Thousands of suggestions span the serious to silly names for TriMet’s new structure
Here’s the problem with TriMet’s decision to hold a contest to name the city’s new bridge across the Willamette River: Officials in Slovakia recently held a similar contest and the overwhelming winner was Chuck Norris. Nearly three out of four Slovaks who voted online chose Norris Bridge, or Chuck Bridge.
A distant second place, by the way, was Maria Theresa Bridge, after an Austro-Hungarian empress, and third place was Devinska, the name of a village near the Morava River site that will soon have a new crossing. Norris, a television action star, has a loyal cult following with entire sites dedicated to his fictional prowess.
At least the good people of Slovakia aren’t choosing to name their bridge after a cartoon character. City Commissioner Steve Novick says the new bridge name has been a source of considerable discussion in his office and private life. His chief of staff, Chris Warner, wants to name the bridge after actress Sally Struthers. His fiancee, Rachel Philofsky, would like to walk across the Beverly Cleary Bridge.
But Novick is voting for the Lisa Simpson Bridge.
“She’s sort of the conscience of the show,” Novick says of Fox TV’s longrunning animated series “The Simpsons.”
So maybe a daily ride over the Lisa Simpson Bridge would keep us all mindful of being good citizens?
Novick has another reason. “She’s an environmental activist in a big way,” he says. And that, according to Novick, would make Lisa Simpson extra appropriate as the name for a bridge that encourages mass transit and bike riding and doesn’t allow cars.
It also puts Novick at odds with fellow City Commissioner Amanda Fritz. When asked what name she’d choose for the new bridge, Fritz at first deferred to Novick. When told that might mean a vote for a Simpsons character Fritz responded, “If that’s Commissioner Novick’s best effort, then yes. As long as it’s Marge.”
A day later, and after a conversation with Novick, Fritz relented and said she would support Novick’s choice, leaving City Hall watchers wondering what horse trading yielded that result, though no horse names have as yet been officially nominated for the new bridge, and in fact, it is unclear whether horse-drawn carriages will be allowed on the bridge.
Low comedy isn’t appealing to Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. Hales is voting for Barbara’s Bridge, after former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts. According to Hales, Roberts has been a light rail and East Portland advocate, was the first female majority leader in the Oregon House, the first Democratic female secretary of state and has been a “lifelong builder of bridges.”
But Roberts is still alive, which is good news to her and her family and friends, but maybe not so good for her chances of getting the new bridge named after her.
Link to artistic history
It’s a controversial question, whether something as big as a bridge should be named after somebody whose full story hasn’t been written. Then again, Chuck Norris is still alive, and always will be, according to posts on his various websites.
Alive or dead isn’t the point, says local curator and art critic Jeff Jahn. Bridges are far too substantial for quirky cartoon-character names, Jahn says. And politicians? Forget about it.
Jahn has started a campaign to have the bridge named after artist Mark Rothko, who grew up in Portland, attended Lincoln High School, and left to become one of the world’s foremost abstract expressionist painters. And, as Jahn points out, last year two of his paintings sold for a combined amount ($161 million) that is more than the entire cost of Portland’s new bridge ($134 million).
But the mayor wants the bridge named after a politician. And he is, after all, the mayor.
“Bridges speak to ideals,” Jahn says. “Isn’t it about time an artist won?”
Jahn has his ammunition all lined up. Rothko, he says, once considered becoming an engineer, some of his paintings portray the Willamette River right where the new bridge is going up, he sold newspapers as a kid underneath the Burnside Bridge, he liked public transportation, and he was once arrested for public nudity while camping in Washington Park. We’re not sure how that last qualifies Rothko for the bridge name, but it does provide evidence that he was channeling the city’s spirit.
“Rothko is somebody for the ages. He’s frankly more famous than the city of Portland itself,” Jahn says.
But is Rothko more famous than Lisa or Marge Simpson?
“He will be a thousand years from now, easy,” Jahn says. Besides, he adds, “The characters in the Simpsons are named after Portland streets already, so it is a somewhat redundant idea.”
Jahn, by the way, would leave out the Mark in favor of “Rothko Bridge.”
A flawed foundation?
Brian Doyle, editor of the University of Portland’s Portland magazine, says if the new car-free bridge were named after a Simpsons character, only one Simpson would do — Bart. “You could have nothing but skateboards on the bridge,” Doyle says, forgetting, perhaps, that all those Bay Area expatriates might get confused with a Portland mass transit option called Bart.
But Doyle has his own preferences. He thinks Ursula LeGuin should have her due. The Sam Bowie or Greg Oden Bridge would be suitable, he says, assuming the bridge has a flawed foundation. Even better, he likes the Ken Kesey Bridge, “which lights up neon technicolor at unannounced times, freaking out all the boomers riding across it.”
The Sam Adams Bridge appeals to Doyle: “Looks good, but doesn’t work.” Also, the Rasheed Wallace Bridge: “Technically flawed.”
Leave it to a Reedie to bring Latin into the discussion. Chris Lydgate, editor of Reed College’s magazine, likes Coronary Bypass as a name for the bridge. “It’s TriMet’s crowning achievement, (and) coronary is a Latin word for crown,” Lydgate says. “And it can also be a good way to get to the hospital fast.”
