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Holocaust memorial takes shape

Plans for Washington Park monument bring change to city gift policy

The Oregon Holocaust Memorial Coalition expects to submit its Þnal plans for a memorial in Washington Park by April 30, and backers say that if everything goes smoothly, the memorial should be open by year's end.

Coincidentally, April 30 also is the deadline for public comments on a proposed policy on gifts of memorials and other structures for city parks. That policy will spell out for the Þrst time Portland Parks & Recreation's preference for retaining open spaces in parks and for gifts whose subject matter reßects the city and its history.

Department planners hope the new policy will eliminate wrangles like those that have surrounded the Holocaust memorial. City hearings and legal proceedings have been taking place on the memorial since 1995, when the city gave the coalition permission to build it.

'There is a group that still is opposed to the memorial, but there isn't anything they can do,' says Doris Carlsen, whose neighborhood, Arlington Heights, adjoins Washington Park. 'I would be part of that group if there was.'

Carlsen, who is the neighborhood association's secretary, says she and other opponents aren't against a Holocaust memorial in the park. They just don't want it on the designated site, a small meadow directly across from Carlsen's home, north of the Rose Garden and near the Southwest Park Place entrance.

'Per se, putting a Holocaust memorial on a residential street is not a good idea,' says Carlsen, noting that the proposed design calls for a 9-foot memorial wall and a simulated railroad track.

Memorial coalition spokeswoman Fern Schlesinger says the 'track' actually will be a walkway made of Portland cobblestones and is intended to represent the concept of a railroad taking families away. Many of the 11 million Jews and others killed by the Nazis between the late 1930s and 1945 were taken to concentration camps by train.

The memorial walls will list the names of Holocaust victims with family ties to Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Schlesinger says the design of the memorial 'is truly within the ßavor of Northwest design.'

'It ßows into our sense of lifestyle,' she says. 'It's not horriÞc. It's not shocking.'

But opponent Robert Butler says it will destroy one of the park's open spaces.

'I would like to be buried there É it's so cathedral,' Butler says of the meadow. 'This is the only accessible open space in this part of the park. Tai chi, Cub Scouts, jogging, everything goes on here. Once something becomes a memorial, people don't use it.'

Opponents, who proposed an alternative site in the park's southwest corner near the light rail station, argue that the approved site lacks adequate access and parking, conßicts with the area's existing statues honoring PaciÞc Northwest history and, most recently, may pose a terrorist threat because it's too near two uncovered water reservoirs. (The Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association also opposes covering the reservoirs, a $3.8 million-plus project already authorized by the city.)

The memorial coalition does have numerous supporters, including Mayor Vera Katz, who attended a fund-raising dinner for the memorial in 1997.

Katz called the proposed memorial 'a place of respect and mourning' and 'a symbol that we can share a small planet in peace,' the Jewish Review newspaper reported.

In the end, the memorial's opponents, who had limited avenues for protesting the city's decision, spent more than $50,000 in legal fees, according to a fund-raising letter Stephen McKinnon sent on behalf of the Arlington Heights Legal Fund. That amount is one-tenth of the original $500,000 anticipated cost of the memorial, much of which is coming from donations, according to Paul Schlesinger, Fern's husband and the memorial's project manager.

Gift horses

The wrangles over this memorial were painful for both sides. Parks bureau community liaison Mary Rose Navarro says the conßict played an important part in the decision to revise the city policy on gifts.

Other aspects of Portland's memorials, nonmemorial statues and other structures donated to city parks are both contrary and amusing.

There are memorial statues that have nothing to do with local history, such as the newly refurbished Joan of Arc in Northeast's Coe Circle and Abraham Lincoln in the South Park Blocks.

There are statues that recognize Oregon's history, such as Sacajawea, 'Coming of the White Man,' and Lewis and Clark, all near the Holocaust memorial site.

There are statues of PaciÞc Northwest symbols in peculiar places, such as the elk that stands between two streams of trafÞc near the Multnomah County Courthouse. And there are structures that seemingly have little to do with Portland or its history, such as the whimsical dog bowl in the North Park Blocks.

Navarro says the parks department has turned down a proposal to memorialize the late Princess Diana in a city park. And some pending requests, such as the Royal Rosarians' request to place a statue of a Royal Rosarian tipping his hat in Washington Park's Rose Garden, may not make the cut under the new policy, either.

'We're going to be more thoughtful in how we accept gifts,' Navarro says. 'We get so many requests (to make gifts). People will have to make a better case for their gift's signiÞcance to Portland, the history of Portland, and how the gift will contribute to (the bureau's) mission.'

As the new policy puts it, 'the city of Portland considers the open spaces in our parks as complete, offering an unrestricted setting to encounter a wide range of experiences. It is the responsibility of Portland Parks & Recreation to preserve the open, tranquil quality of Portland parks.'

As for the Holocaust memorial, Jane Rosenbaum, one of the project's originators, says she understands its opponents' concerns. But she hopes that everyone can now come together and recognize it as a memorial both to those who died and those who have escaped war around the world.

'The 11 million exterminated, who will be memorialized on the wall, were from many of the same races and religions as those who have made America the awesome melting pot that has evolved over centuries,' she says, speaking for herself and not the memorial coalition. 'It continues to evolve today, even here in Portland.'

Additional information on Portland Parks & Recreation's proposed policy on gifts and memorials is available from the Web site at www.portlandparks.org or Mary Rose Navarro, 503-823-5589. Comments on the proposed policy may be made via the Web site or Navarro through April 30.

Contact Janine Robben at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .