Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lotus Isle Amusement Park  

ON JUNE 28 1930, all bridges over the Columbia River led to the Lotus Isle Amusement Park.  It was the grand opening of Portland’s newest amusement park. In less than a year, Tomahawk Island, a solitary islet covered with trees, had been transformed into Lotus Isle, Portland's largest amusement park. The resort was designed to rival the neighboring Jantzen Beach amusement park, located on the adjacent island to the west.  Lotus Isle was a huge park, spread out over 128 acres.  It had a mile long Alpine roller coaster around the island that featured replicas of Mt. Hood and Mt. St Helens.  It was billed as the Wonderland of the Pacific Northwest and you could take in over 40 rides at the amusement park.  The resort was surrounded by a man-made dike to protect the park from flooding during high water. The park’s name was derived from the Lotus Water Lily, which was associated with euphoria and enlightenment in Oriental and Egyptian mythology.  The park had a scary, mysterious theme to it.
"Play a while at Lotus Isle" 
"Alluring Lotus Isle" 
 The short-lived amusement park was plagued by debt, a drowning, suicide, alleged gangland connections, an elephant rampage and a plane crash.  The crown jewel of the park, the Peacock ballroom burned to the ground in 1931 and was never rebuilt.  The loss of the ballroom crippled the amusement park.  It closed after the 1932 season and faded into oblivion.  After 80+ years, virtually nothing remains of the park on Tomahawk Island except a few streets named after the resort. 

Today, much of Tomahawk Island has been developed where Lotus Isle once stood. Moorage spaces, houseboats, marinas, and condos dominate the island and the typography has changed greatly.  Large harbors have been carved into the island and dredge and fill operations have altered the shape of it.  From Lotus Isle Park, you can still see the pilings from the 1700-foot trestle that once carried the streetcars from Vancouver across the Interstate bridge to Hayden Island, and over the North Portland harbor to the gates of Lotus Isle.  It should be noted that the current Lotus Isle Park is not located where the actual amusement park once resided, but west of it, on Hayden Island.  Hayden Island and Tomahawk Island have since seen joined by a isthmus of fill (land bridge).  Originally, the two islands were separated by water.  They were joined in 1960.

Lotus Isle had a scary, almost creepy theme to it.  Glitzier, grander, gaudier and more garish than Jantzen Beach, the park combined freaky with a Taj Mahal theme.  Note man standing by left ear.

Pictured below is an early picture of a streetcar crossing the trestle over the North Portland harbor (in earlier times it was known as the Columbia Slough). The actual length across the harbor was about 1700 feet but the trestle was much longer as it traversed the uneven ground of the bottom lands.  The trestle probably had a length of 2500 feet (or more) and was a mix of bridge, trestle and ground supported tracks from the Hayden Island station, across the harbor, into Faloma and over Marine Drive towards Columbia Blvd. After crossing Columbia Blvd, the streetcar tracks traveled down Union Ave (MLK Ave).  Note in picture below the streetcars have not electrified yet and the trestle looks relatively new (circa 1890).

The Vancouver Streetcar Bridge
 The Vancouver streetcar was owned by Portland Railway, Light and Power Company and carried passengers from Vancouver WA, across the Columbia River (via the interstate bridge) to Hayden Island where it split into two directions.  One line continued south towards downtown Portland.  The other line veered diagonally, southeast across the North Portland harbor over a 1700 foot long wooden trestle and stopped at a station known as Faloma. Today, Faloma is located on  North Marine Drive and Gantenbein Ave.  The streetcar rail bridge was just downstream from the Tomahawk Island bridge.  It traveled diagonally across the North Portland harbor.  Faloma was the gateway to the Lotus Isle resort. From here, patrons traveled back across the harbor over a wooden bridge to the amusement park.

Pictured above: 2 streetcars at Hayden Island station located across the interstate from Jantzen Beach.

