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The origins of Westmoreland Park

SOUTHEAST HISTORY


Photo Credit: COURTESY OF SMILE HISTORY COMMITTEE - Aerial view of the construction of Westmoreland Park by the WPA workers in 1935. The McLoughlin Super Highway can be seen in the background. From Archery to baseball, lawn bowling to milk carton boat races – since its inception in 1935, Westmoreland Park has been a paradise of activity for adults and children. The opening ceremonies for the renovated Westmoreland Park on October 25th might have interested BEE readers in just how this historic park came to be.

In the early years, around 1848, before there was a Westmoreland Park, Oregon Pioneers William Meek and Alfred Luelling were the first to settle on over 320 acres of agricultural land in the general area where today there is a park.

While the Luellings were famous for starting the first grafted fruit trees in the Northwest, and made a fortune operating a nursery, most of the nursery stock was planted and maintained on grounds where the Waverley Golf Club is now located. With little evidence of apple or cherry trees being planted in the area, the land was mainly isolated, with occasional lumberjacks felling trees for the Willsburg sawmills along Johnson Creek.

Willsburg, platted by George and his son Jacob Wills in 1849, and lying south of Meek’s land claim, was the only town within miles. The Oregon and California railroad was the only other sign of activity – it began laying tracks in 1869 just east of where Westmoreland Park is today.

By about 1899, the establishment of the Crystal Springs Farm was beginning to stir things up. William Ladd purchased close to 721 acres from the Meek and Luelling heirs, with the intention of breeding premiere Jersey cows on the open range. Few farms knew how to raise Jersey cattle, but within the next ten years Ladd’s Crystal Springs farm acreage would be home to some of the finest cows in the Pacific Northwest.

In the first decade or so of the Twentieth Century, flying enthusiasts discovered the flat and open fields of the yet-to-be-named park, and considered them an ideal landing site for the novel form of transportation introduced to the world by the Wright Brothers in Ohio. The sound and sight of even a single airplane flying around the city attracted thousands of spectators – and the curious, who followed the aircraft wherever it flew.

Pilots low on gas and desperate to land their planes had to find vacant fields away from the hordes of people who gathered on would-be runways. The pastures of Crystal Springs Stock Farm provided an answer, and Portland’s first municipal airport was formed in Westmoreland. The airfield was later dedicated in the honor of Lieutenant Hugh Bloomfield, a Reed College graduate who had lost his life in 1918, flying over German lines in World War I.

The level grounds of Bloomfield Airfield continued as a major landing spot for aircraft through the late 1920’s, until aircraft were redirected to Swan Island in 1927 – when a new airport opened there. However, the U.S. Postal Department was looking for an inexpensive airfield for its airmail service between Seattle and Portland, and began negotiation with the Ladd Trust Company to make use of Broomfield Airfield in 1923.

Meantime, with the housing boom of 1908 in the neighboring Sellwood district and the outer reaches of Portland, land developers began to looking along “ByBee Boulevard”. The Columbia Trust Company, a subsidy company backed by Ladd Estate Company, decided to cultivate the fields of Crystal Springs Farmland into a new and modern residential area.

A small business district had already gotten established around the intersection of Bybee and Milwaukie Avenue, and the eastside streetcar provided transportation for residents between the community of Sellwood and downtown Portland. A.E. Doyle was commissioned by the Real Estate Co. to construct a metal archway at ByBee with the inscribed words “Westmoreland” across it, to welcome new homebuyers.

Over 700 lots and proposed houses were offered for sale by the Columbia Trust Company situated where residents could view the majestic Mt. Hood from their new home. The newly- crowned West Moreland development, named after prominent judge and real estate investor J.C. Moreland, was now official.

The upscale Eastmoreland neighborhood was formed the following year, but it would be another decade, or longer, before a greenway park would be considered. The Eastmoreland Golf Club was built in 1918 as an added amenity to attract more affluent residents to settle in the East and West Moreland neighborhoods. Before he died in 1893, William S. Ladd agreed to donate part of his land to the establishment of Reed College, and in 1911 the Crystal Springs farmhouse was torn down to make way for one of Portland’s top institutions of education. Critters and college students couldn’t co-exist, so Ladd’s prized Jersey cows were rounded up and driven over the hillside to his new farmland and cow pastures at Lake Oswego – then called simply “Oswego”.

As the Westmoreland residential and business community began to grow, the area still lacked a park and playground for families to enjoy during the summertime. The old Bloomfield Aviation field was gone, replaced by a brick factory and more meandering cows – this time from the Wilson Dairy.

The Westmoreland Park that we know today was then merely unkempt ground punctuated by brambles and wild blackberry bushes, mired on occasion by overflowing water from the Crystal Springs Creek – which regularly flooded during the rainy winter season.

