WWII relics uncovered at Waterboard Park in Oregon City
A second monkey-wrench has been thrown into Oregon City's plans to expand its Public Works Department operations center without a vote of its citizens.
While the city's definition of the proposed expansion area is being challenged in court by the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association, neighbors have recently uncovered evidence that buildings proposed for demolition under the expansion plan are eligible as historic landmarks.
Local historians have determined that two nearly identical buildings at 122 and 220 South John Adams St. were part of Camp Adair, Oregon's World War II-era training ground of about 130,000 soldiers, where approximately 40,000 people lived between 1942-45. After the war, the buildings were moved to Oregon City and used as a vocational school workshop and as the Oregon City Community Cannery, where citizens could go to have their produce preserved. Most of Camp Adair's buildings were destroyed, and it is currently thought that Oregon City houses Camp Adair's last remaining building that had served as an officers' clubhouse.
On March 2, the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association unanimously approved sending an application for the Camp Adair buildings to become historic landmarks. The Historic Review Board will consider the application that, if approved, would offer a layer of protection for the buildings.
MNA's startling discovery that the buildings are historic, which were apparently incorrectly identified by the city's architectural survey of the area in 2004, provide additional ammunition for the neighborhood's lawsuit against the city. MNA's volunteer attorney, Jesse Buss, said that the neighborhood now has a stronger case to show that Oregon City's 1970 city charter amendment should protect Waterboard Park from the city's Public Works expansion proposal.
MNA has uncovered a new document from the city's own files giving permission to locate the Camp Adair buildings in Waterboard Park, an area the city says is non-park land. Historic research for the Camp Adair buildings also revealed several newspaper articles from the WWII period identifying the area as Waterboard Park.
This wouldn't be the first time that MNA has caught the city in error. Oregon City Public Works Department Director John Lewis had stated that the city has operated his department's facilities on the 8-acre area for nearly 90 years, but neighbors pointed out that the department only operated out of a small part of the area since the 1920s. Neighbors have taken to calling the land under dispute "lower Waterboard Park," while Lewis calls it the "upper yard" to signify the department's long-standing intent to expand in that direction.
Currently, the city's attorney is attempting to limit the neighborhood's lawsuit to Waterboard Park. However, the neighborhood is saying that many parks throughout the city could be affected by the court case. Oregon City could have more parkland that would have to be sent to the ballot for approval by citizens for non-parks uses, if the Clackamas County Circuit Court judge rules that any park that the city has identified through approved master-plan maps is subject to the 1970 city-charter amendment. MNA's opposition hearing to the city's Motion to Strike is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on April 7.
Meanwhile, the city continues to spend taxpayer dollars on a plan to expand Public Works in an area that may eventually be rejected by voters. In August 2015, Oregon City commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a $93,683 contract with Deca Architecture to update the Public Works master plan. The city purchased a house next to the Public Works facility for $400,000, apparently with the intention of tearing it down for the expansion. It is estimated that hundreds of hours of city staff time have gone into this proposal since the August 2015 City Commission vote.
Laura Terway, the city's director of community development, said that the date for the Planning Commission to review for the Public Works Operations Master Plan Amendment will be set once an application is submitted to the Planning Division and determined to be complete.
"An application has not yet been submitted and thus the hearing date has not been determined," Terway said. "The nomination request for structures at the Public Works Operations site was recently received and the next steps should be identified within a week."
Buss noted that Oregon City's current proposal to expand Public Works completely fences off public access to what neighbors are calling Lower Waterboard Park.
"That is, if this proposal moves forward, a chain link fence will go up around the property," Buss said. "So, we're not just talking about building unauthorized structures in the park; we're talking about a physical barrier to public access."
MNA's petition to make the Camp Adair buildings official Oregon City landmarks has the support of the largest statewide organization dedicated to the preservation of historic architecture. Restore Oregon Executive Director Peggy Moretti said that the easily repurposed and rehabilitated buildings could contribute to the growing "pride of place" for the citizens of Oregon City and Clackamas County.
"As the number of living World War II veterans dwindles daily, soon these physical relics of the 'Greatest Generation' will be all we have left," Moretti wrote. "The Camp Adair buildings embody a highly important chapter in the story of American history and Oregon's role in it. It is incumbent upon us to protect them, honor them, and pass them forward."
Newport-based Oregon historian John Baker, the author of "Camp Adair: The Story of a World War II Cantonment," said that the research and personal interviews he did with soldiers and local citizens in the preparation of his book brought home to him the significance of the two buildings in Oregon City. In a letter to the city, he encouraged officials to restore Oregon City's Adair buildings so "they would provide an economic resource through usage" like the restored Adair Village buildings near Corvallis.
"Aside from my not wanting to see those two pieces of history destroyed is the very real notion that they are visible symbols of what America can and did do when our survival was threatened as never before," Baker wrote. "With those 130,000 or more trainees that took part in training for war at Camp Adair and using those two buildings located in Oregon City, over 30,000 became casualties in Europe and the Pacific. Twenty-three thousand were wounded or missing and seven thousand killed in action to save this nation. Those buildings are a part of the sacrifice that paid for our freedom. They need saving."
Rita Mills, a longtime resident of the McLoughlin neighborhood, voted for the nomination of the Camp Adair buildings as historic landmarks. She remembers how the buildings were an integral part of her small town of Monmouth when she was in school. A "Vet's Village" housed veterans returning to college who had families.
"They were used for a number of years after being moved there from Camp Adair which was just south of our town during WWII," Mills said.