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.
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
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.