Portland, Oregon is home to the most parks, as well as the biggest (Forest Park) and the smallest (Mill Ends Park, a colony for leprechauns) in the country. But, even in a city that’s world famous for its parks, one stands out as exceptionally unique.
Cathedral Park lies in North Portland nestled on the banks of the Willamette river in the unsurprisingly named Cathedral Park Neighborhood. A quiet unassuming location beneath the St. Johns bridge, where thousands of commuters pass overhead daily. Walking beneath the towering cathedral-like footings of the St. John’s bridge with the sun rays streaking through the morning mist, and the trees of Forest Park dancing in the distance as a cool breeze passes through them, it’s nothing short of a religious experience.
It’s hard to imagine that this park was not part of the original design of the bridge. In fact, it was built in 1980, a good 50 years after the bridge and its splendid arches were put in place. Until then, the area beneath the eastern end of the bridge was likened to a junkyard by Howard Galbraith, the “honorary mayor” of the then unincorporated St. Johns. He organized a drive that raised $7.5 million to build the park.
In June of 1980, upon completion, the Cathedral Park Committee sealed a time capsule into the Wall of History in the Memorial Garden in the park. The time capsule will be opened in 2030. Directions for how to find the capsule, which is hidden behind a particular stone, are kept safe and sound with the Oregon History Center.
The site is steeped in history, thought to be one of the 14 Lewis and Clark landing sites in the Vancouver-Portland area: William Clark and eight men camped there on April 2 1806. It has also been a fishing and camping site for local Indian tribes. In 1847 the founder of St. Johns, James John, trapped and hunted on the site and operated a ferry to the fishing town of Linnton across the Willamette River. In 1931, the St. Johns Bridge was built on the site with 400-ft towers and a main span of 1,207 feet. It is the only steel suspension bridge in Portland and is designated as an official historical landmark.
The park is also home to many festivals, concerts, and community events. The Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, started in 1981, is the oldest and largest free jazz and blues event west of the Mississippi. The park also includes a boat dock, boat ramp, picnic tables, and an excellent off-leash area for tossing around a frisbee with man’s best friend.