The land was also a haven for little children who liked to fish for crawdads and make pathways, or to build crude forts through the thickets on the land. But local residents were tiring of vacant unoccupied grounds nearby, and demand action.

With support from the Westmoreland Community Club, members of the Portland Fly Casters Club, and with assistance from the Portland Planning Commission, funds were collected and a movement towards a new park was begun.

In the early 1920’s, officials in Portland had acquired portions of the property along a tract of land located southeast of ByBee and 22nd Avenue, bordering Crystal Springs Creek. Eight lots were forfeited for unpaid back taxes, while other acreage was accumulated from the Oregon Iron and Steel Company in the hopes of creating a community park between the West and Eastmoreland residential communities.

The City Planning Commission finally began the development of Westmoreland Park in 1935.

From historical information collected on Portland Parks and Recreation’s website, we learn that the Federal government planned on using workers from the WPA program to begin grading the fields and creating the park structure. The Commission hired Architect Francis B. Jacobberger to draw up a plan that would rechannel meandering Crystal Springs Creek, and mould the grounds into a model park featuring tennis courts, bowling lawns, horseshoe pits, handball courts, and a baseball diamond and field.

Meanwhile, city officials envisioned employing 750 men to build a park containing three football fields, a lacrosse field, twelve tennis courts, a dozen horseshoes pits, and an open air roller rink, among many other amenities. But like most high-expectation projects, the funds available were insufficient for such dreams, and park planners were forced towards more realistic goals – especially inasmuch as the nation was then in the depths of the Great Depression.

The construction of a cement casting pond was done for the opening of the International Casting Tournament in August of 1936. Bait and flycasters from around the world attended Portland’s first-ever surf-casting exhibition, hosted by the Portland Casting Club. Residents were inundated with the whizzing sound of flying fishing lines from contestants, who vigorously whipped their casting rods from as early as four in the morning until late into the evening hours.

Casting was far from its only offered recreation, however. It also served as a model yacht lagoon for young wanna-be sailors to practice their sailing skills during the summer and fall. Youngsters spent endless hours of enjoyment there with handmade miniature ships and boats.

And the pond’s calm waters offered an excellent opportunity for the students enrolled in the Manuel Training Class at Sellwood School to showcase their newly-built model powerboats and sailboats.

During the frigid winter week-ends, young and old used any freezing spell for ice skating on the frozen waters of the casting pond.

At various times all year, many social events centered around Westmoreland Park, and it was also a favorite gathering place where teenage boys and girls met on a first date.

When a lack of funds at the city level and in the Park Bureau prevented the completion of the additional projects that were on Francis Jacobberger’s blueprint for Westmoreland Park, help arrived in an unusual way. An Italian druggist who owned an ice soda fountain store on the corner of Southeast 41st and Division stepped forward to propose the construction of a baseball field. Nick Sckavone was his name, and while he wasn’t well known as a professional baseball or local hero, he was a man dedicated to the preservation of amateur baseball, and promoting sports as an opportunity for boys.

In 1939 Sckavone convinced city officials to raise the funds needed to build a baseball diamond and by 1940 baseball began in Westmoreland Park. For the next 55 years Nick Sckavone organized and promoted amateur baseball; he was a member of the Portland Boxing Commission and was instrumental in having a wooden baseball stadium constructed in Westmoreland.

Money collected from a charity baseball game at the famous Vaughn Street Ball Park contributed to the installation of outside lighting at the night games. In honor of his accomplishments and support, Sckavone Field, Westmoreland’s baseball stadium, was named in honor of this man. It still carries his name, at the south end of Westmoreland Park.

A number of new features and events were added to the new park, including space for archery and lawn bowling. Archery was fast becoming a popular sport, and in 1948 Westmoreland Park was part of a semifinal match of the Oregon State Archery Tournament. Teams competing in the tournament included the Portland Bushels, Montavilla Kiwanis, Oregon City Merchants, and St. Johns Merchants.

Portland Parks and Recreation’s records reveal that lawn bowling facilities were constructed by 1945. Bowling teams gathered on the north entrance of the park near McLoughlin Boulevard, to compete for the Dickerson Trophy, presented by the Portland Lawn Bowling Club.

Well into the 1960’s basketball courts were slated to be added to the park along with soccer fields. Another exciting event was the milk carton boat races, in which amateurs and fraternity groups constructed funky-looking boats out of milk cartons to race one another across the shallow waters of the pond built by the WPA in the Great Depression.

In the following decades periodic flooding, deteriorating buildings and equipment, and the invasion of aggressive geese and ducks led park officials to conclude that drastic improvements were needed to revitalize Westmoreland Park. At the end of this October residents were able to examine the final touches of the renovation of Westmoreland Park, with the removal of the duck pond and the return of Crystal Springs Creek to its natural course. The waterfowl have not been as easy to dislodge, however, so it is still wise to watch your step on the grass. The geese are always with us.

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