What is the wooden walkway and grate right at the beginning of the Lower Macleay Trail?
Answer: Trash Filters
The urban stream known as Balch Creek goes underground in Lower Macleay Park, just before the Thurman Street Bridge. The visible man-made barriers there are the wooden a wood trash filter or “trash rack” that prevents large logs and other debris from entering the combined storm sewer pipe taking the creek to the Willamette. The “walk way” in question was designed to collect smaller objects from entering the pond created by the dam. Archival construction images show the dam beneath the wooden grate system and the walkway (the “old maintenance bridge” has now decayed and often misidentified as a vestige of Lafe Pence’s 14-mile sluice system of 1906-07).
Balch Creek Diverted into Sewer
In 1921 City of Portland diverted the creek into a pipe (culvert). The historic system was causing flooding so a dam and more vigorous 9,000 foot sewer system the Thirtieth Street Sewer (AKA Balch Creek Sewer) was proposed in 1930 and complete February of 1932 for a cost of $112,558.33. The dam is hidden under the existing trash filter, constructed under the direction of the City of Portland’s the Public Works Administration the cost was passed onto rate payers in the region. In addition to regular maintenance, major restoration efforts were conducted in 1945 and 1970. Balch Creek runs 3.5 miles from its headwaters on the crest of the West Hills to the Willamette River. A primary source of water for the City of Portland in the mid-nineteenth century, it was already contaminated by 1895. Urban use and development from villains like Lafayette Pence (1857-1923) to residential development (1888-today) have degraded the watershed. The creek, named for Danford Balch, who held the original donation land claim to the area, currently supports up to 4,000 isolated cutthroat trout. Logs and wappato plants have been deliberately placed in the stream to enhance the habitat for the fish.
Slabtown had a hometown hero, because of his own struggles with class and the status quo in Portland. His “quest” and notoriety (transformation from freaky tall to starlight), which was followed by residents even after they were relocated, was to succeed at a sport—basketball—with which he had had no previous experience. Harvey Wade “Swede” Halbrook, who had an important career in the National Basketball Association in the 1950s. I met pro-baseball player Milo Meskel’s sister for the first time at the third Guild’s Lake Courts reunion in 2009.
Beverly Meskel: We all had fun down there. Everybody was friends—didn’t matter where you came from, you were all broke. We didn’t have anywhere to go…. We came from Minnesota where my dad made a dollar a day. If we didn’t live on a farm, we all would have starved to death…. Swede Halbrook, well, if you lived in Guild’s Lake [Courts], everyone knew Swede Halbrook. Well, in the fifth grade I stood about this high [motioning short] and Swede stood about this high [motioning tall]. And my brother-in-law’s dad used to say you two should get married so your kids would be the right size. He was quite a guy. I think there were…four guys [brothers]—Joe, Dan, and Jim and him, I think.
Joe: They were all tall.
Beverly Meskel: They were all tall, but Swede also had a gland problem. We almost lost him in sixth grade; he was up at Oregon Health Science for a long time.
Joe: Halbrook was in my class at Chapman.
Beverly Meskel: Was he? So, like I said, he was not that well of a person. Plus he tried so much to have friends that he did not know who his friends were and who were the users. He got himself in quite a bit of trouble… He was a neat kid, really.
Swede, pictured sitting down with his long legs and enormous shoes, became a man of mythical proportions, who, at 7’3”, was the tallest player ever to play for Oregon State College. He was even larger than life when he lived at Guild’s Lake Courts, but he never played basketball there because there was only one hoop in the entire development, and that was inside a mixed-use room in the Guild’s Lake School.