Noting that the bridge is expected to welcome crowds of runners and bike riders, Lydgate notes, “They’re all working on increasing their heart rates.”
Lydgate has another candidate: Sherman’s March. Doesn’t sound local? Not so, Lydgate says, explaining that on the east side of the Willamette the new bridge connects up with Sherman Avenue. As for the marching aspect, consider all those pedestrians.
A third possibility from Lydgate is The Moody Porter Bridge. He says current bridges are all named after streets, and Moody and Porter are two streets that connect with the new bridge on the west side of the river. And the double meaning should be obvious. “A porter is someone who carries things and moody reflects the weather,” Lydgate says.
Writer and performer Sharon Wood Wortman says she’s been thinking about this topic quite a bit, which isn’t surprising seeing as how she’s the author of “The Portland Bridge Book” and for years has led walking tours of Portland’s bridges.
“As soon as I heard about this bridge the first thing that jumped to my mind was to think of it as ‘Freedom Bridge,’ ” Wood Wortman says.
“I mean freedom of pedestrians to be able to walk across without worrying about cars, you don’t have to worry about some car turning left on you. And freedom from benzene, too,” Wood Wortman says.
Film archivist Dennis Nyback proposes Joaquin Miller Bridge.
“Yeah, that’s the whole problem,” Nyback says. “He was the poet of the Sierras. He was internationally known in the 1890s. Just a really great forgotten Oregonian. It would be great if he got something named after him so people would know who he was.”
Turns out Miller, a Pony Express rider and Eugene newspaper editor who was once jailed as a horse thief, according to Wikipedia, moved to San Francisco and then to England after his Oregon stay. So how does he fit into Portland?
“Mainly because he was such a weirdo,” Nyback says, explaining that when he arrived in London around 1871 Miller was dressed in full frontier man regalia.
Marc Moscato, executive director of Know Your City (previously The Dill Pickle Club) also dusts off the history books, to nominate Nancy Boggs. Boggs had a bright red houseboat in the Willamette River from which she offered whiskey and “working girls” during the flood of 1894. In fact, she was known as the Madame of the Willamette. So apparently she not only knew how to offer a good time, but how to buck up during an emergency.
“It goes along with Portland’s DIY entrepreneurial spirit,” Moscato says in defense of the nomination of a woman few have heard about, though many, apparently, enjoyed.
Incidentally, last month Slovakia officials rejected the results of their popular vote and decided to name their new structure Freedom Cycling Bridge. Clever devils. UP’s Doyle says he can’t figure out what the people of that Eastern European nation were thinking when they cast their votes. “Where’s Charles Bronson? There’s my question for Slovakia,” he says.
Names of dead white guys aren’t likely to make list
TriMet has received nearly 4,000 submissions from people who think they know what the new Willamette River bridge should be called. Among the submitted: Whoop Whoop Bridge, Grimm Bridge, Brownstein-Armisen Bridge and yes, Sparkle Pony Bridge.
There’s a campaign afoot to have the bridge named after “Working” Kirk Reeves, who for years wore a white tuxedo and Mickey Mouse ears while playing his trumpet at the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge. Reeves committed suicide in 2012.
There are no set rules for the bridge naming, though Chet Orloff, who chairs the TriMet committee that will review the suggestions and forward a final few to the TriMet board in the spring, has his own take on what he’d like to see.
“I don’t think it should be named after a dead white guy,” says Orloff, a history professor at Portland State University. “We have enough of those.”
In fact, all the current bridges with two exceptions were named after dead white guys. Marquam, Hawthorne, Morrison, Burnside, Sellwood, Fremont and St. Johns, yes. Broadway and Steel, no.
Orloff says the bridge probably should be named after somebody who is dead, which might rule out the nominations of Lisa and Marge Simpson emanating from City Hall, except Orloff says cartoon characters, never truly alive, after all, probably don’t count in that regard.
Orloff likes the idea of honoring the Indian tribes that lived for nearly 10,000 years along the Willamette. But he’s looked into some of the potentially appropriate names and finds that they’re incredibly complex phonetically with six or seven syllables in a word. “It might take you as long to get across the bridge as it would to pronounce it,” he says. “We can’t get too carried away.”
A friend of Orloff’s has suggested Bisects Bridge, which Orloff says is “very weird Portland.” The bisexuality would speak to the city’s willingness to honor people of different sexual orientations and, of course, the bridge bisects the city.
And Orloff was favorably disposed when told of the name suggested by Reed College’s Chris Lydgate — Coronary Bypass Bridge. In fact, he used the word “brilliant” in describing Lydgate’s nomination.
“You can get more easily to the OHSU campus and their heart clinic,” Orloff says. “If you are having a coronary you bypass the roads and take the transit and you’re there.”
Would Orloff really wait for a bus or MAX train if he were in the middle of a heart attack?
“I’m just saying the traffic gets jammed up and the MAX lines have their dedicated lines, while sometimes ambulances have to weave their way through traffic,” says Orloff, obviously a dedicated supporter of mass transit.
The deadline for nominations for the new bridge name is Dec. 1. Submissions can be made online at www.trimet.org/namethebridge.
OPB | Feb. 22, 2017