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Portland’s Roof Garden on the Mountaintop

If you are familiar with Portland, you know what incredible views are afforded atop Council Crest. From Council Crest (on a clear day) you can see five snow-capped peaks and 3000 square miles of land and rivers that connect them together. But unless you were here early in the 20th century, you might not know that an amusement park once ruled the Crest. Council Crest Park opened on Memorial Day in 1907 and was in operation until Labor Day in 1929.

 

Trolley station and entrance to Council Crest Park.

 

The Big Tree was built in 1905 for the Lewis & Clark Exposition

Council Crest was famous for its Big Tree Observatory, which had an elevator to the Top of the Town. There was the Trip Up the Columbia, the boat ride that encircled the park. You could also ride the L.A. Thompson Carousel, the Ferris wheel, the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway and other rides. There was a Midway full of amusements as well as a Dance Pavilion.

 

A bolt of lightning split the Big Tree down the middle. The tree was replaced with a shorter tower observatory and lightening struck it a few years later, destroying all but the base. A third, shorter observatory was built on the base of the second tower.

 

It was an unproven belief that the park site had been a traditional council ground for Native American Indians; therefore, the name “Council Crest”.

This view shows the third observatory, which stood until 1940. After the tower of the second observatory was hit by lightning, the base was converted into the observatory.

 

This view shows the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway and the Columbia Gorge Riverboat ride with the Trip Up the Columbia Canal Boats to the right, which encircled the Park.

 

Another perspective of the Scenic Railway and the Scenic Paddlewheel Boat.

 

A busy day at the Top of the Town.

The Canal Boat Ride and the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway on the west side of the Park.

The Midway was next to the Crest Pavilion, Portland’s most popular Dance Hall.

 

In the decade after the Amusement Park closed, the Observatory remained a popular place to see the views.

Newspaper ad for Council Crest from July 1, 1925.

This ad ran in the Portland News on May 10, 1919.

 

Several Council Crest Streetcars layover at the Council Crest Depot.

 

An excited bunch of park guests ride the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway above the Scenic Paddleboat. Another group is shown riding the Miniature Railway.

 

Photo Courtesy of Stephen Kenney Jr.

In this view, you can see the Giant Ferris Wheel.

As the nation headed into the Great Depression, the Park couldn’t sustain another money-losing season and Council Crest Amusement Park closed for good on Labor Day 1929. Even after the amusement park was gone, Council Crest Trolleys made regular trips to the top until 1949 to make the breathtaking views available to all. The view here is the best this side of the Vista House.

The Council Crest Cars were the first of many Portland streetcars manufactured by the American Car Co., the St. Louis subsidiary of the J.G. Brill Company of Philadelphia.

“One of the most beautiful trolley rides in the world, taking you in 20 minutes from the heart of the business district to the height of 1073 feet, unfolding before you a scenic panorama for grandeur unexcelled. The hustling city in the foreground nestling on both banks of the Willamette (wil-lamb-met) River is 12 miles from its confluence with the Columbia River.” This quote comes from the Pittmon’s Guide for 1915. Pittmon continues to make maps and guides today.

 

Council Crest Observation Car in 1907.

Two of the original Council Crest Trolleys survived and they can be seen at the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society Museum at Brooks, Oregon.

There are four replicas of the original Council Crest Trolleys. Two of them see see limited runs on the Portland Transit Mall on Sundays. They are outfitted with the same computerized controls that are found on the Metropolitan Area Express (MAX), which runs air-conditioned light rail cars from Hillsboro to Gresham, from the Airport to Clackamas Town Center and the Expo.

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Last updated 10-25-10

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