Spring Cleaning (The Stories I Could Never Get To): The Tailored Torso of Columbia Boulevard


Easter’s Finest

I wanted to believe I was looking at John F. Kennedy, a brawny rendition, beefy, broad shouldered but the hair, the hair was a dead ringer for JFK. I was wrong. It turned out all right because I learned the identity of the statue in the yard of a house facing the Oregon Humane Society complex. Through the power of assumption I had convinced myself the statue was Kennedy but being set straight makes me appreciate that someone with research skills unearthed information and reported back to me. Shout out to volunteer researcher Amy M! The Kennedy Files will remain closed for now while a new file, labelled under the name Ngo Dinh Diem, will be opened.

The puzzling nature of the house, the statue and the curious costumes kept me wondering. No one appeared to live there. Feeling like an intruder, I tended to rush up the steps, cross the patio, take photos and bolt. What kind of journalist am I? I should have barged through the door asking, “who, what, where, when, why and even how?” It’s about questions and demands for answers which is why there’s no explanation of these seasonal decorations. It happened every couple of months in time for a holiday. I am left wondering what happened to the Christmas costume? A photo would have been in order but I must have missed it.

Here’s a roll call of the holiday outfits I did manage to document:




St. Patrick’s Day









The Kennedy File: A Mysterious Memorial Not So Hidden in a Hedge

I was trying to remember how I saw the plaque dedicated to John F. Kennedy. From what I recalled it had been in the middle of a hedge. This made no sense because I don’t make a habit of looking into hedges to find hidden plaques.

I had been looking for a place to park in SW Portland around 19th Avenue last June while taking a picture of an overpass for my much maligned and ill-fated blog post titled “Walls and Bridges.” I took two pictures that day, a close up of the plaque and another of the street sign on the corner so I could remember the location which is the corner of SW Spring Garden Street and SW 19th Avenue. Being on another assignment didn’t leave me time to linger. In the months since I’d seen the plaque, my memory was murky as to how I spotted it.

Returning for more photos four months later, it was obvious. I didn’t happen upon the plaque. I couldn’t have missed it due to a section of the bush having been cut away to reveal the minimal memorial attached to a moss-covered rock. There isn’t much to the engraving but it make its Kennedy tribute honorably. It lists his name, his year of birth and death and includes the St. Clare Boy’s Club–no doubt the group involved in creating the memorial.

It’s interesting to be reminded that Kennedy was born just over a hundred years ago. The plaque too seems like it’s been around a while with its chipped upper right corner. It soldiers on as a longstanding tribute to our fallen president.

I spoke with Laurie at the church office by phone. She wanted to help but the plaque was a mystery to her. She brainstormed about finding a parishioner who has been around long enough know the story of this Kennedy memorial. She thought there might be information in the office that she would pass on. At press time I hadn’t heard back which doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.

I can’t promise an exciting story. It seems basic. The St. Clare Boy’s Club was looking for a way to honor John F. Kennedy. It’s a safe bet that this took place soon after he was assassinated. I could only imagine what it would have been like to experience a president being killed in office. The idea of it happening so close to the Thanksgiving holiday seems to amplify the emotional impact. This plaque must have been a way to begin the healing process.

So there you have it—another cliffhanger. Online research also revealed a Kennedy memorial at the Grotto. Investigation into all of these Kennedy related matters will continue into next year when we reopen the Kennedy Files and solve all the Portland area Kennedy mysteries.

The Kennedy Files: Kennedy on Columbia?

There’s a loneliness to the concrete bust in the front yard of a house on Columbia Boulevard across the street from the Humane Society. I’ve spent years driving past the sculpture that casts his gaze across the bustling four-lane roadway. I can’t remember the first time I got a good look at it but it was in a car going 40 miles an hour. I imagine I thought to myself when I spotted the bust, “that’s John F. Kennedy.” Every time since then I’ve looked for the concrete replica because of this resemblance. The Kennedy hair, the Kennedy face and the Kennedy torso, although I can’t say I’m all that familiar with the torso; it all seems a match. I have not confirmed whether it is Kennedy. There’s a tiny twinge of doubt that has me considering that the bust could represent an legendary Oregonian who happens to look a lot like our 35th president.

The bust sits in front of an old house, the kind of place suited to someone’s grandparents. I was motivated to finally take pictures when a for sale sign popped up in the area. It had me wondering if this section of Columbia Boulevard was going to be redeveloped. The house sits between a similar house and one with a garish paint job that once headquartered a private dancer club. It’s a safer bet that the club was targeted for sale and demolition with the two houses remaining in their awkward placement along this industrial thoroughfare. Update: I saw no evidence of a for sale sign on a recent visit.

At Halloween time I dropped by because the bust had been dressed in a costume. On that visit I noticed the base of the sculpture included elk carvings. This created my initial doubt. The appropriate images would have been a PT-109 boat or something symbolic of the Kennedy essence. Sure the Kennedy family has a compound in Maine but there was never a legend, that I heard, associating John Kennedy with an elk or even a moose.

Detail: bust base elk.

After my usual speculation I’m ready to make my case that the bust is Kennedy. Then I’ll make a case that the bust isn’t Kennedy. Of course this goes against everything Perry Mason stood for–I mean trying to argue both sides of the coin is a bit of a conflict unless we’re talking about a two-headed nickel which make no sense because Kennedy is on the 50 cent piece.

The most Kennedy aspect to the bust is the hairstyle. It’s exact. If that was a popular hairstyle at any point in time and for anyone else then I could see the statue being someone who was sporting the Kennedy hairdo back in the day. The hairstyle is singularly representative of one person and one person only: John F. Kennedy. Maybe, I want to believe it’s Kennedy because my roots are in the state of Massachusetts and I grew up on the Kennedy mystique.


As to why this may not be Kennedy lies in whether the face of the bust captures the JFK identity. It’s close enough for anyone taking artistic license but the shirt with the pockets threw me off. Any image of this president should depict him looking presidential–in a suit. Any other representation has the feel of the guy being out of uniform.

All of this has the Portland Orbit pledging a year-long investigation into this matter. There will be actual research, phone calls, letters and a door knock if necessary to find out the true identity of this bust. You’ll have to wait until the next anniversary of Kennedy’s passing for an answer. In the meantime the Kennedy Files will return next month to cover a bona fide Kennedy tribute.