rebuilding center on Mississippi

from across the street

Now that things are slowing down in the garden, it’s a good time to trot out some of the things stored away that didn’t quite make it into previous posts. When I visited Mississippi Ave a few weeks ago, I took quite a few pictures of a place I find inspiring, The Rebuilding Center. If you drive toward the river on Fremont, you will come upon it where Fremont intersects with Mississippi.


It is a place where builders and remodelers can drop off unwanted building materials that are then sorted, priced and put on display.

wall of windows

Bulletin boards hold ideas for ways to use cast off materials in ingenious ways, but perhaps the most inspiring examples are to be found in the building itself. Here is a wall incorporating a hodge podge of reclaimed windows. Greenhouse, anyone?

welded metal fence

Scrap metal has been welded into a decorative fence.

main entrance

The main entrance is a fantasy land, with built-in benches at the base of trees whose branches, adorned with sparkly elements reach for the vaulted skylights.

another look

Here’s another look at that entryway.


The space is huge, with enough room for separate areas dedicated to doors, windows, etc.


In the lighting department, whole fixtures hang from above while shelves of globes and shades fill the dense shelving below.

lumber, etc.

This is one of those places to come with an open mind and let the imagination roam free. Who knows what manner of garden structure might result.

Mississippi Ave – and a world of salt

Back to my original plan to take you on a stroll along Mississippi Avenue in North Portland, but first I suggest that you visit Digging to see Pam’s tour of the greatest fall display I have ever encountered.

the old and the new

This is one of those areas that has been in transition for a number of years. Unlike the urban renewal model, the process has been organic, leaving old houses like this one, complete with a yard full of roses, to cozy up next to a brand new building housing shops and businesses.

new apartments (condos?)

New housing complexes raise the density along the street,

bamboo-lined alley

complete with a bamboo-lined pedestrian alley that extends the storefront shopping experience.

funky style store-front

Many of the storefronts have a funky, reclaimed quality about them, like this Mexican restaurant.

untouched remnant of old neighborhood

A few remnants of the old neighborhood remain untouched.

alley food cart

Food carts are a big deal in Portland. Since this one is on private property, it can build some covered seating for its customers without running afoul of city ordinances.

art gallery

Art on the street runs the gamut, from this minimalist gallery presentation

metal sculpture farm animals

to these farm animals strutting their stuff on the sidewalk.


SunLan carries nothing but light bulbs. You never saw so many light bulbs…of every size, shape and description. It almost resembles a curio shop.

sleek entry

While across the street a new building sports this sleek entry

sophisticated planters

with modern, sophisticated planters. You wouldn’t think that the disparity of styles would work, but it all seems to hold together and exude personality in a way that monocultures like malls try so hard for and miss by a mile.

portal to ?

This brand new covered portal would seem to suggest something coming soon to this currently almost vacant lot, but on Mississippi you never can tell. It may have been built entirely for its own sake.

stone balls

Most of a block is lined with new shops fronted by a courtyard punctuated by these large stone orbs.

The Meadows

One of the shops is emblematic of the quirky nature of the street. The Meadow is devoted almost exclusively to the world of salt. A selmelier is to salt what a sommelier is to wine. They have one.

wall of salt

Yep, that’s a wall of salt, all right. There are tester jars of each variety, and little cups of water to clean the palate between tastes.

Himalayan salt blocks

Those handsome slabs in the foreground are Himalayan salt blocks. They can be heated or chilled to serve a variety of foods while imparting a delicate hint of salt.

flowers and chocolate

To round out a true gourmet shopping splurge you can pick from a nice selection of flowers (while I was there last summer, a biker type in studded leathers chose a perfect, small red rose, had it beautifully wrapped in tissue, tied with a ribbon and off he roared…presumably to his lady love, but it might have been his mom (there was that tattoo). The Meadow also has a selection of high end chocolates, wines and bitters.

bagging it up

Having guided me through a tasting session, this delightful young woman is bagging up my purchases: smoked Malton finishing salt, truffle sea salt and a tiny silver spoon (suspicious if I am ever in a drug bust). The salts are expensive, but potent. They are used at the end of cooking or at the table, and the tiniest bit packs a wallop. So you see, Wendy, I did wind my way around to a little bit in this post that justifies linking to your Garden to Table Challenge. I guarantee you these salts will bring out the best in anything from your garden or farmers’ market.

waterfront condos

view north

Our friends who downsized from a big old Victorian in the alphabet district in NW Portland now have this view of the Fremont Bridge looking downriver.

view upriver

While in the other direction there is the Broadway Bridge in the foreground, backed by the city’s skyline. The sidewalk you see here is part of a 40-mile loop trail for walkers and bicyclists. The water of the Willamette River is so high right now that parts of the trail are submerged, but that won’t last for long. We plan to bring our bikes sometime soon.

view from sidewalk

The condo building is surrounded by something like a moat. This is the view looking from the sidewalk out between the two buildings with the river in the distance and industrial buildings and docks on the far shore.

cascade at side

Down the sides of the buildings the water cascades down these concrete spillways. The reflecting pool in the last photo has similar levels that can be seen through the water, but not easily photographed.

side plantings

The landscape designer was meticulous to the point that the first rocks in this dry creek bed had to be removed because they were the wrong color. These rocks are exactly the color of the sidewalk and nearly uniform in size.

red petunias

I am normally not a petunia person, but I find the large blocks of bright red ones in concrete raised beds surprisingly pleasing.

view of the river from the balcony

After passing through a lobby with falling water on both sides (just in case we haven’t had enough rain) we made our way to our friends’ condo, where they have this view from their balcony. They can watch all of the river traffic and the loading and unloading of cargo ships across the river. If that isn’t enough excitement, the Portland Police’s horse barn is off to the left, where the horses are worked in the ring. They miss having a space to garden, but the low maintenance will make room for sailing getaways, etc. Looks like a pretty good life to me. Now I am off to spend the next three days of promised sunshine mucking about in the garden and loving every minute of it. To each his own, right?

more east side rambles

We were close by, and I wanted to pick up a CD by Esperanza Spalding, the Portland jazz artist who ruined Justin Beiber’s night by winning best new artist. I like going to Music Millenium, even if I didn’t consider it sort of a civic duty to try to prop up local businesses that have been shrinking of late. It is near the gates of the Laurelhurst neighborhood. On the opposite corner, the Laurelhurst Market:

Laurelhurst Market

occupies a handsomely remodeled building with a fence of espalier between the diners/shoppers and the parking lot. It will make a nice screen when it leafs out, but I was glad to see it now with all of the handiwork exposed.


Right next door was this ramshackle but imaginative structure.

more shack

Another angle reveals the mossy roof and more of the details of the cobbled together construction. All was deserted, but it seems someone had had a vision. Hobbits, maybe?<.p>
mud woman

The house adjacent to the lot with the handmade house is guarded by this fun/scary mud woman, who looks out over a weedy expanse of naturalized daffodils.

Ian’s new neighborhood

OK, so time to check out Ian’s potential new neighborhood. Looks like the kind of place to put down roots and raise a family.

next door

Maybe do a little gardening?

bowling birds’ nest

And definitely get to know the neighbors with the sense of humor. Those eggs are bowling balls, with the nest in proportion. That’s it for my guided tour of just a few of the quirky sights on Portland’s east side. I hope Ian and Noami buy the house, so we will have many excuses for further visits.

here comes march

It came in more like a polar bear than a lion. When we woke up yesterday morning, this was the scene that greeted us.

snowy scene

About 4″ of heavy, wet snow covered everything in sight. It was ironic, because the week before, the media was all abuzz with warning of a killer storm coming, only later calling it “The storm that packed a pinch”. In Portland, snow is rare enough that the mere threat of a few flakes sends all stations into emergency weather coverage 24/7. This weather event crept in without a word of warning.

magnolia grandiflora

All of the branches of the Magnolia grandiflora were bent double by the weight of the snow.

bent birches

As were the birches.

bent cypresses

The Italian cypresses didn’t quite touch their toes, but came pretty close.

Cupresseus macrocarpus

Last year the Cupresseus macrocarpus ‘Citrodora’ suffered broken branches and die-back when the snow was much lighter and fluffier than this load.


I feared the same fate was in store for Chamaecyparis ‘Barry’s Silver’, so the morning was spent patrolling the grounds with a long-handled broom and knocking the snow off of everything that looked threatened.

snowy pear tree

It was beautiful, though. Richard had just finished pruning this pear tree and here it is blooming with snow.

snowy birch catkins

The more mature birch tree stood up to the snow better, and I loved the way the dark catkins showed up against the snowy branches.

By the time I came back inside, my fingers were frozen and the power was out (it remained so for the rest of the day). We built a roaring fire, wrapped up in wool blankets and read all afternoon. Boy, was it pleasant…but now…bring on Spring!

on the road again

The last time I drove into town I took the back roads and had my camera handy.

rusty band

Lining a long driveway off of Cornell Road is this whimsical band fashioned from steel and odds and ends of household appliances, tools and such.

rusty band up close

There were no trespassing signs, so I had to use my zoom to get a closer look.

potter’s house

Years ago, I interviewed a potter who lived in this cottage with studio attached. Since his death a few years ago, it has become completely overgrown, but you can still see the clay relief over the door.

old sequoia

He must have planted this giant weeping sequoia long before they became all the rage. It practically engulfs the studio.

Joel Cottet tower

But here, dominating the neighbor’s yard, is the work that Joel Cottet was known for. You can spy it from Cornell Road, across the street from the school. The car just visible behind the bush gives you an idea of the scale of the thing.

many sequoias

And in the back yard of this neighbor’s house is a whole row of giant weeping sequoias.

inching closer to a real greenhouse

Perhaps you remember the poor excuse for a greenhouse chronicled here last year. Well, Richard takes his tomatoes pretty seriously, and this was not a good year, weather wise, for tomato crops.

tomato tent

This year’s effort to coddle those tomatoes into ripening is looking a little more architectural. We may be inching toward an actual greenhouse one of these days.

green tomatoes

Here’s a peek inside at the green tomatoes. The temperature inside the structure is 20 degrees warmer than outside.

ripe tomatoes and sauce

And it seems to be working. A steady supply of ripe tomatoes has made us very popular as dinner guests bearing baskets of these beauties. A pantry filled with tomato sauce is well worth the effort.

ristretto’s neighborhood

Whenever I get to a rendevous early, out comes the camera for a tour of the neighborhood. I like to meet people at my son Din’s coffee shop, Ristretto Roasters over on Williams St in North Portland. Not only is the coffee extra special, but I just might run into Din or Nancy and get caught up on their busy lives. Anyway, here are a few shots of the surrounding neighborhood.


Heading down a side street, this guy was the first thing to catch my eye. I knew this was going to be a fun walk.


Recently completed hardscapes in this garden, a half-block away from the gargoyle, were of a more serious nature. The impressive gates lead into a vegetable plot. In the foreground, curved beds are separated from pathways by cor-ten steel barriers.


Here, square metal boxes are set within the curved bed. The plantings are all brand new. It will be interesting to revisit this garden as it grows into its “bones”.


Turn a corner, and WOW…these people are not afraid of COLOR.


So of course there was an abundance of colorful plant material about. I hadn’t seen this Echinacea before, but now I will be on the lookout.


This has got to be what is meant by “vine covered cottage”…and around back, a vegetable garden.


Across the street was this understated, subtle paint job with a jungle in front.


Time to get back for my coffee fix. As so often happens on these expeditions, I was surprised at how far I had wandered. This whole block of parking strip was barkdust mulched with the occasional rock to break the monotony, but clustered near the corner was a mature clump of yuccas. The city might have something to say about that spilling over the curb, but I find it charming.


Back on Williams, intense efforts to bring the neighborhood back from the brink have resulted in lots of new construction.


New projects are going forward even in this down economy.


With gentrification come many things, but in this case the neighborhood has kept its sense of humor and identity.


…right down to the large corner lot devoted to a thriving community garden. And now for arguably the best cup of coffee in Portland. Hey! Other people swear by it…not just his mom.

watts towers

brochure photo watts towers

Both of our kids used to live in LA, so trips south were on the agenda every once in a while. When we ran out of museums, I finally talked everyone into a trip to Watts. Have you heard of the towers? They are the work of one man, a day laborer who spent every minute off the job, and every cent he earned at it, constructing these amazing structures in his back yard. The armatures are rebar. Aside from that and the cement covering it, everything is done with scrounged materials.

close-up watts towers

In the close-up, you can see some of the detail. Every surface is covered with mosaics made of broken crockery, glass, shells, tiles, etc. The fence around the perimeter of the property has old bed springs as its base. Newel posts are topped with finials of teapots. Simon Rodea spent every available waking hour either foraging for materials or scrambling up his structures by means of a window washer’s belt and buckle. When dark fell, he rigged up lighting so he could continue his work. He made no drawings and used only the simplest of tools.

the towers in Watts

The tallest of the towers is 99.5′. Rodea’s comment on his magnificent art work was typically humble: “I had in mind to do something big and I did it.” His obsession had cost him his wife, but upon completion he deeded the property to a neighbor and moved away to be close to family. He was 75. The place fell into neglect. School children used the finials for target practice. The city declared it a hazard and prepared to raze it to the ground. A group of artists and actors, led, I seem to remember, by Vincent Price, were successful in saving them, in no small part by way of an engineering test that included a truck with a winch attempting to pull them down. Buckminster Fuller, no less, proclaimed them marvels of engineering.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, they are protected and maintained. For a small fee, you can take a tour, hear the remarkable story, and best of all, sit a spell and soak up the extraordinary atmosphere.

timberline lodge


If you saw The Shining, you have seen better shots of Timberline lodge from the outside than anything I can share with you, but the interior in that movie was, for some inexplicable reason, an insipid, uninteresting (oh, I get it: they didn’t want the surroundings to upstage the actors)…enough said.


Coming through the front doors, one is greeted by this impressive stone fireplace. When I was growing up, we spent nearly every winter weekend in Government Camp. This room was open to the public for use as a kind of warming hut. A roaring fire was always blazing, chairs full of recovering skiers were arrayed around it, and the air was permeated with the aroma of wet wool, scorched mittens drying on the hearth and wood smoke. It was a magical refuge between ski runs between Timberline and Government Camp.


The entire lodge was built as a WPA project during the depression, and is filled with the work of artists and artisans of the time. Just inside the entry, the drinking fountain is backed by this mosaic. You get some idea of the scale from the fountain in the foreground.


Turn around, look up, and see this frieze decorating the massive beam over the doors. The exit sign is distracting here, but when one is in the space, the art and architecture overwhelm such petty incursions.


Let’s go upstairs. Each newel post, throughout the building, is a full sized log, carved at the top with the image of an iconic northwest creature nestled down peacefully for a snooze. This one is a bear cub.


Here’s a fawn.


Love this owl.


Nothing can truly prepare one for emerging into this magnificent space, anchored by the massive stone fireplace. It extends a full three stories. See the railings of the balcony? That is where our dinner was served, with a view out across the foothills, with Mt. Jefferson framed in the distance.


Even more refined than the downstairs, every detail has been wrought by the hands of an accomplished artisan. Here I show you one of many light fixtures, and the warm, cozy glow it casts upon the timbered ceilings and walls, in contrast to the snow piled up outside the window. Remember that this is late March. In January, the snow would have covered the windows entirely. Paintings by C.S. Price hang on many of the walls.


Seated in the Ram’s Head Lounge, we were closer to the heavily beamed ceiling, and spent considerable time speculating “How did they DO that?”


The whole expedition to the mountain was prompted by a visit from San Francisco by daughter Hillary and her boyfriend Chris. When she emailed me about this as a desired destination, it surprised me, because as children, my two wanted nothing to do with the cold…both beating hasty retreats to warmer climes at the earliest opportunity. My attempts to propel them into nature were largely exercises in futility. Guess the seeds I planted years ago have finally decided to sprout. Thanks, Hillary, for instigating a visit to one of my favorite places on earth, right in our back yard.