Tomahawk Island Bridge
This bridge was made from wooden pilings with a wooden deck.  For a long time, it served as the only bridge between Tomahawk and the main shore.  The bridge was constructed in 1929 and served to bring automobile traffic to Lotus Isle.  After the amusement park closed in 1932, it was used by the people who lived on the island.  On several occasions, the rickety bridge would be closed off, causing the inhabitants of Tomahawk to be temporarily marooned on the island.

Three women pose for a picture standing on the wooden streetcar platform at Faloma station. A visible sign reads "Last car for Vancouver 12:55 am".

The area of Faloma began in 1907 with the building of a single room schoolhouse, the Columbia School. Between 1915 and 1930 housing was developed in the area, which was a stop on the Vancouver Interurban streetcar line. The Faloma post office served the area from August 13, 1921 to June 15, 1935;   Faloma was an acronym for three local landowners in the area: Captain Farnsworth (of the river boat Calliope), Captain Lewis Love (also a river boat pilot) and a steamboat engineer name Maier.  The name was created after the US Postal Service rejected the name Bridgeton as being far too common.  Faloma came to fame with the location and building of Lotus Isle, where Faloma became the gateway by means of the bridge to the island.  Today, you can find the area, known as Bridgeton, by a local grocery store on N Marine Drive.  A few of the old houses still remain from this period and the trolley right of way can be seen next just SW of Faloma Market.

Tomahawk Island Bridge Facts 

The wooden bridge, constructed as an automotive roadway to Lotus Isle in 1929, was 760 feet long and was built from from wooden pilings with wood planks as decking.  From 1929 to 1949, it served as the only bridge between Tomahawk and the main shore.  After the bridge was closed,  people living on the island commuted to the main shore via boat, where they would leave their cars parked.  The center of the bridge featured a huge steel section, which spanned the navigation opening allowing river boats to pass underneath the bridge.  The bridge frequently was a collector for large objects floating downstream.  In high water and floods, the bridge pilings would become choked with debris such as logs, brush and ice (winter months).  Boat operators disliked both the vehicle bridge and the trestle because they blocked the passageway of the harbor.  Each had a navigation opening, but both the bridge and the trestle were encumbrances to the travelers of the river and most viewed the structures with as a source of irritation and wanted them completely removed early on.
Bridge Length:  760 feet
Vertical Clearance: 80 feet (low water)
Type:  Wooden Pilings, wood deck with steel center span
Traffic carried by bridge:  automobiles and pedestrians
Year built: 1929
Year closed: 1949
Year dismantled: 1952
Location:  Paloma station to Tomahawk Island

Pictured below is the Tomahawk Island bridge showing a collection of logs and debris that have accumulated behind the bridge pilings due to high water.  Top center of picture you can see pilings from the Vancouver streetcar trestle emerging from the North Portland Harbor waters. A few years before this picture, the Corps of Engineers had removed the center portion of the streetcar trestle for waterway navigation.  The car bridge seen below would be next on the agenda for removal as it created a bottleneck for watercraft.  In the final years of the bridge, it would be closed during flood waters as it was deemed unsafe.  In 1943, a sunken barge lodged itself at the base of the bridge pilings and began undermining the bridge.  This picture was taken May 27, 1948, and even at this point, the bridge was falling apart. Four years later, the bridge would be dismantled and cleared from the channel.

The wooden bridge that brought cars to Lotus Isle only lasted about 20 years before it began to rot away.  It was closed in 1949 and barricaded.  In 1952, the bridge was taken out of action as the steel center span was permanently removed (seen below).  In 1954, the bridge was razed.  Pilings in the channel were removed. The south side pilings were cut back and used as a dock for boat houses and a street level deck was built.

Pilings from the Vancouver streetcar still remain and remind visitors about the rail bridge that spanned the quarter mile distance from North Portland Harbor to Hayden Island.

Right of way still exists for these tracks just south of Marine Drive that linked  NE Portland to Faloma Station.

