Paul Groth, as well as several of Jackson’s works, most especially Landscape in Sight, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000).

Posted in Architecture, Books, Cities, Culture, History, Land Use & Transportation, Photography, Writing | Comments Off

Review: Some Vernacular Railroad Photographs

Some Vernacular Railroad Photographs
By Jeff Brouws and Wendy Burton. W. W. Norton & Company, 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110; wwnorton.com; 7.3 x 9.4 x 1.2 in; hardcover; 288 pages, 2 b/w photos; $39.95

The act of collecting was once a particularly strong trait in Anglo-American culture. Much of my childhood was spent in the 1980s, before the Internet era, when kids—and especially boys—were still expected to busy themselves with hobbies that generally involved some form of collecting. I never traded baseball cards—mine was a football household, poor benighted fans of the Seattle Seahawks—but there were other milieus: coins, stamps, agates. And then there were the adults. My grandfather, for example, seemed to be a magnet for early Pacific Northwest mountaineering memorabilia, though this was not his most unusual collection. That prize went to rocks. As in pure, genuine, plain rocks. If he travelled anywhere interesting—Mount Hood, the Olympic Mountains, Canada, the Oregon Coast—a humble rock would get tossed into the trunk. Jeff Brouws and Wendy Burton’s new book, Some Vernacular Railroad Photographs, is about the obsession of such collection, in this case of the amateur photographs of railroads.

The railroad has had a profound influence on American culture, and is a subject of much veneration in popular history. The chase of The General across the battlefields of the U.S Civil War, the joining of the transcontinental railroad with a gold spike at Promontory, Utah in 1869, and the tragic 1900 death of locomotive engineer Casey Jones in a collision in Mississippi are all well known pieces of American folklore. More than a half century after the last mainline steam railroad laid low its coal fires and converted to economical, unromantic diesel power, the steam locomotive remains so evocative that it is the chief avatar of railroads in the public consciousness. Railroads help define the nation’s identity as much as do those apocryphal stories about Ben Franklin catching lightning in a jar or George Washington chopping down cherry trees.

Plate 139. C. William Witbeck. Illinois Central Railroad 2-8-2 #1464 with freight train enters yard as seen from atop coaling tower North Jackson, Mississippi April 1938. (David Price Collection) Image courtesy W. W. Norton

It should then come as no surprise that the American railroad—like the U.S. Civil War, or Route 66, or the All American Game of baseball—has a cult following, with its own genre of writing, photography, and art. For many years, Brouws and Burton have been chronicling the photographic output of this American rail enthusiast subculture, primarily concentrating on prolific and accomplished photographers whose work rose beyond the norm in technical and artistic merit.

Yet even as this talented pair helped shepherd monographs of railroad photography’s “high art” achievements towards publication, Brouws found his interests were also being drawn towards photographs made for purposes other than artistic expression, and yet which sometimes bent towards visual lyricism in spite of themselves. These were, to misapply a bit of T. S. Elliot, “the useful presents,” workaday photos of railroad facilities made for assessing property and equipment value, or documentary images of accidents and wrecks, or sometimes random vacation snapshots. Hi mom, I’m at the Grand Canyon, and oh look, we saw a train by the motel! The bulk of the images that appealed to Brouws, however, were the images made by railway enthusiasts. These images typically placed the locomotive, with billowing steam and smoke, front and center, and were usually printed on small stock, often two-by three inches, about the size of a business card or—and the parallel should not be overlooked here—baseball cards.

Photographer unknown Southern Pacific Railroad Men on top of boxcar  learning hand signals Los Angeles, California, 1940s. (Jeff Koeller Collection)

Plate 131. Photographer unknown Southern Pacific Railroad Men on top of boxcar learning hand signals Los Angeles, California, 1940s. (Jeff Koeller Collection). Image courtesy W. W. Norton

In the introduction to the book, Brouws describes the budding of this new obsession, at a 2002 visit to a railroad memorabilia swap meet in Springfield, Massachusetts. There, he wandered the aisles with “a crowd of wide-eyed rail buffs jammed into the space,” not quite knowing why he was there. Then came the fateful moment, when he happened upon stacks and stacks of photographs. Brouws “became hooked,” and soon began to sort through them looking for images that appealed to him the most. The images were largely anonymous, with few bearing a signature or photographer name, though more than one held an accidental poetry of data: “notations, inscribed on their versos in an elegant script, delineated the arcane language of locomotive wheel arrangements” or “concise histories of moribund railroads….”

Best of all was a happy coincidence of counter-purpose taste and sheer volume. Most of the crowd at the show were model railroaders, and as such sought out images that showed the details of the subjects in the clearest lighting conditions. Brouws, however, was drawn towards the “artful” images in the mix, those with strong compositions, unusual moody atmospheres, or broader context. These images, while pleasing, made poor reference material, and so were in abundance among the stacks. Meanwhile the sheer quantity of such images made resulted in prices often shockingly low: five dollars, one dollar, many times even fifty cents! “In this age of online auctioning,” writes Brouws, “where every material object known to man… [is a] ‘collectable’—bringing with it the fact that nothing is cheap anymore…. it was a collector’s dream come true…..” So began ten years of image collecting.

Brouws and Burton’s book represents the fruit, though not the cessation, of this collection. The volume, with its unusual squat format, fits in the hand like a hardback novel, inviting a fireside consultation in a fat, overstuffed chair. It is filled with a diverse range of imagery from the attics of America, a scrapbook of the everyday railroad, with a subtle and pensive layout and sequencing that is owed to the visual talents of Burton, who designed the book. Images like William Rittase’s bird’s eye view of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s yards in Philadelphia (plate 147) are mesmerizing, with a sea of boxcars and a gritty sky that looks like the work of a monochromatic alter ego of J. M. W.Turner. Other images show a kind of spontaneity that imparts life: the image of Southern Pacific Railroad employees riding atop boxcars in Los Angeles (plate 131), photographer unknown, is almost certainly a quick snapshot taken by a railroad tower operator out his window, a random slice of happenstance that speaks to us across the untold years. All of the photographs have an uncooked, unstudied honesty. How many of them have been passed by in all those railroad swap meets, discarded for their subtle blurs, their clipped off portions of equipment, their flaws that make them so delightful?

