Rocky Butte Scenic Drive and Viewing Area – Portland OR

Quality of Information:
Site Survival:
View Project in a Separate Window


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” [3].  

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 [1]. 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”).

Project Details

Federal Cost Local Cost Total Cost Project #'s

Source notes

1) Oregon SHPO– Application for National Historic Registration -

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:

Project originally submitted by Judith Kenny on June 14, 2012.
Additional contributions by Richard Walker.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Rocky Butte Scenic Drive
Portland, OR 97220

Coordinates: 45.546714, -122.56594

3 comments on “Rocky Butte Scenic Drive and Viewing Area – Portland OR

  1. Joyce Davenport

    My father worked on the Rocky Butte project from 1935-1939. Is there a place where I might locate his name on a list of workers or payroll? His name was Walter O. Nabower.

    • Alex Tarr

      Records from these kinds of projects are rather sparse, and not something we have as part of our site, but you may have some luck in Oregon state archives.

    • Evan Kalish

      It’s quite possible this information would also be available at the National Archives, Record Group 69 (files created by the WPA), but I can’t speak to that for certain.

Leave a Reply

Before leaving a comment, please note:

  • Comments allow viewers to share information with others or alert us to errors or changes in a New Deal site.
  • We are not involved in the management of New Deal sites and have no information about visits, hours or rentals.
  • This page shows all the information we have for this site; if you have new information or photos to share, click below.


We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.