Hawthorne – the Darling of Bridgetown

Hawthorne Bridge with Canada Geese at Tom McCall Waterfront Park

I stumbled across an unexpected art display last month when I drove in to work rather than hopped my usual TriMet #15 Belmont bus.

Colored webs

Christo-esque, there were giant sheets of some kind of fabric stretched between the steel trusses of the Hawthorne Bridge. The #15 takes the Morrison Bridge, which is why I had not seen this display before then. And, since the display was temporary, had I never taken the car in, I may not have ever seen this.

In celebration of 100 Years of existence of the Hawthorne Bridge, the project was funded to transform the bridge in to a work of art during Portland’s annual bridge festival.

Changing colors

Portland is also called Bridgetown (and Stumptown, Rip City, PDX, the City of Roses, and more). And aptly so, for the bridges bisecting downtown are a key element of our city’s character. There are seven bridges in the center of town, though of course there are several more bridges north and south of those seven. Kids in the Portland Public School District must memorize the names of the bridges, in order!

Morning exercisers and commuters view the bridge art

The Willamette River (pronounced with an ‘a’ sound like in the word ham:  wil – a’ – met) is a physical and cultural boundary readily evident if you watch the signs.

First, it’s the division between east and west when you are looking up an address. Importantly, the river is a mental boundary that keeps people with their own, as in:

“We tried this amazing seafood restaurant. I’d recommend it, but it’s on the other side of the river.”


“How far away is Mt. Tabor? I have no idea of distances anywhere on that side of the river.”

The Willamette separates the trendier yuppies of the northwest from the grittier hipsters of the southeast. Portland’s tattoos may be administered on both sides, but they show up on the east side of the river. You may have money to spend in this downed economy, but you show some restraint till you’re on the west side of the river. It becomes obvious that most of Portland’s bicycle commuters come from the east side of the river, when you watch the commuter traffic in mornings and evenings. It is also evident that the greater wealth, education, and support for the fine arts can be found on the west side.

The Hawthorne Bridge is one of our darlings, not only because she is the oldest bridge in Portland, but the Hawthorne is also the oldest working vertical lift bridge in the United States. She carries over 30,000 vehicles and around 5000 bicyclists per day.

After snapping some photos of the art installation, I caught the photo below, which reminds me of a new chapter soon unfolding in my VA life. We are currently in the old Edith Green – Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, a recipient of one of Obama’s shovel-ready projects. The tired concrete eyesore is scheduled for much-needed updating and greening. In order to finish the repairs quickly, the whole building will be evacuated during the work, which means all the organizations inside must move. Along with VA, the IRS, Marine Corps recruiters, Railroad Retirement Board, and all the others must find a new, temporary, home by the end of October. Our new home will be in a shiny, brand-spanking-new building recently completed, and one block away from our current location. Rather than move back to Portland’s Ugliest Building in downtown, we get to remain permanently in our new rented space. Yay!

Out with Old & Ugly; In with New & Shiny
Out with Old & Ugly; In with New & Shiny

5 thoughts on “Hawthorne – the Darling of Bridgetown

    1. I’m glad I wrote it all down. This was only a couple years after I moved to the area, and even less time since I had moved to the Montavilla neighborhood. My city observations were fresh. I wouldn’t think to notice a lot of the same things these days, because now in my mind, Portland is just Portland.

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