A new fight by Portland preservationists has emerged as the Portland Fire Bureau and the David Campbell Memorial Association have began taking steps to build a new David Campbell Firefighters Memorial at the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge along the Eastbank Esplanade.
The fight doesn’t have as much to do with the new memorial as it does with what will happen to the original one—located on West Burnside between NW 18th and 19th. While representatives of the memorial have cited deteriorating materials, poor access and expensive upkeep, as possible means for its destruction; supporters of keeping the original monument have emerged in recent weeks to argue that demolishing it would be tearing down history and destroying a piece of fine art.
Due to these claims, two separate Facebook groups have been created by various community members to save the original monument: Save Portland's Firefighters Memorial and Save Portland's Firefighters Park. Between the two groups there are about 270 members, although some of them overlap.
Jon Gustafson, local real estate agent and creator of the Save Portland’s Firefighters Memorial group on Facebook, decided to start the push once he heard about the idea to build a new monument.
“Everything sounded good about the new monument until I heard that they were going to tear down the old one because it was about to crumble,” said Gustafson. “I thought to myself, we don’t have very many things in Portland that are old enough to crumble, let alone thing that mean as much as this monument. We need to keep those pieces of history around.”
Gustafson continued, “We need to cherish and value the old things that we have in this city. And unless there is a super compelling reason to build something new, let's not tear it down.”
The original David Campbell Memorial was dedicated in 1928 to honor David Campbell, the Portland fire chief who lost his life in the line of duty during the 1911 Union Oil Company blaze on the Southeast corner of Water and Salmon (across the street from the planned location of the new monument). Katherine A. Daley donated the funky piece of land the monument sits on to the Portland Bureau of Transportation in 1918.
The Portland-based architect, E.F. Tucker, and Paul Cret, a notable architect from Philadelphia, built the monument. It is made of Caen limestone that was imported from France, which apparently doesn’t do well in wet places like Portland. The distinguished American sculptor, Avard Fairbanks, created the bronze image of Campbell in the center of the monument. The names of the 36 Portland firefighters who have died in the line of duty are also engraved at the foot of the pool in front of the bronze image of David Campbell.
The idea of building a new monument started about three years ago when the Fire Bureau was planning its annual commemoration of the late firefighters, held each year on June 26th, the day Campbell died. The ceremony has been a constant struggle for the bureau because of the memorial's busy location with limited access.
“We started the discussion of how to fix the deterioration of the memorial and realized that there was no point in fixing something that doesn’t have good enough access anyways,” said Paul Corah, trustee of the Portland Firefighters Association and spokesperson for the project. “So then we decided to explore the idea of building a new memorial at a new location.”
The bureau decided on a piece of land that it owns on the Eastbank Esplanade, accessible to the water and right next to the location of the fire Campbell lost his life in.
“We love the new location because it has a million dollar view and it is big enough to accommodate the commemoration these firefighters deserve,” said Corah. “Plus, the land is accessible to the water, so, we could incorporate the David Campbell fire boat into the memorial service.”
After settling on the piece of land, the bureau summoned the help of Jeff Schnabel, a professor in the department of architecture at Portland State University. Schnabel, with the help of 12 PSU professors and some fire bureau representatives, created a design competition for the new monument. The process is currently down to three local finalists: Whelton Architecture, Sum Design Studios and Tripp Architecture. The winning designer will be announced any day.
Preservationists were justifiably concerned that the original monument was going to be torn down because part of the design contest guidelines was to incorporate pieces of the old monument, such as the brass lanterns in front of the monument and the old bell behind it (the bell was added to the memorial site nine years ago. It was originally built in the 1890s and sat atop a local firehouse for years).
Due to these mounting concerns, and the fire bureau not wanting to start an uproar, they decided to bring the issue to a recent Historic Landmarks Commission meeting.
“We wanted to come here today and clear up the miscommunication that we are going to tear down the monument,” said fire chief, John Klum, to the landmarks commission. “We have no intentions of demolishing it or moving any part of it, other than the bell. Destroying this memorial is the last thing we want to do.”
The problem is that The Campbell Memorial Association, the nonprofit that pays for the upkeep and maintains the memorial, has limited funding and will be focusing all of its fundraising efforts on the new memorial, which will be funded privately.
“We want this memorial to continue but it needs more attention than we can offer,” said Klum. “We currently have a few firefighters that go pickup trash and remove graffiti once a week, but they can’t fix the deterioration problems.”
The ideas of placing the memorial on the National Register of Historic Places, or creating a stabilizing fund for the repairs through the Campbell Memorial Association, were briefly discussed. But in the end, the commission, the fire bureau and some of the preservationists, agreed that the memorial property needs to be handed over to a governmental body, like Parks & Recreation, in order to get the attention it deserves. If Parks & Recreation owned the land it would then be eligible for specific maintenance and restoration grants.
The landmarks commission decided to explore the option of creating a partnership between PBOT, P&R and the Fire Bureau, in order for the memorial to get a proper restoration. They voted to send out a letter of support for the partnership, noting that the firefighters will continue to perform weekly maintenance at the memorial.
For more information on the new and/or old monument, or if you have any questions or concerns, please call Paul Corah at (503) 823-3902. Or, visit the Portland Firefighters Memorial web site.