Festival Location: Cathedral Park

About Cathedral Park and Surroundings

Cathedral Park is both a park and neighborhood in north Portland on the north-eastern shore of the Willamette River, about 9 miles (or 15 minutes by car) from either downtown Portland or downtown Vancouver. The park is situated under the St. Johns Bridge, and was given its name due to the Gothic arches that support the bridge, which resemble a cathedral arch. The Cathedral Park neighborhood, named for the iconic bridge, was part of the original City of St. Johns prior to annexation by Portland in 1915. The park contains several walking trails, picnic benches, as well as a floating dock that extends onto the Willamette River.

Cathedral Park has been home to the Jazz Society’s annual summer Cathedral Park Jazz Festival since 1980, and the site is steeped in a long, rich history. It is believed to be one of the 14 Lewis and Clark landing sites in the Vancouver-Portland area: William Clark and eight men camped there on April 2, 1806. This spot had been a fishing and camping site for many area Indian tribes. In 1847, the founder of St Johns, James John, settled on the site and operated a ferry to Linnton across the Willamette River. In 1931, the St Johns Bridge was built on the site with 400-ft towers and a main span of 1,207 feet. It is the only steel suspension bridge in Portland.

In the early 1970s, Howard Galbraith, the “honorary mayor” of unincorporated St Johns, got tired of the junkyard state of the area under the eastern end of the bridge. He organized a drive that eventually raised $7.5 million to build a park. After eight years of community fundraising, combined with state, county and city funding, the park was dedicated at a community celebration on May 3, 1980. It got its name from a photo of the St Johns Bridge by Al Monner that appeared on the front page of the Oregon Journal in 1968. Reference was made to its beautiful cathedral-like arches and the park found its name.

In June of 1980, the Cathedral Park Committee sealed a time capsule (complete with ash from Mt St Helens) into the Wall of History in the Memorial Garden in the park. The time capsule will be opened in 2030. Measurements for how to find the capsule (which is covered with a stone that matches the rest of the wall) have been left with the Oregon History Center. Committee chairperson Sharon Roso said, “We want to make sure that in 2030 people will remember there’s a celebration due in St Johns.”

In 2008, a sculpture by Donald Fels was installed beneath the St Johns Bridge. It reflects back on a century of industry in St Johns and is an homage to both the mills and the workers who ran them. The piece also invokes the river itself, which powered the mills and is the reason the workers settled here.

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St. Johns

St. Johns has a distinct small town feel to it. The post office, coffee shops, breakfast places, restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, and several parks, are all within walking distance for residents who live close to the downtown strip.

St. Johns has a rich and interesting history. An 1843 pioneer settler of Linnton, James John, moved across the river and started St. Johns in about 1865. St. Johns became part of Portland in1915, two years before Linnton joined the growing city. There used to be a lot of streetcars in St Johns and many interesting old houses & buildings still remain.

It’s not possible to discuss St. Johns without singing the praises of the St. Johns bridge. The bridge is stunning and the focal point of many famous photos. It is often compared to the Golden Gate Bridge and mistakenly reported as being designed by the same person. The builder of the St Johns bridge was John Steinman who was rumored to be a rival to the builder of the Golden Gate Bridge.

One virtue of the bridge that is often overlooked by much of Portland, is a 12 minute commute to downtown Portland and15-20minutes to Beaverton or Hillsboro. Highway 30, the road connecting the other side of the bridge to downtown Portland suffers very little traffic.

Cathedral Park and St. Johns Amenities

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St. Johns History

Historian Eva Emery Dye, while looking at the original Lewis and Clark Expedition journals, made the discovery that William Clark made camp at the modern site of St. Johns near a Native American settlement for one night.

St. Johns is named in honor of settler James John. He made his journey to the Pacific Northwest from Westport, Missouri in 1841. His first residence was in Linnton, Oregon before moving across the river no earlier than 1844. Five years after John’s settlement, nearly 12 families laid claim to land in the vicinity. In 1865, John had a portion of his land surveyed and plotted into eight blocks for a townsite. Additional blocks were added in 1870 and 1876. John would often donate small parcels of his land to his friends without means. After his death, James John left his remaining personal property to the township of St. Johns to use to build a public school. It was John’s wish that children of all religious denominations could study together and receive an education that stressed the importance of civic engagement. John requested that all of his assets be sold off to raise funds for first his burial and funeral and the remainder to building the new school house.

The Bonham and Currier (left) and First National Bank buildings (right) in 1908. Starbucks now operates out of the Bonham and Currier building.

B. O. Severance of Maine erected a saw mill in St. Johns during the late 1860s, making it the first established industry in the town site. After bankruptcy, the building was sold and converted into a barrel manufacturing plant for the sugar trade. After bags became common for sugar transport, the barrel company was forced out of business. The building was again sold, this time to the Central Lumber Company. According to The Oregonian, the first electric sawmill in the United States was constructed in St. Johns by M. B. Rankin of the Electric Sawmill company in 1903. After the building’s erection the owners changed hands and production went dormant. The saw itself was a success, but the financiers of the mill failed to keep up a steady output of lumber.

A postcard featuring Jersey Street in St. Johns.

In 1902, the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company built a new line along the harbor. After the railway was completed, several businesses flocked to St. Johns, the first being the Portland Manufacturing Plant. St. Johns was officially recognized as a municipality by the Oregon State Legislature on January 5, 1902. Early citizens tasked with incorporation of their small town formed a new school district and petitioned the county court for a vote of approval. In 1904, the St. Johns Civic Improvement League was established to help the infant city catch up with the more established sites along the Willamette River. For almost two years after the town was established the streets remained unnamed and houses went unnumbered, making postal service impossible.

The electric streetcar line in St. Johns connecting the town to Albina and Portland was petitioned in 1902 by the University Park Board of Trade. Passengers were forced to board a steam streetcar at Killingsworth and Williams if they wanted to travel to the peninsula. Work began to electrify the line in June 1902. The St. Johns Shipbuilding Plant was established in 1904 with US$10,000 in capital. The St. Johns Library opened in 1907 after years of community interest in a reading room. T. J. Monahan was the president of the library committee during its construction. Upon its completion, the Portland Library donated 200 books to the new establishment.