4th Avenue Plaza, 1976

Hard to believe this beautiful park and building were so close to downtown yet seemed like such an oasis of calm. This is Pacific Northwest Bell’s 4th Avenue Plaza, termed “perhaps the most skillfully disguised parking structure in this city,” by the Portland Beautification Association. “It is ‘in a place where (the company) may have built just another highrise, landscaped parking lot. We have instead a stunningly handsome space.'” The garage entrance was under the berm to the right of the orange tiled column. The glass and steel building, at SW 4th and Hall, transitioned to Bell’s 1962 Fourth Avenue Building behind it.

pnb 1976 01

pnb 1976 02(University of Oregon Libraries)

19 thoughts on “4th Avenue Plaza, 1976

  1. I know of two other “hidden” parking lots in the downtown area. Both have parks built atop them. One is where the old Danmoore Hotel was next to the First Presbyterian Church on 12th and Alder. The other is the new Director Park between Yamhill and Taylor on Park which replaced a surface parking lot (yay!).

    Perhaps Moyer’s Ruins which sits North of it could be re-purposed into another underground parking space/urban park. After all, the hole is already there.

  2. That orange column triggered some vague memory of an otherwise unfamiliar image of Portland. As I recall now, when I first stumbled upon this “park” some ten years ago or so, it was heavily overgrown and quite introverted. Tall trees flanked the block on all sides except north so that from the street, it looked dark and kind of sketchy — like most of the South Auditorium Urban Renewal area did in those days.

    Looking through past satellite images on Google Earth, it appears that the PSU engineering building was built right on top of the parking garage. The garage entrance on 4th remains in the same place and, while there is a year-gap in the satellite images, that tile column was left in place even construction seems to have started.

  3. Thank goodness I’m not crazy. I remember visiting this area some fifteen years ago or so. A few years ago I went looking for it because I thought it was an unusual landscape and couldn’t find it. Racked my brain trying to figure out where it was.

  4. There is another “hidden” underground parking garage in the south waterfront area. I think these photos show there is something to be said for open treeless areas in downtown. If you look at other photos of the nearby blocks at Pettygrove and Lovejoy parks taken at the same time they look much better then than they do today with all the trees blocking the views. I know this is Portland heresy but I believe it.

  5. An architecture teacher at PSU used this on a field trip to show how the orange cylinder draws you up the pathway to explore. But once at the focal point you discover nothing important is there, but you have made the journey.

    I think there’s more parking under Terry Schrunk Plaza across from the federal bldg.

  6. Sadly this plaza doesn’t exist anymore; a couple of PSU buildings sit where it used to be. There’s a tiled column in front of one of them, between Hall & Harrison, which may or may not be the one from the old plaza.

  7. As for vast, invisible underground garages, there’s one covering several city blocks under the Brewery Blocks area, and there’s another at the OHSU building in South Waterfront next to the tram, including the grassy square just south of the building.

  8. If you look at Google Earth, the 2001 and 2002 imagery shows this area most clearly. SW 4th and College Street, where the PSU Engineering Building is located now.

  9. The park was built atop huge blocks of foam, presumably so that the landscaping could match the surrounding topography without covering the garage with tonnes of heavy soil. The foam looked fine after decades under the sod. The column was a ventilation shaft for the garage, and I my possibly wrong memory is that it had an escape staircase inside, too. The subterranean staircase remains, but I believe it no longer provides ventilation.

  10. I remember that the column was a ventilation shaft too.

    Another faux architectural feature covering up something utilitarian is on the Riverplace Hotel. What look like chimneys from the outside actually conceal rooftop HVAC equipment.

  11. @Dan Davis. Ah, yes! Another possibly wrong memory is that the garage was operational as the Engineering Building was being built. The orange shaft supplied air to the subterraneans until the complex replacement ventilation system was completed.

    I still have a feeling that there was a last-ditch escape ladder in the orange tower, but perhaps lack of oxygen has marred that memory.

  12. Let’s see…Its Summer 1976 and we’re done riding the Slow Train (Tri-Met) from where I live, way out on 35th,,,so, we take the 26 (now the 17 Line) and go hang out at Forecourt Fountain, because its hot outside. Oh, hey, look, the Bell and Continental Can buildings! Let’s go sit on the grass over by the orange thingy.

    Yes, I remember…

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