It is natural to assume that the topography of a city is fundamentally constant—that some half-distant ancestors found a promising patch of earth and proceeded to sow the seeds for what would ripen, as if inevitably, into the place we know well. But cities are things of tumult, and so are the lands on which they sit. Historian Tracy J. Prince's picture-studded Portland's Goose Hollow (Arcadia, 128 pages, $21.99) documents, among other things, the now-estranged fact that Portland's west side was once bisected by a meandering 50-foot-deep trench called Tanner Creek, which emptied into a broad basin—the catfish-rich Couch Lake—that annually swelled and receded into acres of thick mud across much of Old Town.
Starting in the 1870s, the oft-flooded creek was filled, in part, by shaving 25 feet of berm from what is now the old-residential heart of Northwest Portland, and tossing it into the gulch. This has leveled the streets but left raised hillocks on the grounds of Beth Israel Temple, along with blocks and blocks of domestic gardens that stumble bluntly into the sidewalks. In the meantime, the remaining gulch was farmed into acres of vegetable gardens by Chinese immigrants who lived in disposable shacks on the premises and who sold their fresh goods from door to door. When the creek's burial was finally completed in 1912, the immigrants were forced to emigrate yet again—although the creek itself remained there, deep underground, audible even today beneath Goose Hollow's manholes.
Much of this history was already known, but much also wasn't, or had escaped firm documentation. In particular, Prince has for the first time unearthed the original 1875 Oregonian story detailing how Goose Hollow got its name: Apparently a gaggle of angry women attacked an officer who had tried to silence their "gabbling" geese. Prince also provides never-before-seen images of water flowing down the Tanner Creek gulch. The book was started largely as a form of advocacy for what has always been a somewhat maligned or forgotten neighborhood, despite its being the stomping grounds of one of Portland's best-loved mayors (Bud Clark, who also writes the foreword to this book). In this it largely succeeds: Prince makes a case that Goose Hollow's tannery and planked road, along with Portland's deep harbor, were pivotal in pushing Portland up over now-obscure rivals Milwaukie, Oregon City and St. Helens as the major municipality in the area.
But while the format of the book—hundreds of old pictures, along with explanatory captions—piques gentle interest, it also, unfortunately, muddies narrative and historical continuity. This layout was a stipulation and function of a publisher, Arcadia Publishing, better known for postcard-style portraits of communities than historical texts written by Ph.D.s. Even so, Prince has been dedicated and meticulous in her research. In overlay after overlay of the past, the familiar and the outmoded become interlaced, bound together in contingency, until it is the present that comes to seem strange, the past that is made an unlikely escapee.
GO: Tracy J. Prince and Mayor Bud Clark read from Portland's Goose Hollow at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Friday, April 15. Free.