Rocky Butte Scenic Drive viewing area - Portland ORThe viewing alcoves with light piers are a part of the stone wall encircling the viewpoint at the summit.
Rocky Butte Scenic Drive and viewing area were constructed between 1934 and 1939 by workers provided by the State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA) and federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) from local ranks of the unemployed. Rocky Butte is a 607 foot extinct volcanic cone (one of several in the city of Portland) and the second highest point in the city. The viewing area offers panoramic vistas of the Columbia River valley and Portland.
During the first two years of work, the north road approach to Rocky Butte was built as a “modern highway” with its steep banks carefully walled with stone from the butte. The more ambitious southern approach required construction of a 375-foot tunnel. In addition to the roadway and tunnel, WPA workers built a massive stone parapet wall that encircles the viewpoint at the summit. When The Oregonian announced completion of the project in September 1939, it noted that “work on the project provided employment at times for as many as 700 men who would have otherwise been on direct relief” .
As early as 1903, Rocky Butte had been identified in the Olmsted Brothers’ City of Portland Plan as a site for recreational driving and passive recreation . All of the improvements for the drive and vista structures, however, lacked funding until support provided by New Deal era programs. The approximately $500,000 cost of the whole project was funded jointly by Works Progress Administration (WPA) and State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA) – itself funded in part by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA).
The top of Rocky Butte was later designated Joseph Wood Hill Park by the city. The Rocky Butte Scenic Drive Historic District was created in 1991 to preserve the site and its craftsmanship.
(From the plaque on site, it seems that one of the roads up Rocky Butte was originally known as “Academy Drive”).
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1) Oregon SHPO– Application for National Historic Registration - http://heritagedata.prd.state.or.us/historic/index.cfm?do=v.dsp_siteSummary&resultDisplay=4977
2) Oregonian (1939) “Rocky Butte Improved: Workmen Finish Tunnel Project,” August 26, 1939.
3) Oregonian (1939) “Road, Tunnel to be Opened,” September 14, 1939.
6) Photo at: http://bridgehunter.com/or/multnomah/rocky-butte-tunnel/
Project originally submitted by Judith Kenny on June 14, 2012.
Additional contributions by Richard Walker.
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