Plate 147. William M. Rittase. Pennsylvania Railroad. Philadelphia freight terminal along Delaware River. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1930–40s. (Jeff Brouws collection). Image courtesy W. W. Norton

While the bulk of the book may be a testament to the compulsion to collect such images, it also provides insight into the development of railroad photography, with a perspective that may never have been adequately addressed before. Brouws notes in his introduction that many of the enthusiast photos were distributed via clubs formed, in part, for that purpose, organizations such as the International Engine Picture Club, the National Railway Historical Society, and others. These were “analogous to contemporary social networking, with the United States Postal Service rather than the Internet acting as the delivery mechanism.” Today, railroad photography, as well as photography in general, is rapidly being redefined by Internet-based outlets and tools. Within the subculture, Railpictures.net has changed how the average railfan thinks of “publishing” and what to do with photographs once made, just as sites such as Flickr and 500px and mobile photo sharing tools like Instagram are completely changing how the general public uses photographs, as well as how we collectively define “good” photography. Some Vernacular Railroad Photographs offers a glimpse into another, earlier era of populism in photography, and shows the spectacular output as well as the sadly neglected present-day value of a truly massive body of photographic material. Pause and consider a moment: of the unnumbered bulk of amateur railroad photographs made over the first half of the 20th Century, the average image is easily found at a swap meet, with no record of its time, place, subject, or photographer, and offered for purchase at less than you can buy a cup of coffee. Or a candy bar. Or, really, less than you can buy anything anymore. Populism in photography exploded the amount of railroad material available to be seen, but it also resulted in poorly archived material and a general lack of social value. What parallels this may hold for our present, Instagram era of populist photography is a question worth pondering.

With no regional focus and no narrowing of subject matter, Some Vernacular Railroad Photographs is ultimately art history, not railroad history. Among railroad enthusiasts, whose tastes bend notoriously towards the esoteric and the specific, I fear too many will pass the volume by. This would be a sad loss. Even taken merely as a book of general Americana and railroadiana, this volume stands out head and shoulders above the vapid output of mass-market picture book makers and in-house bookstore presses. More than that, for those who care about making images of railroads, its introduction is probably one of the greatest contributions to the history of railroad photography published in the last decade, and the images that support it are delightful, surprising, charming. Those who make acquaintance with this book will ultimately come to appreciate that charm. Those who don’t? They will pass by, sadly blind to these agates among the beach stones.

Some Vernacular Railroad Photographs will be available in July 2013 from Powells Books, Amazon, and select local book sellers.

Posted in Books, Culture, History, Land Use & Transportation, Photography | 5 Comments

Historic Preservation, Unusual Artifacts, and the Big Preservation Question

The last dual guage in Portland, at S.E. Mall Street and S.E. 17th Avenue, in 2012. Photo by Arlen Sheldrake

Historic preservation is difficult under even the most ideal conditions, but it is all the more difficult when the subject is—important or not—odd or obscure. Thus we have the case of the last dual gauge streetcar track in Portland. Its salvage and preservation is the most recent example of preservation at the fringes of urban history.

Let’s back up a bit.

Portland is one of those cities that boomed in the late 19th century, and had an urban form that was thus dictated in large part by the streetcar. This puts it in the ranks with mostly Western kin, like Minneapolis, Denver, and Dallas. Moreover, Portland had a streetcar network that used two different gauges of track, standard gauge, and narrow gauge.

From the Portland Streetcar System Concept Plan: an overlay of historic streetcar routes and Metro 2040 land use planning areas.

Gauge, for those who aren’t railroad geeks, is the distance between the two rails on the ground. Today, almost every example of rail transit operates on standard gauge, where the rails are placed in the improbably precise dimension of four-foot, eight-and-one-half inches apart. The origin of this measurement is a matter of debate, and not relevant here, except to say that this was a measurement that the vast majority of big, intercity railroads eventually settled on, so it is also what most transit lines now use.

Back in the nineteenth century, however, transit companies were largely free to use whatever gauge that was wished, and many put down lines laid to narrower gauges. The advantages were several. Narrow gauge lines used fewer materials, making them cheaper to construct. Equipment on a narrow gauge line was typically lighter and smaller, so that it could fit in tighter spaces and utilize lighter bridges and structures. Narrow gauge lines could also turn tighter radiuses, and so were more suited to tough twisty terrain or urban locations were turns were difficult.

A "MT" Mount Tabor line streetcar from Portland Traction curves from Morrison onto S.W. 11th in 1948. This line, like many Portland Traction routes, was 42" gauge. Photo courtesy Art Griesser.

In Portland, streetcar line promoters—there were once several overlapping systems in the city —sometimes used standard gauge, and sometimes used the narrower, 42″ gauge. The former were typically (but not always) trolleys, built to cover longer distances and connect to places on the urban fringe, while the latter were typically (but not always) true streetcar routes that connected only urban points. Portland civic leadership tended to prefer the narrower 42″ gauge, now sometimes called “Colonial Gauge” because of its popularity for general rail transportation in the former colonies of the British Empire.

…the majority of the council insisted on the narrower forty-two inch gauge considered more suitable for Portland’s narrow streets. The Second Street line of the Metropolitan Company was standard gauge, a fact the city council deeply regretted.
—John T. Labbe,
Fares, Please! Those Portland Trolley Years (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1980), pp 54.