The east end of Hayden Island is shown below in this 1973 aerial photo where it meets Tomahawk Island, now joined together. Tomahawk Island was once named Sand Island and was the site of the Lotus Isle amusement park. The pilings at bottom center are remnants of the bridge that joined Hayden Island with Faloma and carried the streetcar across the water. (Click on picture to enlarge it)

Land Bridge joins Hayden and Tomahawk Island

 In 1959, Hayden Island Amusement Co of Portland, applied to the Corps of Engineers to construct a dredge and fill operation between the two islands and join them via a man made isthmus.  The fill would act as a dike and allow a roadway built to Tomahawk island.  The fill was approx 2000 feet long.  Also planned, was the intent to use the vacated right of way of the former streetcar as part of the road accessing Tomahawk island.  Cost of the project was approximately $100,000.  In the picture shown above, you can see the streetcar trestle alignment in the water match up with the alignment of the roadway built to Tomahawk island.  The first quarter mile of present day Tomahawk Drive is roadway that uses this vacated streetcar right of way.

Bridges of Lotus Isle Time Line

 1915  Columbia Beach opens 

1917  Interstate bridge opens
1927  Sand Island name changed to Tomahawk Island
1928  Jantzen Beach Amusement Park opens as the largest park in the nation
1929  Columbia Beach Development Corp breaks ground on Lotus Isle
1929  Automotive bridge constructed from Faloma to Tomahawk Island

1930  Lotus Isle Amusement Park opens on June 28, 1930
1931  Lotus Island ballroom fire 
1932  Lotus Isle files bankruptcy 
1935  Faloma Post Office closes 
1940  Vancouver streetcar stops running
1940  Portland Traction Co abandons Vancouver streetcar line
1943  Portion of Vancouver streetcar trestle removed from center of channel
1943  A sunken barge undermines bridge pilings and closes auto bridge
1947  Auto bridge re-decked with new planks by 40 island locals
1948  Auto bridge partially caves in
1949  Auto bridge closed, deemed unsafe 
1949  Feasibility study for joining Hayden/Tomahawk island with land bridge/fill
1952  Vehicle bridge collapses
1952  Auto bridge partially dismantled (center span removed)
1953  North Portland Harbor channel cleared of pilings and rocks
1954  Vehicle bridge razed 
1958  Second (twin) span of interstate bridge opens 
1960  Fill between Hayden and Tomahawk island completed 
1974  Hayden Island Yacht Club and Hayden Island Inc develop Tomahawk Island 

Portland's Streetcar Lines by Richard Thompson
The Oregonian historical archives
Oregon Historical Society
Vintage Portland

Jantzen Beach 1936
If you click on the link below, you will see an aerial view of Jantzen Beach.  On the left side of the picture, you will see the streetcar loop and ramp onto the interstate bridge. These are the tracks from the line that traveled over the Vancouver streetcar trestle from Faloma to Tomahawk Island. 

Jantzen Beach and Tomahawk Island 1947
If you click on the link below, you will see at the very top of the picture the Vancouver streetcar trestle cutting across the slough diagonally.  By this time, the ties and rails on top of the trestle had been removed.  The trestle was abandoned by Portland Traction Co in 1940.  The center portion of the trestle had been removed to clear the channel for watercraft.  Both bridges were unpopular with boaters because the bridges acted as "bottlenecks". Also, it was becoming evident that the slough could be dredged and used as a secondary water passage.  You can also see the wooden vehicle bridge traveling over the North Portland harbor, connecting Tomahawk Island with the main land.  This bridge would be razed in 1954.

 Jantzen Beach 1950
By this time, Lotus Isle was long gone.  The streetcar trestle is visible in the far upper right hand (pilings).  It looks like several boathouses are using the pilings as anchors.  The tracks and streetcar turnaround had been removed and second (twin) interstate bridge was being planned.