The Rebirth of O’Bryant Square

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In high school in the 80’s with the newly launched MAX to downtown, we were afforded an opportunity to get “into the city.” We would wander around shopping for used CDs, catching a movie, eating at McDonald’s or if we were feeling flush, the Metro on Broadway. One part of town we steered clear of was up by SW 9th and Washington and to the northwest. That’s where Crack Park was. I only learned as an adult that it had a real name – O’Bryant Square.

O'Bryant Square, Portland OR

O'Bryant Square, Portland OR

O’Bryant Square is situated between SW 9th and Park and Washington and Oak. Named after Hugh Donaldson O’Bryant, a pioneer who founded the city’s first library, the park was built in the early 70’s with parking underneath and a large bronze fountain in the shape of a rose. The park, built mostly of brick and concrete won an award in 1976 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. So what happened between then and the mid 80’s when it was the pariah of city parks?

In the last few years, whenever I have been at the Alder pod and it isn’t raining, I would walk over to O’Bryant square to eat. Initially, it wasn’t the most welcoming spot with large planter boxes covered only with barkdust and a broken fountain. I had inquired with the parks department and learned that it leaks heavily and the repair costs were high and that at the time, it wasn’t a priority. Sadly, it seems neither was keeping the park clean or with living vegetation.

This past week, on a sunny day, I picked up lunch from 808 Grinds on the corner of SW 9th and Washington – a cart that is part of the expansion of the Alder pod in 2010 and 2011. I crossed the street to O’Bryant Square and was shocked at how difficult it was to find a place to sit down and enjoy lunch. While eating, I marveled in the activity in the square. Children were running about being pursued by their happy parents. A fiddler in the center of the square entertained everyone. There were people everywhere either eating or chatting or just relaxing in a city park. I overheard a woman comment, “this is strange, I would never have come to Crack Park just a few years ago.” It made me realize that this park has seen a rebirth and has been rediscovered by a new group of patrons who enjoy it during the day with their lunches from the carts.

Did Crack Park once again become O’Bryant Square as a result of the food carts? I don’t know, but I refuse to believe that the increased foot traffic in the area and 20 new micro-restaurants that have arrived in the lat six months don’t have something to do with it. The city has even replaced the wood benches this summer realizing that the park is being used more and more each day. Next, I hope they plant some roses or just some colorful shrubs to liven it up a bit.

Street food is a way of bringing a community together like a farmer’s market or shared garden. Every day I visit the carts throughout the city and see neighbors chatting and kids playing and colleagues re-connecting. All because of food. Now we see evidence of how the carts have played a role in transforming a derelict park that no one would visit into a destination for kids and families and buskers. Food brings people together.

Comments

  1. Greg Doyle says:

    It is good to see more people using the square, but let me just say that it’s better not to sit next to the bushes unless you like the aroma of urine mixed in with your tasty food cart meal.

  2. What a great testament to the ancillary benefits that can come with an infux of Cartivores!
    Thanks for sharing the good news.

  3. Bertha Pearl says:

    We also enjoyed the park, with our delicious fish and chips from the Frying Scotsman…so glad that it’s there! It is always wonderful when a park gets reborn. Food carts rule!!!!

  4. So true! I’m glad you wrote about this. We would skip high school and also go to Metro on Broadway (for elephant ears or to smoke cloves inside) or the Galleria for the Souvlaki Stop. Paranoia Park was absolutely off limits. It’s nice to be able to eat and take kids there now–and Finnegans is moving across the street.

  5. Excellent blog. O’bryant square also hosted a candlelight vigil after the death of John Lennon.

  6. Joey Bagels says:

    Paranoid Park!

  7. This is incredible – we just started a series on our urban design blog about O’Bryant Park yesterday, and we plan to highlight the impact of the food carts!

    We’ll certainly be linking to your post here when we explore the food cart phenomenon.

  8. That’s great about the park, but what happened to the underground parking garage?

  9. Cool, I’d never heard it called “Crack Park”, only “Paranoia Park” because of the police office right across on SW 9th (I guess that’s why the unofficial name changed?).

    I’ve worked within 2 blocks of here for the last ~5 years, and the rise in O’Bryant Park’s popularity is definitely correlated with the food carts. That said, it’s felt like a more or less decent place to eat lunch all those five years, too.

    10? 12? years ago I was part of a T-Horse crew (http://cityrepair.org/projects/t-horse/) that did an event there targeted to high school kids. Felt pretty safe then, too — but it was “Paranoia Park” by then.

    @Drewby: The underground parking garage is still there; good guys.

  10. I recently discovered O’Bryant Park. I find it charming and can understand the design award it received. However, there still seems to be some issues with drug use. From sitting there for an hour, enjoying the sun and taking notes for an Urban Design class, I discovered, as you did, that people whom are enjoying their street cart lunches desperately want to enjoy this park. However, with only limited space, due to poachers taking over the best areas, this park is under utilized. It is also poorly maintained. It’s sad because this park has a lot of potential and is in a great location with a beautiful design. I wish it will get better with time…

  11. Maryalice Cheesman says:

    All during the 80s ‘Paranoid Park’ period, the blocks immediately north of the square were a vibrant commercial area full of alternative businesses (Habromania, Avalon Antiques, Hello Kitty, several little bistros, The Zoo gay bar–to name a few– and an entire block of artists’ studios. This area was open about 18 hours a day, and despite the reputation of the park, there was less trouble there than in other parts of the downtown core. I think the street kids policed it and kept the belligerent drunks and panhandlers out. The streets were clean, and I never felt apprehensive or intimidated there, and I was there daily throughout the 80s and 90s. Then Greenhouse bought the block, evicted all the businesses and artists, and the area became a bombed-out war zone.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Visit this link: “The Rebirth of O’Bryant Square” on Food Carts Portland [...]

  2. [...] all-things-food-carts, FoodCartsPortland.com, recently wrote an insightful piece on this so-called “Rebirth of O’Bryant Square”… This past week, on a sunny day, I picked up lunch from 808 Grinds on the corner of SW 9th [...]

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