In 1904, virtually all streetcar systems in the city were consolidated into one company that, after some corporate reshuffling, eventually emerged as the Portland Railway Light and Power Company. PRL&P ran streetcars, interurbans, electric street lights, electric power generation and distribution, and was the ancestor of today’s Portland General Electric. A later corporate reshuffling placed the transit lines into a subsidiary called the Portland Traction Company, and it is under this latter moniker that the city’s streetcar and interurbans are best remembered.

one rail transit system, but two gauges

Consolidation brought the opportunity to eliminate needless duplication of services, overhead costs, and the like, but also introduced a complication: one rail transit system, but two gauges. While there were several smaller maintenance facilities around the city, the PTC’s primary heavy repair shops were at Center Street, adjacent to the Southern Pacific Brooklyn Yard in southeast Portland.

This detail of a Southern Pacific Company diagram from the 1920s or 1930s shows the Portland Traction Company's Center Street Shops. North is to the right, and the long horizontal road above the facility is S.E. 17th Avenue. Diagram courtesy TriMet, click to view larger.

In order to service both standard and narrow gauge streetcars, there were several segments of track laid in dual gauge. This dual gauge track had one rail that all vehicles use, and then one set at a distance from the shared rail at the measurement for the narrower gauge, and one set as the distance for standard gauge:

Eventually, Portland Traction began to convert streetcar routes to bus lines. This story is beyond the scope of this post, but it involved matters of deferred maintenance, declining revenue, divisive and negligent public policy, fiduciary troubles, and thinly veiled attempts at bilking the public. The bottom line is Portland Traction, no longer a PGE subsidiary, operated its last streetcar line—the narrow gauge Council Crest line—in 1950. Most of the Center Street Shops soldiered on as a bus barn, eventually transferring to TriMet in 1969. The portion of the shops TriMet inherited have been replaced by newer structures, but Center Street remains the agency’s primary maintenance facility (albeit not for rail) and the bus bays in the current building are still known as “tracks” to those who work there, despite a span of sixty-three years since the last time a rail transit vehicle was serviced in the building.

The existence, much less the role, of narrow gauge streetcar lines in the city has largely faded from public consciousness.

The many former streetcar routes of Portland Traction have survived fairly well, at least when it comes to actual transit service. Although reduced to bus service, it is notable that thirteen Portland Traction streetcar lines largely survive as TriMet bus routes, and of these, nine are “Frequent Service” routes, the backbone of the TriMet bus system.

Thirteen PTC routes survive as bus lines today, with nine of them being TriMet "Frequent Service" lines. Click to view larger.

The actual track of the various streetcar lines has fared less well. As is typical of once critical infrastructure, the abandoned streetcar tracks became viewed as little more than a nuisance best removed or paved over. Most suffered the latter fate. By the dawn of the twenty-first century, few streetcar tracks remain visible in the city, and a short segment in S.E. Mall Street near 17th Avenue had the obscure honor of being the last known visible remnant of dual gauge in the city. The existence, much less the role, of narrow gauge streetcar lines in the city has largely faded from public consciousness.

Fast forward to the present, and TriMet is in the middle of building its latest MAX light rail extension, the Orange Line from Portland to Milwaukie. This line is going right down the length of S.E. 17th Avenue, necessitating the road be widened. As a result, the Mall Street dual gauge remnant was right in the path of construction. In the rendering of the 17th and Holgate station below, the dual gauge remnant would be in the middle of the new southbound 17th Avenue lanes, right behind that foreground tree, in the intersection. Result? Remnant doomed.

Rendering of 17th & Holgate MAX station. Courtesy TriMet.

A house can become an office, a storefront can become a studio…. Infrastructure, however, is usually a tougher situation.

Historic preservation is a tough thing, but sometimes it is tougher than others. With buildings, there is usually the possibility of reuse. A house can become an office, a storefront can become a studio, a department store can become a hotel, and so forth. Easy, no, but there are at least options. Infrastructure, however, is usually a tougher situation. Rights-of-way have found new life, sometimes, as recreational trails, such as with old interurban routes becoming trails like the Springwater Corridor or the Trolly Trail. Bridges are a tougher save, as seen with the recent (failed) effort to save the Sauvies Island Bridge. But in these cases, again, some new use can be made. What new use can old streetcar tracks in the street hold? Sure, for the historian, there is something fascinating about them. They are industrial ruins, a testament to how quickly modernity can create, destroy, and supplant itself with ever newer spatial orders. They are the industrial equivalent to a segment of a Roman road or, to bring it to a more local example, the Oregon Trail: of no practical value, but immense historic moment.

In the case of this dual gauge remnant, the idea that it would disappear was an anathema to many local transportation and history enthusiasts, myself included. Informally a small campaign was launched, mostly consisting of persistent and carefully crafted emails from some in that community to TriMet. Making the case for the remnant’s historic value to Portland transit history, I added my voice in a small way, lobbying that this remnant be preserved in some fashion at the transit platform to be built at 17th and Holgate. Perhaps, I suggested, it could even become part of the mandated 1% for art program, as the station art here. The pleas, however, were to no avail. Responses from TriMet were minimal or none, and those of us lobbying to save this piece of oddball transit history felt certain that we had failed.

the agency was willing to remove it and donate it, if a suitable home could be found

Then, earlier in 2013, came an email from one of the TriMet community affairs people associated with the Orange Line project: while TriMet had no plans to reuse the remnant, the agency was willing to remove it and donate it, if a suitable home could be found. Moreover, they were willing to remove it whole, complete with its surrounding street pavement, its ties, its gauge intact. All of these pieces were vastly important to the context of the remnant, and the agency was willing to salvage it in as close to intact as was possible. Some quick negotiations took place, and the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation agreed to provide a home for the piece as a vital artifact of Portland’s rail transportation history.

Last monday was the big day. Forewarned by an email, the ORHF was notified that Stacey & Witbeck, construction contractor for TriMet, would be delivering the remnant to the Oregon Rail heritage Center near OMSI in the morning. In the mucky wet of a typical Oregon Spring morning, a semi-truck arrived carrying the mostly intact slab of old S.E. Mall Street, complete with the last visible section of dual gauge transit track in the Portland area.

