Where We Live: Saving Battleship Oregon’s smokestacks

Special Reports

USS Oregon's mast is memorialized at Tom McCall Waterfront Park

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A group of people in Portland are on a mission to preserve and display parts of a historic ship.

The USS Oregon — also known as “Battleship Oregon” — was built in the 1890s and it played a large role in the Spanish-American War. In 1898, it steamed from San Francisco, down around the southernmost point of South America, and back up the East Coast.

It made the journey in a mere 66 days. Battleship Oregon and another ship called “The Brooklyn” were the only ships fast enough at the time to chase down the Spanish cruiser, Cristóbal Colón.

USS_Oregon_(BB-3)_starboard_view_1551599354075.jpg
An undated photo of the USS Oregon. (Courtesy to KOIN)

The ships forced the Cristóbal Colón to surrender off the coast of Cuba, while the USS Oregon’s journey helped establish the need for the Panama Canal.

Battleship Oregon was decommissioned in 1919 and scrapped in 1942. Its mast has stood in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park since 1956.

But other parts of the ship still exist: its wheel is housed in the Oregon Historical Society’s vault and its smokestacks have been stored on private property for nearly a decade at the Zidell Yards in South Waterfront.

The wheel from the Battleship Oregon. Sent into battle during the Spanish American War in 1898. It was called the Bulldog of the Navy. (KOIN)

Roger Gertenrich wants Oregonians to see the ship’s smokestacks, which stand 20 feet high and 9 feet wide.

“They’re part of our history, so why should they be laying in a place like this? Why shouldn’t they be displayed?” Gertenrich said.

He’s working with the Oregon Maritime Museum to find a home for the Battleship Oregon smokestacks.

They believe it should be placed with the ship’s mast at the Battlefield Oregon Memorial at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The museum even developed a design for how the smokestacks should be placed.

But the Navy League of the United States, which would maintain the monument, told Portland Parks and Recreation it is “not moving forward with the new display.”

The Navy League said it decided “to not pursue placing the smokestacks at the memorial” because “they would detract from the mast.”

A proposed design for adding the USS Oregon’s smokestacks to its memorial (which currently features just the mast) at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. (Courtesy of Oregon Maritime Museum)

The decision sent the Oregon Maritime Museum back to the drawing board — and it doesn’t have the luxury of unlimited time. Bradford Duvall, the president of the museum, said the 33-acre Zidell Yards will soon be developed.

“I gotta find somewhere to put these stacks and I’m hoping they can stay in Portland,” he said. “But if I can’t do that, I’m going to have to end up having to scrap them and we shouldn’t have to kill that history.”

The museum is working with the parks bureau on other possible sites. It’s also talking with other museums in Oregon, including the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria.

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