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Downtown Portland fountains earn national historic status

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland's Keller Fountain Plaza designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin has become a cool spot during warm weather. The fountain and three others designed by Halprin were named this week to the National Register of Historic Places.Downtown Portland’s landmark fountain plazas designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin are now also national historic landmarks.

Keller Fountain, Pettygrove Park, Lovejoy Fountain and the Source Fountain were named this week to the National Register of Historic Places. The local landmarks were nominated in mid-October as part of the Portland Open Space Sequence proposed by members of the Halprin Landscape Conservancy, which includes several local architects.

“Portland is well-known for the 1970s and 1980s transformation of its downtown with great public spaces like Waterfront Park and Pioneer Courthouse Square,” said Randy Gragg, president of the Halprin Landscape Conservancy, and editor of Portland Monthly magazine. “But it was Halprin’s fountain plazas of the 1960s that first made downtown safe for fun.”

A winner of the Presidential Medal of the Arts and other honors, Halprin and members of his firm, Lawrence Halprin and Associates, designed the plazas from 1963 to 1970 as the heart of the city’s first urban renewal district, known as the South Auditorium District. Their wedding of public space, water and references to the natural landscape turned the plazas into instant people magnets, luring investment and laying the groundwork for Portland’s unique urban renewal policies for decades to come, according to the nomination’s proponents.

“Nearly forty-three years after the late architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable declared that it ‘may be one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance,’ this defining achievement in Halprin’s extraordinary career has been deservedly recognized by inclusion in the National Register,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, president and founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Halprin’s ideas about nature, movement and social interaction transformed the American urban landscape and influenced a generation of designers. Halprin designed important urban projects such as the Century 21 World’s Fair site in Seattle; Sproul Plaza at the University of California-Berkeley; Ghirardelli Square and Embarcadero Plaza in San Francisco; Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis; Heritage Park Plaza in Fort Worth, Texas; the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.; and the Walter and Elise Haas Promenade in Jerusalem.

As these plazas approach 50 years of age, the Halprin Landscape Conservancy, nearby property owners and the city of Portland established a public-private stewardship program to maintain the areas, install new lighting and repair the shelter designed by Halprin associate Charles Moore at Lovejoy Fountain. This spring, the conservancy will launch a plan for additional restoration and ongoing enhanced maintenance.

Portland’s City Council affirmed its support for the plazas and their nomination to the national register in early June 2012.

Halprin’s Portland fountains and plazas are the earliest examples of his work, Gragg said. Two other plazas designed by Halprin — Heritage Park Plaza in Ft. Worth, Texas, and Park Central Square in Springfield, Mo. — have also been named to the national register.

The local addition to the national history list “underline their importance to the history of landscape architecture and Portland urbanism and shine a bright light of regulatory scrutiny on any future renovation,” Gragg said.

The National Register is maintained by the National Park Service. For more information about the national register and Oregon properties on the list can be found on the Web at www.oregonheritage.org.