Naturally this is not a solution that is practical for all misfit remnants of history. Utility manhole covers all over Portland still bear the corporate stamps of once vitally important companies that dramatically reshaped the city; their durability has been their best protection. Likewise, many fire hydrants at or beyond the century mark in age are still in service across the region, a number of them cast locally, evidence of the once important and now largely forgotten local iron and steel industry. What of street lamps? Industrial tracks and truck docks? Shipping cranes? Water pumping stations? Or, in what will no doubt become the biggest preservation controversy of the next year, what do we do with empty reservoirs on Mount Tabor?

Or, in what will no doubt become the biggest preservation controversy of the next year, what do we do with empty reservoirs on Mount Tabor?

Everything cannot saved, and everything should not be, but if we lost all evidence of these things, we lose a vital record of the past. I do not want to live in a metropolitan region where everything smacks of newly pour concrete and computer-aided-design… do you? The question of where to draw the line, of what needs preservation, and how best to preserve it is one that will never fully be answered, but it is a question that we all too often forget to ask at all, and when we do, we all too often concentrate on the easy and familiar but, frankly, often banal, like the private residence, and completely miss the esoteric and seemingly mundane yet profoundly more important, like this little segment of track that once sat in Mall Street. (It should be noted that the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Historic, Archaeological, and Cultural Resources Results Report (15.6mb PDF) did not mention this remnant at all, even in passing.) We need, desperately, to ask the Big Historic Preservation Questions better.

We need, desperately, to ask the Big Historic Preservation Questions better.

The saving of this piece of track was, frankly, a miracle. Advocacy on the part of the historic community was not as strong as it could have been, in part because it was difficult to explain the significance of the piece, and in part because it did not fall into the conventional territories of specific preservation-minded interest groups. Yet the miracle did happen, and for that we must thank many individuals and organizations, not the least of which being Jennifer Koozer and Nicholas Stewart and the entire Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail team at TriMet; Stacey and Witbeck who so carefully removed and delivered the piece, and the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation for providing a home for this piece. Without them and many others, this would not have happened.

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Photo Call

For all of my transit geek photographer friends: I am working on a project related to modern streetcars. I need a few specific images and I am writing to see if any of you may have some:

• Signs or picketers protesting streetcar lines, e.g. anti-streetcar signs in Cincinnati would be great.
• Streetcars in Little Rock or Tampa, Florida, or any other line that uses those GOMACO built reproduction streetcars.
• The Memphis Trolley
• The New Orleans Streetcar
• Modern streetcar passengers, both boarding cars as well as riding them. Artistic and highly stylized images are welcome.

If you have any such images, please email me at alexander.craghead@gmail.com. I cannot promise massive payment but, if your images get published, I will send you a stupidly tiny check as a thank you, plus you will get a credit in a national publication.

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Brushwork and big plans

Recently, I was notified of an exciting opportunity to further my education: I was accepted into a graduate program at the University of California Berkeley. I am very excited by this, and looking forward to it tremendously. However, this new opportunity also means that I will be moving, as well as taking on some tremendous expenses.

As a result, I’ve had to make a hard decision: I am willing to let some paintings go. I really do not want to sell these, but I think it’s the right choice. All proceeds will go towards cost of living and/or books and tuition at UC Berkeley for the crucial first semester, starting in August 2013.

Morning Rush, Portland. Watercolor on paper, 16x25 inches, 2007.

Morning Rush, Portland. Watercolor on paper, 16x25 inches, 2007.

The first painting I am placing is Morning Rush, Portland. This is one of the largest watercolors I have yet completed, with the image area being 16 inches high by 25 inches wide. This image is part of a series I began focusing on subjects found along the route of former U.S. Highway 99W in Oregon. In this case, the scene is the top deck of the 1912 built Steel Bridge in Portland, with a MAX light rail train passing over it.

This painting is being offered at $2,100.


Liquidated, watercolor on paper, 16 x 25 inches, 2009.

Liquidated, watercolor on paper, 16 x 25 inches, 2009.

The second painting I am offering is Liquidated, another of the same 99W series of images. Like Morning Rush, Portland, this is a large image, measuring 16 inches by 25 inches.

This painting is listed at $2,100.


McKim Mead & White's unbuilt Portland station design

The third and final painting I am offering is this rendering of McKim, Mead & White’s unbuilt rail station for Portland, Oregon. This illustration was created specifically for an article I wrote for Portland Architecture on this never built masterpiece structure, and you may read more about its creation here. This is a watercolor and ink rendering and also rather large, measuring 12 inches high by 20 inches wide.

The price for this piece is $1,600.


To purchase any of these paintings, there are three options. You may contact me directly via email. You may also call and leave a message for me at 503.347.4059. If you don’t want to wait, and don’t mind electronic payments, see the pantings for sale page.

Lastly, if you have specific projects or commissions you want to consider, see my Creative Services page.

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Getting to know dead people

From the memoirs of J. C. Ainsworth, University of Oregon Special Collections

From the memoirs of J. C. Ainsworth, University of Oregon Special Collections

Being a writer with a strong interest in the region’s history, I find myself running across certain names with great repetition. It is hard, for example, not to read about the Ladds in Portland, or John McLoughlin in the pre-territory period of the 1830s and 1840s. Add to them other names that, over time, have become so pervasive that I remember them as a small boy remembers his presidents. The list often comprises of names now best known for application to streets in Portland and Salem. Collected, they sometimes resemble free verse:

Meek. Palmer. Lee. Blanchett. Corbett. Reed. Dyer. Scott. Kamm. Thompson. Deady. Wood. Swigert. Frank. Failing. Markle. Hawkins. Carey.

Rarely, however, do these names emerge from the paper as living, breathing people. Too often, even in the best of our history books, they seem but a collection of discrete facts and figures, to be stored in the brain alongside William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in 1066, or other high school historical minutae. Some figures become almost marginalized because of it, as if familiarity has bred contempt even here, and worse yet others have become cardboard cutouts of themselves.

