City, state commissions consider zoo railway's historic status
The Washington Park and Zoo Railway's shot at a historic designation takes a couple of big steps in the next few weeks.
On Monday afternoon, Sept. 30, Portland's Historic Landmarks Commission gave its approval to possible nomination of the railway's full route through Washington Park to the National Register of Historic Places. The commission signed off on the proposed nomination, offering city support.
On Oct. 18, the State Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation considers the railway's nomination to the national register. Commission members will discuss the nomination at 2:30 p.m. in the state's North Mall Office Building, 725 Summer St. N.E., Salem. The railway is among seven properties and sites the commission could nominate to the national register.
Also on the commission agenda for Oct. 17 and 18 are possible nominations for the 1923 Multnomah School, the 1911 Wheeldon Annex building on Southwest Salmon Street (now the Fountain Place Apartments), the 1914 Oregon Supreme Court building in Salem, the 1896 Elmer and Linnie Miller House on Northeast Thompson Street, the 1913 John A. and Hattie Keating Residence on Southwest St. Helens Court and the Britt Garden site in Southern Oregon's Jacksonville.
Reopening the full route
Members of a group trying to preserve the full two-mile zoo railway site submitted to the city and state commissions a 73-page nomination report prepared in late March by Portland researcher Melissa Darby. Former Oregon Zoo employee Dana Carstensen of Hillsboro is working to get Metro and the city of Portland to reopen the full zoo railway route after changes six years ago cut the ride from nearly 40 minutes through the entire Washington Park area, to about six minutes, winding through only zoo property.
Portland Parks and Recreation's January 2018 Washington Park master plan update outlined the city's intention to convert most of the old zoo railway route into trails. According to the plan, since September 2013, the railway corridor was closed because of "unstable conditions and cost to repair the tracks outside the Oregon Zoo." The plan includes a pedestrian and bicycle trail on part of the rail route that could improve safety in the area. Washington Park already has about 15 miles of trails that wind past Hoyt Arboretum and the Rose Test Garden.
Nominating the full railway route to the National Register of Historic Places won't stop the city and Metro from converting part of the route to trails, but it could throw extra steps in the way.
According to Darby's nomination report, a half-mile section of the railway was constructed in 1958. It was expanded to two miles in 1959. The route through Washington Park took more than 30 minutes and wound through forested areas and over wooden trestles built for the 30-inch gauge rails.
In 2013, the southern half-mile of track on zoo property was removed to make way for reconstruction of exhibits funded by a bond measure. A year later, a new alignment on the north side of the zoo site was built, which includes a new steel and wood trestle.
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