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Washington Park (Portland, Oregon) facts for kids

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Washington Park
Pdx wash mainentrance sse.jpeg
The park's main entrance, 2006
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Nearest city Portland, Oregon, United States
Area 458.45 acres (185.53 ha)
Created 1909
Operated by Portland Parks & Recreation

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 458 acres (185 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 241.45 acres (97.71 hectares) of city park land that has been officially designated as "Washington Park" by the City of Portland, as well as the adjacent 64-acre (26 ha) Oregon Zoo and the 153-acre (62 ha) Hoyt Arboretum, which together make up the area described as "Washington Park" on signs and maps.


View of Washington Park from the SW Washington St entrance
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) of Washington Park in 1871 from Amos King for $32,624, a controversially high price for the time. 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.

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.

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.

Portland's zoo was founded in Washington Park in 1888 near the north end of the park. The bear house from the original zoo became 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. In 1971, the Western Forestry Center (now the World Forestry Center) opened a forestry museum north of OMSI. 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.

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. The $67 million project attracted opposition from historical preservationists and residents concerned about construction impacts.

Notable features

Washington Park Sign
Washington Park wayfinding sign
  • Washington Park has over 15 miles (24 km) of trails, some of which are part of the 40-Mile Loop connecting Washington Park with Pittock Mansion and Forest Park to the north and Council Crest to the south. The Wildwood Trail through Forest Park begins in Washington Park near the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In 2019, the City of Portland constructed Barbara Walker Crossing at the northern edge of Washington Park to allow Wildwood Trail users to safely pass over West Burnside Street.
  • 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, and borders an alpine garden at its southern end and a secluded oval-shaped "secret garden" to the north.
  • 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.
  • The Hoyt Arboretum contains nearly 6,000 individual trees and shrubs of over 2,000 species on 153 acres (63.92 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 2,500 animals of more than 200 species (including 15 endangered and 7 threatened species) in natural or semi-natural habitats. 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.
Portland Japanese garden creek
Portland Japanese Garden
  • The Washington Park & Zoo Railway is a 1950s-era, 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Washington Park station is located beneath Les AuCoin Plaza, a scenic xeriscaped brick and stone terraced plaza located between the zoo and the World Forestry Center. The Washington Park Station is the only underground stop on the MAX Light Rail system and at 260 feet (79 m) below ground is the deepest transit station in North America. The station is accessed by four high-speed elevators. It opened for service on September 12, 1998.
  • The Portland Children's Museum, founded in 1946, moved into the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry's former building in 2001. The Children's Museum has built a substantial (1.3-acre (0.53 ha)) outdoor play area on its grounds, and runs a charter school.
  • The Oregon Holocaust Memorial was dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust on August 29, 2004.
  • The Himalayan Cloud Forest Garden, created around 2010 on a 3-acre site at the northern end of the park, displays a collection over 200 rhododendron species and hundreds of companion plants primarily from the Sino-Himalayan region.

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

  • Coming of the White Man is a bronze statue of two Native Americans, one depicting Chief Multnomah, sculpted by Hermon Atkins MacNeil in 1904 and donated by the heirs of David P. Thompson. It faces east along the Oregon Trail.
  • Sacajawea and Jean-Baptiste is a statue of the famed Shoshone Native American woman who guided the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the mountains. A massive bronze and copper piece unveiled on July 7, 1905, at the Lewis and Clark centennial, it was sculpted by Denver resident Alice Cooper and cast in New York.
  • Loyal B. Stearns Memorial Fountain, erected in 1941 in honor of the former Oregon judge Loyal B. Stearns, is located in the northeastern corner of Washington Park, just south of Burnside Street.
  • The Continuity of Life Forms is a mosaic by Portland architect and artist Willard Martin. It was originally installed at the former entrance to the Oregon Zoo (then known as the Portland Zoological Gardens) in 1959. It was re-installed outside of the zoo's new education center in July 2016, near the zoo's old entrance.
  • Frank E. Beach Memorial Fountain (officially titled Water Sculpture), a stainless steel fountain located in the Rose Garden, was designed and built by Oregon artist Lee Kelly and dedicated in 1975.
  • House for Summer is a living sculpture of Himalayan birch trees planted by artist Helen Lessick in the Hoyt Arboretum in 1987. The sculpture reflects the shelter of the forest canopy and changes with the seasons. Park arborists maintain the work under a joint agreement with Portland's Regional Arts and Culture Council.
  • Royal Rosarian is a bronze statue located in the Rose Garden that depicts a Royal Rosarian tipping his hat. It was created by American artist Bill Bane and dedicated in 2011.
  • Basket of Air is a stainless and galvanized steel spherical sculpture by Portland artist Ivan McLean, inspired by bamboo baskets. It is suspended over the pond in the Hoyt Arboretum's Bamboo Forest and was installed in 2016.

In 2001, a memorial bench and plaque north of the Lewis and Clark Memorial were created to honor the Portland born journalist John Reed. 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.

Public access

Washington Park Shuttle on Knights Blvd (2015)
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. 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. 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. 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.

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