Take as our first example Ben Holladay. A frontier wagoneer, the so-called “Stagecoach King,” and a political boss to make Rahm Emmanuel blush, the man spent the last two decades of his life in Portland, reshaping the landscape and sometimes scandalizing society. It is perhaps no surprise that he became exagerated with time. As a determined, ruthless man in business, he made many enemies, and these resulted in history being bent against him.

Ben Holladay. Oregon Historical Society OrHi 49501

Ben Holladay. Oregon Historical Society OrHi 49501

Consider for a moment the way that historian Joseph Gaston writes of him, more than twenty years after the man’s death:

…Holladay did buy judges, and legislatures and attorneys to betray their clients…. He was a man of splendid physique, fine address, and knew well how to manage the average human nature. He was energetic, un tiring, unconscionable, unscrupulous and wholly destitute of fixed principles of honesty, morality or common decency.” Jospeh Gaston, Centennial History of Oregon, Volume I, (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1911) 525-526.

Gaston’s description has come to be the accepted norm for Holladay’s place in Oregon and Portland history. Even the venerble, late E. Kimbark MacColl accepted Gaston’s assessment. When MacColl finds a mention in the diaries of Matthew Deady that Holladay has two whores in his house, colored by Gaston’s characterization, he takes the accusation literally.

Joseph Gaston. City of Beaverton Historic Photo Collection

Joseph Gaston. City of Beaverton Historic Photo Collection

Gaston’s unreliability is the first clue that things are not as they seem, for Gaston had been a bitter rival of Holladay in the 1860s, when the former was an ambitious young railroad builder and attorney, and the latter a shrewd old war horse who, naturally, won the game. Poor Gaston found himself sold out by his superiors, and never forgot it. And lest we think Gaston rewriting of history is far fetched, he himself admits it. Writing of another controversial affair that he himself had been intwined with, Gaston writes in 1911:

All the actors in the drama are dead but one. All the members of all the old companies are dead but this one. And while he was robbed of his rights and his property by a corrupted legislature, and corrupt judges, he still remains to enjoy in comfort a pleasant home that looks down on the city he has helped build, with all the necessary comforts in life; and what is better than all else, the respect of his friends and neighbors -and lives to write this history of those who wantonly robbed him, and gained nothing in the end by their wrong doing.” Jospeh Gaston, Centennial History of Oregon, Volume I, (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1911) 526.

It is hard not to imagine a smirk on the writer’s face as these words were penned. It is history written not, perhaps, by the victors, but by the survivors.

Spurned on by a fascination with the High Life legend of Holladay and increasing evidence that Gaston habitually skewed history, my friend and fellow writer/historian Dan Haneckow has been digging into Holladay’s story. Piecing together material from the meticulous Deady, the unreliable and critical Gaston, the admiring light-weight Ellis Lucia, and numerous outside primary sources of the era, a more complex figure is been emerging. Holladay loses none of his taste for the High Life or his thirst for wealth and power, and loses none of his merchant prince amoralism, yet he also become a far more complex character. Holladay not as lecher, but as libertine, not as lowlife in fine clothing, but as a radical in the vein of Portland tradition that is most well-known in the body of Charles Erskine Scott Wood. An early feminist, a moral modernist, a Bohemian, a relgiously tolerant man, a power broker, a subtle observer of human nature. More than any of these descriptors, he emerges as a human being, not a stereotype of a western movie bad guy. And in the end, much of what was written about him may be patently untrue; Dan Haneckow has, for example, roundly discredited the allegation of Holladay’s home full of prostitutes, an allegation that has, through the shallow research of later historians, erroneously propigated itself into popular truth.

Holladay is not alone in being miscast or passed over by later historians, and despite his fascinating mixture of character, nor is he my favorite. Instead I give that title to a man so critical to Portland history and yet so forgotten, the Cosimo di Medici of the Rose City, Captain John C. Ainsworth.

Captain John C. Ainsworth. Lewis & Dryden Publishing Co.

Captain John C. Ainsworth. Lewis & Dryden Publishing Co.

For the “school book history” of Portland, Ainsworth is known as an early steamboat captain, a man who was part of the Oregon Steam Navigation transportation monopoly, and founded the bank that later became U. S. Bank. Beyond that, he rarely gains any depth. His papers, however, survive in the archives of the University of Oregon, and communing with them has changed my assesment of him.

The most precious of his papers is a composition notebook containing his handwritten memoirs. Having started a family late in his life, and often ill, Ainsworth began the volume as an extended letter to his children, primarily his young son George, in hopes of providing fatherly guidance to the child in the event of his death. “I must not waste the time alloted to this work,” he writes on April 1st, 1877, they day of birth for his first grand child, “as I cannot tell how soon I will break down altogether.” (Ainsworth memoir, 35.)

Ainsworth also has a sense of how important his words will be to history (emphasis added by me):

In looking over a few of the last written pages, it occurs to me that the detailed business portion of the steamboat arrangements, will prove dry reading to most of you, but it will probably be the only correct history of steam boating on the Columbia River that will ever be written. The fact is, that the real inside history of the Oregon Steam Navigation Co., is only known to R. R. Thompson and myself, therefore conclude that the statements I will make will increase in interest, as years roll on, and the historian will be searching for material to write of the early history of Oregon.” (Ainsworth memoir, page 47.)

As one of those writers of history, you cannot imagine the sensation this had for me. Reading through the man’s memoirs, I suddenly found that he was addressing, specifically, me. Ainsworth reached out through the ages and connected, hard. Making it all the more precious, my own research suggested that only two historians of prominence had been through the volume before me, the first being a woman who wrote an article for the Oregon Historical Quarterly in the 1920s, and the second being MacColl when preparing his manuscript for the eminently readable and more accurate Merchants, Money and Power.

The story Ainsworth relates in his memoirs is in its own right a fascinating piece of history. We learn, not without outside substantiation, that it is Ainsworth who is the mediator that binds many important projects together. The many forces within the OSN are combative and split, and it is consistently Ainsworth who is putting out fires, voicing reason, and sometimes scheming to oust troublemakers for the benefit of the group. When the Northern Pacific Railroad goes under in the Panic of 1873, it is Ainsworth in Portland — not the many directors of the railroad in St. Paul, Minnesota — who is reluctantly called upon to manage the company during its period of crisis. Still later, when Henry Villard and Frederick Billings nearly errupt in financial warfare for the fate of this company, it is Ainsworth who is called upon by both parties to travel to New York and mediate the dispute, a task he suceeds at doing. Cautious, a keen observer, a shrewd financier, and almost always shying from the spotlight, he is every bit the cultural heir of Cosimo di Medici, who likewise advised his sons (in vain, it turned out) to never seek public power, and weild private power with great care.

Beyond the narrative, however, is even greater depth in the observations and opinions of the man. Take, for example, his conflicted assessment of Villard:

Mr. Villard is a shrewd financier and has made a great sucess of growing out of the purchase made of me; he is now in the zenith of his financial power, controls capital for new enterprise at will, makes a sucess of everything he undertakes. He is a good man, of noble impulses and generous disposition, he is a capitol leader, as long as sucess fills every sail, but I should greatly doubt his ability under adverse circumstances, he would not be a good General, if superior numbers were to force a retreat. I trust he may always be sucessful, but I doubt it.

(Villard himself is a fascinating character. Over his packed life, he was a failed German revolutionary, a founder of the Republican party and a strict abolitionist, a famed Civil War journalist, a major railroad financier and stock manipulator, and last but not least a major supporter of Thomas Edison co-founder of General Electric.)

Henry Villard in 1889. From Memoirs of Henry Villard

Henry Villard in 1889. From Memoirs of Henry Villard

Written in 1881, Ainsworth could not have predicted Villard’s future more aptly. Villard did indeed become forced to retreat, and faced with difficult circumstances lost much of his financial prominence and power within a few short years. But more than the prescience is the keen ability of Ainsworth to read character, and his knowing sense to place it down on paper as a kind of cautionary tale to his son, as if to say, “George, Villard is a great man, better than most, but don’t become too enamoured of him.”

Perhaps I am simply too enamoured myself, of history in general, but I think not. The more time I spend getting closer to who these people were, the more they seem to speak to me. If now find myself digesting various interpretations of history, and stating things like “well, that’s what Ainsworth would say.” His personality has, ghost-like, imbued the pages of his memoir, and now accompanies me. And now, as Dan continues to dig into Holladay’s story, he too begins to leap from the page as a fully formed human being, capable of judgement, thought, and emotion. And though Holladay remains a bit of a scoundrel, Dan notes that he is suffering a kind of Stockholm Syndrome where he is concerned. It is more than a mere liking, however, for I find that even his self-proclaimed Nemesis, Gaston, has begun to take on a sense of reality. The very documents that condemn him as a corrupt and ambitious man — transcripts of an 1880s court case before the Oregon State Supreme Court — also reveal him to be spirited, confrontational, intensely idealistic, and highly complex, a man who will willingly cheat the law but only for what he thinks is a noble cause. Gaston and Holladay probably hated each other, and yet I find myself knowing and liking them more and more.

This is, perhaps, what we miss most in history: the sense of humanity. Too often we reduce our stories to facts, dates, and figures. Yet my curiosity carries me deeper, to dig as close to the source as resources allow, and I find that I am rewarded by the strange sensation of making friends with dead people.

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Illustrating the masters: McKim, Mead & White’s 1882 Portland rail station

Rendering: Proposed Passenger Station and Offices for Northern Pacific at Portland, Oregon: McKim, Mead & White, 1882

The above is an architectural rendering I created in recent months, but it is more than that: it’s a connection between myself and a lost fragment of time.

The building in the rendering is an 1882 rail station design by McKim, Mead & White, one of the most storied architectural firms in United States history. This structure, proposed for Portland, Oregon, would have been the largest railroad station in the world if it had been built. Unfortunately, a financial downturn resulted in its cancellation, and it was largely lost to public memory. I managed to relocate one surviving rendering of this structure, mis-cataloged, in the holdings of the Oregon Historical Society. For a fuller history of this structure, see my article in Portland Architecture.

Facade details from original rendering: Proposed Passenger Station and Offices for Northern Pacific at Portland, Oregon: McKim, Mead & White, 1882

In preparing for this article, as well as for an upcoming encore of my February 2012 lecture on Pacific Northwest rail stations for the Architectural Heritage Center, I felt that I had to bring this station to life, and the best way that I could do that was to produce a watercolor and ink rendering.

Creating the rendering was an extensive process. First, came the source materials: the lone surviving rendering, and a single illustration (of dubious accuracy) from a period source, the 1880s booster magazine The West Shore.

Illustration from The West Shore: Proposed Passenger Station and Offices for Northern Pacific at Portland, Oregon: McKim, Mead & White, 1882

My next step was to create a basic model of the station using Google’s free SketchUp tool. While I could have created a perspective the hard way by hand, I wanted to be certain that the measurements were at least close to accurate. I also wanted to include some framing elements from real Portland, specifically the Honeyman Lofts block and the old U.S. Customs House. Most of the measurements were taken from comparing the two source illustrations with the known measurements of the street grid. After about a day’s worth of work, I had this basic model:

Sketchup View (aerial): Proposed Passenger Station and Offices for Northern Pacific at Portland, Oregon: McKim, Mead & White, 1882

This model, in turn, let me experiment with different perspectives, until I found the one I preferred:

Sketchup View: Proposed Passenger Station and Offices for Northern Pacific at Portland, Oregon: McKim, Mead & White, 1882

This was, of course, but the beginning. Following this came printing the SketchUp view and then using a ruler to scale up and transfer the main lines onto a large piece of watercolor paper, then more detailed drawing of details by hand using drafting pencils. The remaining sequence was not all that different from my approach to pictorial paintings: sky first, shadows next, mid tones third, and detail colors last.

