Washington Park (Portland, Oregon)
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Washington Park Portland, Oregon

Washington Park is a public urban park in Portland in the U.S. state of Oregon. It includes a zoo, forestry museum, arboretum, children's museum, rose garden, Japanese garden, amphitheatre, memorials, archery range, tennis courts, soccer field, picnic areas, playgrounds, public art and many acres of wild forest with miles of trails.

Washington Park covers more than 410 acres (166 hectares) on mostly steep, wooded hillsides which range in elevation from 200 feet (61 m) at 24th & West Burnside Street to 870 feet (265 m) at SW Fairview Blvd. It comprises 159.7 acres (64.63 hectares) of city park land that has been officially designated as "Washington Park" by the City of Portland,[1] as well as the adjacent 64-acre (26 ha) Oregon Zoo and the 189-acre (76 ha) Hoyt Arboretum, which together make up the area described as "Washington Park" on signs and maps.[2]


View of park entrance at Southwest Washington Street (now Burnside Street), 1898

The City of Portland purchased the original 40.78 acres (16.5 hectares) in 1871 from Amos King for $32,624, a controversially high price for the time.[3][4] The area, designated "City Park", was wilderness with few roads. Thick brush, trees and roaming cougar discouraged access. In the mid-1880s, Charles M. Meyers was hired as park keeper. A former seaman without landscape training, he transformed the park by drawing on memories of his native Germany and European parks. By 1900, there were roads, trails, landscaped areas with lawns, manicured hedges, flower gardens, and a zoo. Cable cars were added in 1890 and operated until the 1930s. The City of Portland constructed two reservoirs in the park in 1893 and 1894.[5]

In 1903, John Charles Olmsted of Olmsted Brothers, a nationally known landscape architecture firm, recommended several changes to the park including the present name, location of the entrance, separate roads and pedestrian paths, and replacement of formal gardens with native species. The name was officially changed from City Park to Washington Park in 1909.[6]

When the Multnomah County Poor Farm's Hillside Farm facility west of Washington Park closed in 1922, the 160 acres (64.75 hectares) were sold to the City of Portland, leading to the creation of Hoyt Arboretum in 1930.[7]

Portland's zoo was founded in Washington Park in 1888 near the north end of the park.[8] The bear house from the original zoo is now used as a park maintenance shed. The zoo moved in 1925 to what is now the site of the Japanese Garden. The only surviving structure from the second zoo is the elephant barn, now converted into a picnic shelter and decorated with tile mosaic of various animals and a life-size brick relief sculpture of an elephant and calf. The zoo moved again in 1959 to its present location at the park's southern edge.

In 1958, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) moved into a new building in the southwest corner of Washington Park, adjacent to the new zoo.[9] In 1971, the Western Forestry Center (now the World Forestry Center) opened a forestry museum north of OMSI.[10] OMSI moved out of the park to a new location in 1992, and the Portland Children's Museum took over OMSI's former building in 2001.

On March 15, 2018, the Portland City Council adopted a master plan to guide development of Washington Park over the next 20 years. The plan called for improved transportation and accessibility within the park, as well as improvements to park features such as the arboretum.[11]

The City of Portland is in the process of replacing the two outdoor reservoirs with underground reservoirs covered by reflecting pools, due to their age and a federal mandate to cover all reservoirs. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.[12] The $67 million project attracted opposition from historical preservationists and residents concerned about construction impacts.[13]

Notable features

Washington Park wayfinding sign
  • The International Rose Test Garden is the oldest official, continuously-operated, public rose test garden in the United States. Dedicated in 1924, it displays more than 10,000 rose plants of more than 650 varieties. It includes a Shakespeare garden within its boundaries, as well as an alpine garden at its southern end.
  • The Washington Park Amphitheater is located in the Rose Garden and hosts many public concerts, including the Washington Park Summer Festival, an annual free concert series normally presented in August.[15]
  • The Hoyt Arboretum contains nearly 6,000 individual trees and shrubs of over 2,000 species on 187 acres (75.68 hectares) and was founded in 1928. Twelve miles (19 km) of Washington Park's trails are located in the arboretum.
  • The Oregon Zoo, which opened at its current site in 1959, contains more than 1,800 animals of more than 230 species (including 19 endangered species) in natural or semi-natural habitats.[16] The zoo has a notable Asian elephant breeding program that grew out of the birth in 1962 of Packy, who in adulthood was the largest example of the species in North America.
  • The Washington Park & Zoo Railway is a 1950s-era, narrow gauge railroad designed to carry passengers on a 2-mile (3.2 km) line between the Rose Garden and the zoo. It was opened in phases from 1958 to 1960. Currently, it is partially closed because of needed maintenance on retaining walls and culverts as it runs through the woods; until that work is done, it operates only within the zoo.[17]
  • The Portland Japanese Garden is a 9.1-acre (3.7 ha) private traditional Japanese garden that opened in 1967. It was the most highly ranked Japanese garden in North America of more than 300 such gardens rated by experts from The Journal of Japanese Gardening in 2013.[18]
  • The World Forestry Center Discovery Museum offers educational exhibits on forests and forest-related subjects. It was founded in 1906 in the Forestry Building of the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Northwest Portland, and later established in Washington Park in 1971. Permanent exhibits explore the traits of forests around the world. Temporary exhibits have featured art (usually related to nature), ecology, wildlife and woodcrafts.
  • The Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1987 to honor Oregonians who were killed or missing in action.
  • The Rose Garden Children's Park is a playground that was completed in 1995 with $2 million in donations. It includes a large, colorful play structure designed to accommodate all children, including those with disabilities. Adjacent to the Children's Park is the Elephant House picnic shelter, converted from the old zoo's elephant barn.
Les AuCoin Plaza

The veterans memorial, zoo, children's museum, forestry center and the MAX station surround a large parking lot in the southwestern portion of the park. The arboretum is located just to the north of these. The gardens, amphitheater, playgrounds and the Holocaust Memorial are in the northeast section of the park.

Image gallery

Public art and fountains

In 2001, a memorial bench and plaque north of the Lewis and Clark Memorial were created to honor the Portland born journalist John Reed.[30] The plaque has a quotation by Reed on his native city:

Portlanders understand and appreciate how differently beautiful is this part of the world--the white city against the deep evergreen of the hills, the snow mountains to the east, the everchanging river and its boat life--and the grays, blues and greens, the smoke dimmed sunsets and pearly hazes of August, so characteristic of the Pacific Northwest. You don't have to point out these things to our people. Walters, I think, paints them with more affection and understanding than they have yet been painted.[31]

Public access

The Washington Park Shuttle is free and, since fall 2019, runs year-round (reduced to weekends-only November through March).

Parking in Washington Park costs $2 per hour, to a maximum of $8 per day.[32] The Washington Park light rail station provides regional public transit access to the park's west end, including the Oregon Zoo. Public transit service within the park is provided by the Washington Park Shuttle, a free service that connects with MAX light rail at the Washington Park station and operates seven days a week from April through October, and only on weekends from November through March.[33] Additionally, TriMet bus route 63-Washington Park/Arlington Heights, which runs seven days a week year-round, serves stops at the west and east ends of the park (including at the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden), but does not pass through most of the park.[34] The northeastern corner of the park, at NW 23rd Place and W. Burnside, is served by bus route 20-Burnside/Stark, which runs seven days a week.[35]

See also


  1. ^ "Washington Park". Portland Parks & Recreation. Retrieved 2011.
  2. ^ "Washington Park map" (PDF). Explore Washington Park. Retrieved 2018.
  3. ^ MacColl, E. Kimbark (November 1976). The Shaping of a City: Business and politics in Portland, Oregon 1885 to 1915. Portland, Oregon: The Georgian Press Company. OCLC 2645815.
  4. ^ "Washington Park". Portland Parks & Recreation. Retrieved 2006.
  5. ^ "Washington Park Reservoir Improvements Project". Portland Water Bureau. Retrieved 2016.
  6. ^ "Summary of park's board minutes 1901-1920". Portland Parks and Recreation. Retrieved 2017.
  7. ^ "History of Hoyt Arboretum". Portland Parks and Recreation. Retrieved 2019.
  8. ^ "Oregon Zoo History". Oregon Zoo. Retrieved 2017.
  9. ^ "OMSI History and Mission". OMSI. Retrieved 2017.
  10. ^ "The World Forestry Center Story". World Forestry Center. Retrieved 2017.
  11. ^ "Washington Park's 20-year master plan OK'd". KOIN. March 15, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  12. ^ "Washington Park Reservoir Improvements Project". Portland Water Bureau. Retrieved 2015.
  13. ^ "Protests echo as council approves reservoir demolition". Portland Tribune. May 13, 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  14. ^ "Barbara Walker Crossing opens to the public". KOIN 6 News. October 27, 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  15. ^ "Washington Park". Travel Portland. June 8, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  16. ^ "About the Oregon Zoo". Retrieved 2017.
  17. ^ "Washington Park and Zoo Railway". Oregon Zoo. Retrieved 2016.
  18. ^ "North America's Best Japanese Gardens" (PDF). Sukiya Living Magazine (JOJG). Retrieved 2016.
  19. ^ "Westside MAX Tour Fact Sheet" (PDF). TriMet. November 2009. Retrieved 2011.
  20. ^ "Outdoor Adventure". Portland Children's Museum. Retrieved 2019.
  21. ^ a b c d e "Washington Park". Portland Parks & Recreation. Retrieved 2012.
  22. ^ "Sculpture of Sacagawea and Jean Baptiste". Lclark.edu. September 5, 2004. Retrieved 2012.
  23. ^ "Art Inventories Catalog". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 2011.
  24. ^ "Iconic Portland artworks gets a second life at zoo". Oregon Zoo. Retrieved 2017.
  25. ^ "International Rose Test Garden - Washington Park". Portland Parks & Recreation. Retrieved 2011.
  26. ^ "House for Summer". Regional Arts & Culture Council. Retrieved 2017.
  27. ^ "House for Summer 30th Anniversary". Helen Lessick. Retrieved 2017.
  28. ^ Hottle, Molly (October 9, 2011). "Royal Rosarians unveil bronze statue to mark upcoming centennial year". The Oregonian. Advance Publications. Retrieved 2016.
  29. ^ "Basket of Air". Regional Arts & Culture Council. Retrieved 2017.
  30. ^ "History of the Park". Retrieved 2017.
  31. ^ "John "Jack" Reed (1887-1920)". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved 2017.
  32. ^ "Explore Washington Park". Washington Park Transportation Management Association. Retrieved 2018.
  33. ^ "Explore Washington Park Seasonal Shuttle - Daily May-October". Washington Park Transportation Management Association. Retrieved 2019.
  34. ^ "Bus Line 63-Washington Park/Arlington Heights". TriMet. Retrieved 2018.
  35. ^ "Bus Line 20-Burnside/Stark". TriMet. Retrieved 2018.

External links

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