Thursday, May 19, 2016

Year built: 1929
Location: Forest Park  Portland, OR
Architect: Ernest F Tucker
Style: Stone Tudor Cottage
Contractor: Angell and Son
Plumbing: Williams & Gibson
Stone Mason: Walter Gerke
Type of construction: Basalt stone and timber
Roof: cedar shake
Cost: $2380.77

Forest Park Stone House

The Stone House (also known as the Macleay Park comfort station/shelter or Witches Castle) is a former 1.5 story public restroom in Forest Park. Built in 1929 at the junction of Wildwood and Lower Macleay Trails, it is a historic ruin and local landmark. After the 1962 Columbus Day Storm destroyed the water line to the restroom, the structure was gutted and left. Hikers use the popular spot to rest at the trail junction. The stone house remains are covered in moss and fallen logs form a unique ruin in the middle of the forest.  Some locals believe it is haunted.  Although the house is old and falling apart, it was once a very impressive architectural structure.  The old shelter has an interesting history. 

Macleay Park

In 1897, a Scotchman named Donald Macleay got tired of paying taxes and gave the deed of his property to the city of Portland. The city received 108 acres of cavernous wooded canyon with fir trees that formed a cathedral like magnificence to the tops of the trees.  The forest was flush with wildlife and birds. An inventory of wildlife at the turn included the following birds: quail, pheasant, grouse, pigeon, hawk, meadowlark, robin, jay, crow, bluebird, chickadee, hummingbird and many other winged creatures. Wildlife included: deer, rabbit, raccoon, wildcat, squirrel, chipmunk and even a bear down from the back country in those days. Tree species included: fir, oak, cedar, yew, chestnut, mountain ash and others.  Some of the evergreens were as high as a skyscraper and thick as a seacoast sequoia. Through the middle of the canyon ran Balch creek. The trails were first carved by Adam Elm, a dishwasher who worked nearby at the Broadway restaurant, next to the old Lewis Clark forestry building.  On his lunch break and spare time, he would build trails thru the park. Today, these trails course thru some of the best parts of Forest Park. 

Macleay Park Comfort Station Construction

On Jan 1, 1928, an ad was placed in The Oregonian asking for architectural bids for the design of the comfort station. Architect Ernest Tucker was selected and finished his plans on Sept 14, 1929.  These plans were submitted to and approved by the City of Portland, Bureau of Parks. Later that month, Angell and Son submitted a bid and were selected by city to build the 1.5 story comfort station. The remote setting was such that is couldn't be reached by truck, sled or pack horse. Inaccessibility dictated that all materials be dropped in from a high line and wooden basket. Thus, all stones, timbers, sand, gravel and reinforcing steel were lowered into the canyon worksite from NW Cornell Rd. The structure was built into the sloping hillside which gives the front portion 2 stories. The shelter was constructed of basalt stone, rough sawn timbers and cedar shakes giving it a rustic look to blend in well with the native beauty of the park.  The stairs were stone. There was an south facing wooden dormer on the second story.  Under the east stairs was a tool room.  The other room in the lower portion was a shallow alcove that was located under the south facing dormer. It took Angell and Son only 2.5 months to complete the comfort station, an impressive feat considering the inaccessibility of the job site. The city maintained it as a public rest room until 1962.

Stone House Architecture

Architect Ernest Tucker blended different architectural styles into the shelter to give it a unique look.  He incorporated bits of Medieval England, Tudor and some cottage style elements into the design.  The steep gable roof, stone and mortar construction and stone stairways produced the desired effect.  Adding to this, is the desolate, wooded setting of Macleay Park. The shelter featured arched doorways with matching radius top wooden doors.  The doors had a small window.  Adjacent to the bathroom entrances, was a square window.  Smaller, rectangular windows were located higher up at the top of each stone gable.  At the front of the stone structure, large wooden brackets extended the sharp, asymmetrical roof line outward, creating an eave over the bottom level alcove.  This created a jetty-like over hang that was one of the many characteristic features of the house. A wooden dormer was cut into the south facing roof line.  The dormer had a wooden frame window.  The steeply pitched roof was covered with hand split cedar shakes.  Although most of these elements are now gone, the shelter was quite impressive when built and was open for public service through 5 decades.

Balch creek waterfall

Floor Plan

The floor plan shown below is the original blue print prior to construction.  It shows the Men's and Women's restrooms separated by a middle room called the pipe room. The top blueprint shows the asymmetrical roof line (Tudor) with the eave at front of building. Note the radius top doors that match the arched doorways.  The top gable windows are fitted with wooden louvers and both door and restroom window has 4 pane windows.  It appears that the floor plan, stairs and door ways were changed during construction. Note on blueprint, the bathroom door is offset from the stairs.  The shelter was built with door aligned directly with stairs and window reversed.  There was a small room under the a stairway that had a door on it, it was called the tool room.

