Dawson Park Love

Renovation to pay tribute to African-American history

5/15/2013, 12:27 p.m.
Historic Dawson Park will benefit from a $200,000 donation from its neighbor, Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.
Portland’s African American history is recognized in the planned renovations coming for historic Dawson Park at North Williams and Stanton Street. The $2.1 million project will also add a water play feature for kids thanks to a contribution from neighboring Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

Historic Dawson Park will benefit from a $200,000 donation from its neighbor, Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, the hospital, Portland Parks and Recreation and the Portland Parks Foundation announced last week.

The contribution will pay for a new water feature at the soon-to-be-renovated park at North Stanton Street and Williams Avenue.

The 2-acre park is undergoing a $2.1 million makeover that will encompass many improvements, including interpretive panels which tell the history of the park, an important center for the African-American community.

The interactive water feature was originally suggested by neighbors during extensive public involvement and heavily supported, officials said.

In the last two years, Portland Commissioner Nick Fish has partnered with Legacy Emanuel on a number of projects including the donation earmarked towards the fountain.

“We’re delighted to see yet another successful public-private partnership coming to fruition,” said Fish. “The generous gift from Legacy Emanuel will greatly add to the amenities and improvements at Dawson Park, and will be a neighborhood treasure for generations to come.”

Other features of the park renovation will be a large central lawn, an expanded and fenced children’s playground with new play equipment, new public art, flowering plants, new and more picnic areas and barbeque grills, lighted pathways and bike racks.

The stairs and ramp around Dawson Park’s gazebo are being widened to provide ADA access and more space for performer-audience interaction during summer concerts. The existing basketball court, shelter and restrooms will remain in place.

“I was born at Legacy Emanuel,” said Joe Nunn, a longtime neighbor and community activist. “I grew up near the park, still live here, and dedicate my time to this community. As a kid, I was in childcare at St. Martins, where they would take us to Dawson Park three times a week.”

Neighbor Donny Adair said the park “meant everything to us” while growing up in the 1950s and 1960s.

“As toddlers we used the swings and jungle gym. As we got older we played softball, ping-pong and tetherball,” Adair said. “My older brother even worked several years as park host, helping us to learn arts and crafts. It was a safe place to play from dawn till dusk under the watchful eye of neighbors and citizens.”

Legacy Emanuel’s donation was inspired by Emanuel’s commitment to the community, according to Dr. Lori Morgan, the hospital’s chief administrative officer.

“Dawson Park is vital part of our neighborhood,” Morgan said. “We are thrilled to collaborate in the improvement of this long-time community asset. The water feature will provide children and adults alike with a new way to be active and enjoy the park.”

Construction is expected to begin this fall.

Dawson Park is named in honor of an Episcopal minister, the Rev. John Dawson, who was an advocate of child welfare and civic improvement in the 1920s.

The gazebo in the park was built in 1978 to showcase the 120 year-old cupola salvaged from the Hill Block Building, once a cornerstone of the old Albina commercial district and an informal gathering place for the African-American community.