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Friends of the Reservoirs


January 23, 2004
For Immediate Release

Portland's Reservoirs Gain National Prominence with Listing on the National Register of Historic Places

PORTLAND, OREGON -- The National Parks Service, administered by the Department of the Interior, has listed the three reservoirs at Mount Tabor Park and the two reservoirs at Washington Park on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation came on January 15 but official listing will occur today. The reservoirs are listed in two separate nominations under the titles, Washington Park Reservoirs Historic District and Mount Tabor Park Reservoirs Historic District. The reservoirs in both parks were nominated by a volunteer effort by the Friends of the Reservoirs. The nomination process took approximately one year and has utilized talent and funding from both sides of the Willamette River. The listing will provide the reservoirs greater scrutiny and design review in regards to projects that involve alterations or demolition.

Reservoirs long identified as eligible for listing
For many years, Portland's reservoirs have been clearly identified as outstanding examples of some of the City's most outstanding historic cultural resources, eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. In the last Portland Historic Resources Inventory in 1984, 5,158 historic resources were identified and rated by significance in three rankings. Fifty-two of those were given a standing of Rank 1, the highest rating. The reservoirs make up five of those fifty-two. "All of the open reservoirs are historically significant and thus are eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and for local landmark status," states the City of Portland Water Bureau Open Reservoir Study of 2001.

Listing provides City design review
According to the City's zoning code, listing on the National Register of Historic Places provides Portland's historic resources a thorough design review process in regards to alterations and demolitions.

Summary statement
Extensive research done by the Friends of the Reservoirs' historic research team, which included experienced preservationists, solidified the fact that the reservoirs in Mount Tabor and Washington Park are five of the most important historic and cultural resources in the City of Portland. The nomination has been reviewed by the City's Historic Landmarks Commission, the State Advisory Committee for Historic Preservation, and the National Parks Service in Washington, D.C. The listing helps the City realize the reservoirs' importance beyond that of a utility. A listing on the National Register of Historical Places affords the reservoirs more scrutiny regarding any alterations or demolitions. Historic resources of this caliber are valuable amenities for all communities and increase livability and property values.

"The reservoirs are not only rare historic treasures, they represent living history; a still serviceable gift to the modern city of Portland bought and paid for long ago. With regular maintenance and some modern upgrades, including higher quality surveillance equipment, they will carry the City into the next century. Other communities in the nation have chosen to save their reservoirs for the beauty and utility they offer. Nationally, Portland's reservoirs are in a camp of their own based on integrity, aesthetic design and the views they afford," says Cascade Anderson Geller, preparer of the nominations.

For additional information, contact:
Cascade Anderson Geller
1934 SE 56th Avenue
Portland, Oregon

State Historic Preservation Office
Attention: David Bogan
Cultural Education Specialist

National Register of Historic Places
National Park Service
Paul R. Lusignan
(202) 354-2229
(202) 371-2229 fax

or Edson Beall (in charge of listings)
(202) 354-2255 Edson_Beall@nps.gov

click on "Weekly Listings" Jan. 23, 2004

National Park Service 2280
National Register of Historic Places
1201 "I" (Eye) Street, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20005

Additional Detailed Information Regarding the National Register of Historic Places and the Reservoir Historic Districts

About the National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture. The resources listed in the register contribute to an understanding of the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation. Resources listed in the National Register of Historic Places possess historic significance and integrity. Integrity is evident through historic qualities including location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. Generally listed resources must be at least fifty years old. They must be significant when evaluated in relationship to major trends of history in their community, State or the nation.

Resources are nominated using a formatted document supplied by the National Parks Service. Extensive written historical research and documentation is required along with a thorough assessment of the current state of the resource including photographs.

The reservoirs were nominated in the following areas of significance: Community Planning and Development, Engineering, Architecture and Entertainment/Recreation

Details regarding the reservoirs' significance

Dates of Construction: One at Mount Tabor and two at Washington Park completed in 1894, Two at Mount Tabor completed in 1911

The reservoirs fit criteria in the area of community development on a national, state and local level. All of the reservoirs were built during the period in American history known as the Progressive Era. A burgeoning population and an unbridled free-enterprise system coupled with shrinking resources, including available land, fostered the development of a reform movement that created many public institutions such as parks, libraries and schools. One of the first municipal endeavors for cities in the U.S. was commonly a water system. By a special state legislation session in 1885, Portland was able to establish a 15-member water committee that included the City's most prominent business and civic leaders, including Henry Failing, Frank Dekum, H.W. Corbett, S.G. Reed and W.S. Ladd. Portland's decision to create a municipal water system, the Bull Run system, required State legislation to authorize the issuance of the $700,000 in tax free bonds ($13 million in 2001 dollars) exceeding their previous limit by $600,000. Eventually the Water Committee spent $5,400,000 in bond revenue on the Bull Run system.

Engineering of the reservoirs illustrate wise use of resources and good planning that has carried Portland into the 21st century. The reservoirs were the primary storage and delivery receptacles for the water from the Bull Run watershed approximately 50 miles east of Portland. Separate from the glaciated run-off of Mount Hood, Bull Run Lake, River and the tributaries offered Portland the opportunity to have access to high quality mountain water. Prior to the municipal Bull Run system, the City's water was provided by private companies with the bulk being pumped from the Willamette River. Pollution concerns, even by the 1880's, and the high costs of pumping helped to spur on the development of a city-owned, high-quality water system. Another goal of the Water Committee was to find a water source that would allow a gravity delivery system. When the relatively simple yet sophisticated system was completed in 1894, large conduit pipes brought the water to the reservoirs in Mount Tabor for east side water use and the Mount Tabor reservoirs gravity fed the Washington Park reservoirs for west side service. The entire system was built to utilize gravity with the Mount Tabor and Washington Park sites chosen for their elevation and proximity to the population served. In 1911, as Portland's east side was rapidly expanding, two more reservoirs were added at Mount Tabor. Though the butte was referred to as a park as early as the 1880's, Mount Tabor became an official city park in 1909 when land was acquired for the creation of the two 1911 reservoirs.

The high quality of the engineering and construction has been noted throughout the history of the reservoirs. The City of Portland Water Bureau Open Reservoir Study, Facilities Evaluations from 2001 and 2001 states, "No waterborne disease outbreak or water quality incident of public significance has ever been recorded in connection with Portland's open reservoirs. All features in good condition. A detailed maintenance program could extend the useful life of the open reservoirs to the year 2050."

Architecturally the reservoirs and their amenities reflect the design goals of the national City Beautiful movement. The City Beautiful movement emerged during the industrial era as concerns for unmitigated urban expansion grew. Part of this trend included coupling utility with beauty. The reservoirs were sited in parks and were planned with great attention to aesthetic detail using old-world craftsmanship and design elements including the romantic tower-like gatehouses, the original wrought iron lampposts and fences. The 1894 fences and lampposts are especially ornate and crafted by an award-winning local ironsmith utilizing a design created by the noted architectural firm Whidden and Lewis who went on to design many buildings in Portland including Portland's City Hall in 1895 now on the National Register of Historic Places. The concern for quality caused Reservoir 1 in Mount Tabor to be constructed of the highest-grade concrete available that was imported from Antwerp, Belgium by ship before the creation of the Panama Canal. The 1894 reservoirs are stamped with two Ransome patent numbers. Ernest Ransome, deemed the "father of reinforced concrete," is famous for a variety of buildings in the country, including the Academy of Sciences Building in San Francisco and the Stanford Museum. He was a pioneer of reinforced concrete in the U.S. His father developed the system in Great Britain. The Bull Run system and the reservoirs are some of the early noted work using his patented systems that included the twisted iron rod reinforcements, an aesthetic hand-tooled finish that mimicked rock work and the concrete mixer itself. The reservoirs and the Bull Run system are perhaps the earliest large application of reinforced concrete in the State and helped to establish concrete as a viable building material.

The reservoirs were designed as recreational destination sites, as this quote from the January 1, 1895 Oregonian illustrates, "These walks provide a delightful promenade for visitors who are separated from the basin itself by a concrete wall surmounted by a neat fence. All the reservoirs have been constructed in the most substantial manner and the effect of harmony it was possible to obtain by a little attention to the adornment of the finished works."