How did they put out fires under the stands at Vaughn Street Ball Park?
Sand was used to put out fires at the old ballpark—sand shoveled on to a fire covers the burning materials and extinguishes the fire by cutting off the supply of oxygen. With the news that the Portland Diamond Project was exploring two sites for a new major league stadium in Portland. I was enchanted that one of the proposed sites is the Esco parking lot—the site of the Vaughn Street Ball Park that was the heart of Slabtown from 1901 to 1955. Gone are the days when a home run is camouflaged behind plumes of smoke from the adjacent foundry and an outfielder prepared with a ball in his pocket can successfully fake that he has caught a fly ball!
The attractive wooden stadium (above) was closed because it was a firetrap. The fan seating eventually grew from 6,000 to 12,000, and fans even sat on the field for popular games. Fans young and old knew that the beloved groundskeeper Rocky Benevento expected them to shovel sand from conveniently located barrels to “douse” fires started by a stray cigarette among the paper wrappings and peanut shells. It is safe to say that not only will any proposed stadium lack a smoking section, but sports promoter Lynn Lashbrook has pitched rebuilding a wooden structure of high-tech cross laminated timbers that meets current fire and seismic codes (less we forget the World Series Earthquake of 1989). The really fun question will be: Can Portland economically support the Webfooters by filling the 32,000 seats for 83 home games?
What is left of Slabtown’s Olympic-Sized Ice Rink?
The Portland Ice Hippodrome opened on November 9, 1914 at 20th Avenue between Marshall and Northrup Streets. The structure covered two city blocks (175 x 360 feet) and offered seating for 5,000 and surface ice for 2,500 skaters (but you might want to bring your own skates). Twenty miles of pipe kept the ice surface frozen at 12 degrees above zero and two and a half inches thick, spanning 321 feet by 85 feet. It was the greatest and largest artificial ice rink in the world when it opened and the lead instructor was James Bourke, a champion figure skater known as the “Canadian Crack Shot”, once mentored by Norval Baptie.
The remaining evidence of the massive ice skating arena is a former retaining wall (running in a jagged pattern along former party wall) painted blue just west of Marshall Manor. The cost to maintain the ice and cover the lease payments proved unsustainable for the owners. The ice rink (also known as Portland Ice Palace) reopened as Coliseum Ice in 1925, and was commonly referred to as the Marshall Street Ice Rink.
The city was never confident in the structure’s supporting system and forced it to close in the 1950s because of fire safety egress limitations.