Tag Archives: Robert Perron

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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