Water Supply and Septic System

 The comfort station was a public restroom.  The Women's side contained a water closet (toilet) and a sink.  The Men's restroom contained a water closet, urinal and sink. To supply water to the bathroom devices, a supply line was run down to the shelter from from a water source near what is today's Upper Macleay Park (NW Cornell Rd).  The exact route of the water pipe is unknown, but any plumber would confirm it was an engineering feat. The descent is very steep with switchbacks, trees and boulders everywhere. Running a 2 inch galvanized, threaded pipe down the hill and along the creek banks above the creek between rocks and tree roots would have been a huge challenge.  It appears that some of the water line was run above ground and some ran underground.  There are places the pipe can be seen running along Balch Creek on the west bank above the water.  It's unknown where it crossed Balch Creek. 

Given the isolated location, the shelter had no heat, hot water or electricity for lights at night.  It's also likely that in freezing temperatures, the comfort station would't be operational due to frozen pipes. It's unclear why the decision was made to built this shelter in such a remote area given the obstacles of construction and plumbing, yet it was done. On Oct 12 1962, The Columbus Day storm disrupted the water supply and spelled an end to the shelter as a functioning public restroom. Some time after the storm, a decision was made to permanently close the shelter.  The shelter infrastructure was dismantled and the roof was removed. 

The restroom waste water likely drained into a local septic field which in 1930, was completely acceptable.  However, in the 1960's, environmental attitudes were changing towards habitat and watershed responsibility. This spelled the end for the septic field and probably factored in to the permanent closure of the shelter.

Photos below show the water line running along west bank of Balch Creek a few hundred feet above the shelter.  This galvanized iron pipe supplied water to the comfort station from 1929 thru 1962 before it was taken out by a wind storm.  Sections of it can be seen from the Wildwood trail just south of the Stone House. 

Balch Creek

The Stone House sits above the bank of Balch Creek and the base of a steep hillside at the bottom of  a ravine in Macleay Park. 

Balch creek begins at the top of the west hills and runs along NW Cornell Rd and travels down a ravine in the Macleay Park section of Forest Park.  The creek drops 1116 feet in elevation. It is a tributary of the Willamette River.  At the base of the Thurman Street/Balch Creek bridge, the creek enters a 7 foot diameter pipe where a large wooden trash rack filters debris before entering the pipe.  The pipe courses north following NW 30th Ave underground to NW Guam Street where is turns 45 degrees and dumps into the Willamette River next to the Portland Fire Dept on NW Front Ave.  The creek joins the city storm water and empties into the river as an outfall pipe. A small population of coastal cutthroat trout is said to populate the stream. 

Starting in 1862, Balch Creek became a source for city of Portland's water supply.  This was done by wooden "pipes", that is, fir logs with 2.5 inch holes bored thru the centers were laid as water mains from the west hills into a wooden reservoir on Alder and Pacific streets. Eventually, the wooden mains were upgraded by 5000 feet of hardier California redwoods. These were upgraded again to wrought iron pipe.  Later, it was determined that Balch creek couldn't supply enough water and was pushed underground to empty into the Willamette. In 1890, the city began searching for a better water supply, they found it in the Bull Run watershed.  In 1895, Bull Run water began flowing into the city and Balch Creek was decommissioned shortly afterwards. The wooden pipes are still buried under Portland as a skeletal remains and a reminder of the original supply lines.

More about the wooden pipes of Portland's original water supply: the wooden pipes were made from fir logs, 8 foot in length and 8 inch in diameter. They had a 2.5 inch hole bored thru the middle that transported the flow of water. Joints were made by driving an iron collar around one pipe end and then taking another pipe and driving it together, and so on.  The pipes were buried under ground same as iron pipes.

Balch Creek wooden trash rack

Balch Creek trash rack under construction 1932

Pictured above, is where Balch creek terminates into the storm water drain system.  The creek runs above ground for 3 and 1/4 miles before being diverted into a large underground pipe.  It then runs underground in the storm water system for 1.5 miles before dumping into Willamette River. Seems kinda sad that such a beautiful creek ends up like this, but it's not feasible for anything else at this point.

Thurman Street bridge 1925

Balch Creek Bridge

Original wooden Thurman St bridge 1895

Balch Creek observation walkways

Macleay Shelter Time Line

1962  Portland begins using Balch Creek for water supply
1890  Thurman St (wooden) bridge constructed over Balch creek
1897  Donald Macleay gives property to city of Portland
1905  Steel bridge constructed over Thurman St/Balch creek
1920  Balch Creek diverted underground into culvert
1922  Adam Elm builds trails thru park
1928  City leaders discuss idea of shelter
1929  Macleay comfort station built
1932  Trash rack built on Balch Creek
1962  Columbus Day storm damages shelter
1963  Shelter dismantled and decommissioned 

The NW Examiner, March 2012
The Oregonian (multiple articles)
PDXccentric, An Odyssey of Portland Oddities 
A History of NW Portland, From the River to the Hills, 2004
Architect and Engineer, 1931