Mt Tabor reservoirs: demolition by neglect

Op Ed By Eileen Brady

Many residents in Portland are scrambling to delay or preserve historic homes from demolition, while, hiding in plain sight, is a blatant case of demolition by neglect in our own neighborhood – the Mt. Tabor Reservoirs. The culprit responsible for this is the Portland Water Bureau.

Photo by Andrew Haliburton. For more pictures go to
Photo by Andrew Haliburton. For more pictures go to

Over the last decade the Water Bureau has neglected to maintain our Mt. Tabor Park Historic Reservoir District. Crumbling sidewalks, exposed conduit, historic lighting replaced with strip mall lighting, chain-link fencing and decaying structures tell the tale.

Adding insult to injury, the Water Bureau is now appealing the unanimous decision made by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission regarding the conditions that must be followed if the reservoirs are disconnected from the water system.

The Water Bureau’s appeal seeks to remove the condition that the reservoirs can be left empty no more than 60 days a year. The Bureau claims they can’t refresh the water and clean the reservoirs within this ample 60 day annual time limit. Even worse, they will not commit to any time limit whatsoever.

The State Historic Preservation Office gave their consent to the disconnect project only under the condition, “that the reservoirs be maintained with water in them at normal operating depth, draining them only for routine maintenance and cleaning”. The Bureau is trying to ignore this directive as well.

They also want to remove the mandated condition that requires $1.5 million of repair and maintenance to the historic structures, claiming that this requirement has nothing to do with their project. However, the Bureau fully supports a $76 million project at the Washington Park reservoirs that includes historic restoration, lowland bioswales and a reflecting pool.

The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission has long been on watch to prevent “demolition by neglect”; letting a place fall into disrepair to the point that it must then be condemned or repurposed into a modern alternative. If water isn’t maintained in the Mt. Tabor Reservoirs and the structures are left to crumble, it will leave few alternatives other than to cover them over and even potentially sell the land.

For many decades, Portland residents have been advocates for these grand structures that make this neighborhood park so unique. Let’s respect the work of our citizen activists and honor the Olmstead vision for beautiful parks by calling on the City Council to let the unanimous Historic Landmarks Commission decision stand – allowing the Park that gives our neighborhood so much of its character to remain intact for generations to come.

Eileen Brady lives in Mt. Tabor and was a member of the 2004 Independent Review Panel for the Mt. Tabor Reservoirs, voting not to disconnect the reservoirs

Mt Tabor reservoirs: demolition by neglect

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