Tag Archives: Lawrence Halprin

Sunday in the park with the Halprins (while Rome burned)

So, while Wall Street Giants shuddered, pivoted and crashed to the ground, Art Scatter was amusing itself at “City Dance,” the celebration of Lawrence and Anna Halprin, specifically Lawrence’s Portland plazas and fountains, Anna’s dances and early ’60s San Francisco art music, which somehow affected both. I will type (or is it keyboard, technically?) as long as I can, until the shock wave takes us off line… oddly it seems appropriate to muse on subjects such as these during times of economic crisis.

We’ve already set up the fountains, and to a lesser extent the dances, in a post below. To summarize, L. Halprin was hired by Ira Keller and the PDC to provide some public spaces for Portland’s first major Urban Renewal project, the demolition of the South Auditorium district and its replacement by a Skidmore, Owings, Merrill office/residential park. Keller was so happy with these, that he later asked L. Halprin to finish off the set with a plaza/fountain in front of what was then Civic Auditorium. It’s now the Keller Auditorium and the fountain is now Keller Fountain, though old-timers will be excused for calling it the Forecourt Fountain.

Fast forward 40 years or so. The fountains and plazas, important icons in the history of urban landscape design, could use a little conservation work, and so architecture writer/magazine editor Randy Gragg, the Halprin Conservancy, Third Angle New Music Ensemble and four Portland choreographers (Tere Mathern, Cydney Wilks, Linda Austin and Linda K. Johnson) banded together to help raise our collective consciousness about the Halprins’ work by staging a moving concert through all four sites (Keller Fountain, Pettygrove Park, Lovejoy Fountain, Source Fountain).

So on Sunday afternoon, sunny and warm, several hundred Portlanders, unaware perhaps that financial Redwoods were crashing, assembled to watch the show on the last day of the Time-Based Art Festival. Maybe there were more than that, adding the two concerts together. The second concert was so packed that when I arrived right before it began, I couldn’t get close enough to see anything much at the first site, the Keller Fountain, but that’s not going to deter me from my posting. Because there were three more sites to visit.
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Deep Portland history: Lawrence Halprin and Ira Keller

Monday night, Randy Gragg and Portland Spaces magazine staged another of its Bright Light City Discussions; this one featured historian Carl Abbott and was part of the Time-Based Art Festival. We took notes! More importantly we learned a lot about Lawrence Halprin and a provocative piece of Portland history. There was lots of information, some of which we may have gotten wrong. Don’t hesitate to correct our record!

Before the start of the Randy Gragg and Carl Abbott presentation on the history of the old South Auditorium district and the Lawrence Halprin fountains and plazas that replaced it, I happened to sit across from Robert Perron. This was lucky. Perron taught landscape design at UC Berkeley in the early ’60s when Halprin was there and knows a lot about him and his aesthetic impulses. And his knowledge of Portland is deep, possibly because he’s worked on so much of it, including the Salmon Street Fountain, Terry Schrunk Park and the First Presbyterian Church garden park. Because of that he understands the accidents, unintended consequences and budget shortfalls that affect the design of our cities and therefore our lives.

Shrunk was the mayor and Ira Keller was the chairman of the newly formed Portland Development Commission (PDC) when the decision was made in the late ’50s to bulldoze the aging neighborhood south of downtown and replace it with a utopian Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) residential and commercial district with impressive towers surrounded by green space. And in the green space, Keller decided, there should be a series of plazas and fountains designed by Halprin.
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