DSCF1158

A final pass with two weights of technical pen reinforced primary lines and provided fine details, such as stone blocks, window trim, and lighting fixtures. The label was the last to go on, hand lettering with an improvised type face that played off of the Gilded Age style of lettering from the McKim, Mead & White’s elevation. The end result was the rendering that is shown at the top of this post.

More than all of the technical aspects, however, this endeavor felt special on an entirely different level. It’s granted me a new realization, that through creative processes I can invest in history — and history in me — deeper meaning. Absent of knowledge of other surviving materials, the rendering I have created may be the only one of this structure in existence anywhere in the world. In a very small yet personally very satisfying way, I’ve become a sort-of latter-day draftsman for the project, and rendering this McKim, Mead & White work has felt like — more than an exercise in illustration — a kind-of honor.

Posted in Architecture, Land Use & Transportation, Painting | 2 Comments

Upcoming: Presentation on the Mount Tabor streetcar line

Mt Tabor car 654 at Morrison and Grand in 1946. Portland Archives: A2011-007.221

Interested in the past, present, and future of streetcars in Portland? Since late last year, the Architectural Heritage Center has been celebrating the city’s streetcars, first with “Streetcars Build a City”, an exhibit of streetcar artifacts, as well as with a series of educational programs on streetcar history. I’m pleased to announce that next month I will be giving the fourth and last of these presentations, on the Mount Tabor streetcar line in southeast Portland.

From the official program listing:

Founded in the mid 19th century, Portland experienced its major geographic growth from the 1880s to the First World War, a period that coincided with the rapid growth of electric streetcars in the United States. Throughout the east side, streetcar lines served as stimulants to the development of the city’s “bungalow belt” neighborhoods, imparting a unique character upon them.

Alexander B. Craghead will share the story of one of these routes, southeast Portland’s “MT” Mount Tabor line. Alex is a Portlandbased writer and photographer whose work has most recently appeared in the National Railroad Historical Society Bulletin and Trains Magazine. He also has a personal connection with this line, with old family roots in the Belmont neighborhood. Alex’s talk will center on how the city grew along and because of the Mount Tabor line, and will make connections between the impacts of this transportation mode and the neighborhoods of the area. Using photographs, drawings, maps, and illustrations, he will place this streetcar route in the larger context of the city and the streetcar movement, and show how it has had lasting impacts on the cultural geography of Portland.

If you are interested in this program, I strongly recommend you buy tickets early. (See the official listing page to purchase.) Last year’s presentation on the region’s railroad stations was sold out within weeks of being announced.

Speaking of that presentation, I will be repeating it later in Spring, also at the AHC. As a bonus, I hope to add some additional interesting material to it, so those of you who are really interested in this subject matter may get to see some new stuff the second time around. This program, as I said earlier, sold out quickly last time, so I recommend you purchase tickets as soon as they become available; I will put up a notice as soon as they are.

Also, in addition to my own streetcar presentation, my friend and compatriot Dan Haneckow will also be presenting on streetcars at AHC. His presentation, which will focus on the St. Johns’ route through north Portland, will be on February 9. It’s worth checking out!

Posted in Cities, Culture, Land Use & Transportation, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2012 Ten Favorite Images

As 2012 rolls to a close, it’s time once again to look back at the year’s photography. I’ve been doing this for five years, so this is the sixth time for the review. The exercise is rather interesting for me, for not only is it a way to share images with others, but it also forces me to review my year’s work.

(For previous years, see 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.)

This year a few trends stand out. First, it wasn’t a very high volume year. There have been a lot of writing projects, and that has cut into not only the number of posts here (virtually nil for 2012) but also my photography. There’s been almost no black-and-white film work, and a very low number of digital images. That said, there have been some up sides. There was more color film work — mostly using my trusty old Pentax K1000 — and more importantly my first dip into medium format with the acquisition of a Mamiya RB.

The ten images below are in chronological order. Each is on my Flickr stream, and if you want to learn more about the images, there are extensive captions there — just click on the photo to go there. Here, though, I will provide some brief comments about why these images made the cut.

1.

Posterity
Posterity

Portaiture is something I enjoy doing but for which I don’t often have a chance. When a friend visited on break in January, I took the opportunity to give him a portrait, and done properly: on Ilford Pan F for real posterity. The weapon of choice: my reliable old K-1000.

2.

Old Tacoma City Hall
Old Tacoma City Hall

The G9 remained my travel camera of choice, as with this image from an early in the year trip to Tacoma. I’ve been shooting more and more structures, driven by my studies and writing over the year. The G9 does this only with some difficulty, as the widest it will go is to about equal to a 35 on a 35mm SLR. Not ideal. Thankfully here in Tacoma I was able to get enough distance to get a fair amount of the building in, while also working in some branches.

3.

Beholding a Holy Grail
Beholding a Holy Grail

Above I mentioned that I was spendng more time with buildings this year, and this image shows a slightly different take on how and where: archives. In this case, I was trying to trace down information on a design for a Union Station in Portland that predated the design that was built. Hidden — and cryptically mislabelled — in the depths of the Oregon Historical Society holdings was a drawing of this design, by the storied New York architecture firm of McKim, Mead & White. OHS was kind enough to allow me to make some photographic reproductions, as this was part of a project for another civic organization, the Architectural Heritage Center.

4.

Hegewisch, IL
Hegewisch, IL

I love this image. Hegewisch is nothing like what it appears at first glance. The traditional style depot here dates to the 1990s, not the 1890s, and inside is rather spartan and dull. The platforms outside are all galvanized steel, with smooth surfaces that strike a contrast against the building’s mock traditional forms. Meanwhile the whole thing is beside what is arguably the nation’s only continuously operated interurban, which itself uses some very modern equipment. Perhaps Hegewisch is a bit of what the rest of the nation’s suburbs would look like today had the interurban era never ended. This image, by-the-way, is another film one, made on Ektar 100, which has an interesting color balance that renders earth tones with a lot of depth. I’ve never loved brown so much.

5.

Tension
Tension

If there’s any doubt about my interest in color photography, this image ought to set it to rest. This is another Ektar 100 shot made with the Pentax K-1000. Interestingly, when I first scanned it, the colors did not match the prints very well. It took a bit of fussing in Photoshop before I could get them to match. As for the image in particular, bringing more of the infrastructure of the city into the mix — and more maritime subject matter — is of growing interest to me. Here we get the Fremont Bridge and I-405 above the Willamette and the bulk terminals of Albina. And in the foreground? Sculptural art that bespeaks a shift of uses on the western shore.

6.

Timber
Timber

The insanity finally soaked in this year, and I sprung for a Mamiya RB, a medium format film camera. Oof, what a tank. Getting this image of a semi-abandoned log bunk on the practically abandoned Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad took a lot longer than a shot usually takes me. Tripod, check. Camera, check. Light meter, check. Level everything, check check check. Positioning the camera, lengthy. I felt more like a surveyor than a photographer. Atop that, my roll had an odd brown tinge to the top edge — perhaps a light leak? I feel a bit like a novice again with the RB, though in some ways, thats part of why I wanted it.

7.

Sun Over Rathtrevor
Sun Over Rathtrevor

This is another image from the Mamiya, and this one, I think, more sucessful. Standing on Rathtrevor Beach on Vancouver Island, watching the sun barely burn through the clouds over the Georgia Strait, I knew I had to make this image with the Mamiya. The longer setup time of the Mamiya and the more cumbersome adjustments slow everything down, and I found that my mind began to think in more formal terms. Bang, the sun got stuck right up towards the top, dead center. I haven’t had a chance to spend a lot more time with the Mamiya, but I wonder how the tempo of it may shape the way I make photographs.

8.

Good-bye, Future
Good-bye, Future

On the other side of the coin is this, another of those travel-related spontaneous shots, this time from a Seattle trip in October, using the G9. This was my first time riding the Alweg monorail and the first time I had visited the Space Needle, and the combination of futurism and outdatedness was intriguing. As we departed Seattle Center, this view of the needle suddenly presented itself. This is about as wide as the G9 can go, and the window tinting on the Alweg helped balance out the light difference between the interior and exterior spaces.

9.

Future past, past future
Future past, past future

Getting this shot of both the Alweg monorail and the South Lake Union streetcar in Seattle took a fair amount of patience. The Alweg runs infrequently — maybe every twenty minutes or so — and the streetcar, with only two cars in regular service, also is a bit slow paced. Thus getting both in the same shot as each is departing from their respective termnals near Westlake was a matter of waiting while the two independent timings slowly converged. Judging by the time spent here, it seems that the two synchronise about once every 2-3 hours.

10.

Neon, Seattle Chinatown
Neon, Seattle Chinatown

Chinatowns have always interested me, perhaps in part because Portland’s has always been so lackluster. Seattle’s has far more atmosphere and vitality and, bonus, lots of neon. It’s tough to capture it all in one spot — it’s scattered about in different windows — so I collected images of almost all of them and then made this composite. As with most of my travel photography for 2012, this was done with the G9.

* * *

The year past brought a fair amount of travel, and put the G9 into service yet longer. I’ve written about this camera before, (here, here, and here,) and it has served me well over the years. It has, however, grown a bit long in the tooth. For one, it has had a flaw inside the zoom lens for well over a year, acquired who knows how. The back screen, long scratched, has developed a serious crack, compromising the camera’s water resistance. The G9 can soldier on, and in most images the lens flaw cannot be noticed, but I knew that it was nearing time to replace the camera.

Now, it has been. Behold the Fuji XF-1:

Fujifilm XF1
Fujifilm XF1 by Photos By 夏天, on Flickr (Creative Commons license.)

Mine — the brown trim one as in the middle of the above image — is now set to be my next primary digital camera.

With time I will have more comments — possibly a review as I did with the G9, and a bit more of why I use a small upper-end point-and-shoot for my digital work — but for now, it’s onward with 2013.

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Announcement: Presentation on railroad architecture in Portland!

Photo: Joel Jensen

Interested in architecture, the history of American expansion, the Gilded Age, or rail transportation? If so, consider yourself invited to attend Railroad Architecture and the Northwest: Economics, Ethos, and Culture, an educational program given by me at the Architectural Heritage Center.

Here is the official presentation description from the forthcoming AHC newsletter:

Railroad Architecture and the Northwest:
Economics, Ethos, and Culture

Saturday, February 18, 2012
10:00 am-11:30 am
Members: $10
General public: $18

Railroads were one of the driving forces in the settlement and urbanization of the United States. Through their station buildings, they left a profound architectural legacy on the country. From humble wooden depots that pioneered the concept of franchise architecture through to grand urban depots displaying the power of the country’s new “millionaire society,” these structures embody the story of America’s Gilded Age. Portland and the Pacific Northwest region include a number of fine examples of these structures, and collectively contribute to the understanding of our region’s past.

Alexander B. Craghead will share his approach to railroad architecture as cultural history. Alex is a Portland-based writer and photographer whose work has most recently appeared in the National Railroad Historical Society Bulletin and Trains Magazine. You will learn about the restoration work of two of the region’s grand urban stations with ties to important works of Italian architecture, as well as the miraculous, eleventh hour rescue of the oldest depot in Oregon. Culminating the presentation is a unique look at the history of Portland’s landmark Union Station of 1896. The presentation is supported by numerous photographs and illustrations, including the depot photographs of award winning photographer Joel Jensen.

Pre-registration is strongly suggested — visit us online at www.VisitAHC.org.

All ticket funds go towards supporting the mission of the AHC to support and preserve the architectural heritage of the Portland area. I’m excited to have this chance to dig into the region’s rail architecture, and I’m including in the program some fun surprises. Hope to see you there!

Posted in Culture, Land Use & Transportation, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments