The Pittsburgh Orbit has a legendary love for all things Onion Dome. It also happens to be located in a place with the right kind of orthodox religions that support this interest. Out here in Portland I’ve kept my eyes peeled for domes that might make a comparable piece to what Pittsburgh’s Orbit has come up with but I haven’t found any examples. I have yet to extend my search to outlying areas. Then it occurred to me that there is a dome. Whether this is onion enough to satisfy the Pittsburgh Orbit has yet to be determined but with such sparse pickings this is all the Portland Orbit can offer at this time.
The first time I saw this photo must have been soon after I moved to Portland ten years ago. I marveled at how cool this section of town looked. The dome was only part of what made it distinct. I wondered how I hadn’t seen it. All I could think was that I had to go there. Somehow I found out I had been looking at a place that was no longer there. I have a vague memory that my brother-in-law Paul may have broken the news. In his voice I can hear him saying with some resignation something like, “Yeah, they tore that part of town down” or maybe it was more like, “that’s no longer there, dude.” This memory, as hazy as it is now, is tinged with a feeling of loss.
Seeing the building from a different angle in another photograph from that era brought back thoughts and imagings of what Portland, especially the North Williams corridor, was like a long time ago. It took me a while to make the connection that the old dome from the photos had been placed on top of the gazebo in Dawson’s Park.
My best attempts at research informed me that the tear down happened as part of the Emmanuel Hospital expansion that never went through as planned, a sad chapter in Portland history to say the least. I’ve read two accounts that both yielded the same result. There was one story explaining that surrounding houses and the Hill Block building were torn down due to expansion for the hospital but the planned funding did not become available while something else I read along the same lines mentioned that money for the project ran out after the land was cleared. In the end it doesn’t matter, a cool part of town was razed. It can only be experienced now by looking at old photographs. It’s a thoughtful memorial that’s bittersweet. As the plaque pointed out it was the citzen’s of the Eliot neighborhood and the City Of Portland who had the forethought to repurpose the dome that allowing this area to hold on to a shred of history.
There was an amazing view when I drove past one recent February afternoon. I spotted the dome against the backdrop of a giant pink church. The dying light of that late afternoon sun lit up the background making the cupola look majestic. It highlighted how the dome keeps the spirit of the old neighborhood alive. There were guys playing dominoes and someone barbecuing. A community of people had gathered on a random Tuesday afternoon. The park has a long history from pasture land to a place circuses would perform. It was the place RFK gave his last speech before being shot a week later. The most recent celebrity stopover to the park was from Janelle Monae.
It wasn’t until I went for a visit did I realize how ornate the top of the dome was. There’s also a plaque in the middle of the gazebo that’s informative but hard to read. While I was in the area, I realized I needed to get a sense of where the actual dome had been. I’d read it was on the NW corner of N Williams and NE Russell. Being directionally challenged, I broke out the compass on my phone. As I walked down N. Williams toward the Urban League building where the streets cross I noticed I was walking past a big open field and then I arrived at the corner where the Hill Block building and its dome had been. There was something sad in that gray sky that hung over that emptiness where cool old buildings had once been.
Eliot Neighborhood News:
Dawson Park Info: