By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back and forth: The past can drive us as we drive past

Racheal Winter/News-Register ##
A flag and plaques mark the green space wedged inside the busy Adams-Baker junction at 15th Street.
Racheal Winter/News-Register ## A flag and plaques mark the green space wedged inside the busy Adams-Baker junction at 15th Street.

Viewed from space, the park is a teardrop triangle; viewed from the street, a bit of a mystery.

Numerous times since arriving in McMinnville, I’ve driven past the green space where Adams and Baker streets tweeze at 15th Street, as part of my back-to-live-in-a-familiar-place ramblings. It creates a highway “Y” right across Baker from the Mac High softball complex.

At the wide southern end of this congested convergence stands a flagpole with a 4-by-12 base and three shiny black signs. The ballfield, a coffee stand, an auto parts store and gas station surround the park at the hectic junction.

I wondered what the plaques said. There was no way to read them from the road, so I braved the traffic and went to find out.

The messages on the three signs are truly worth knowing, but I wondered: How many other people have found a way to read the plaques? It is the way of many such “roadside attractions.”

First, a few thoughts on signs and plaques: They fascinate me.

Whether they’re historic markers, interpretive signs, explainers or even commercial come-ons — whatever — I like to stop and read them.

My maternal grandfather made a habit of stopping at every historic wayside, often just long enough to snap a photo and drive on, and he kept those images for years. So I guess it’s in my blood.

Garrison Keillor once said, “I love plaques: You look at them and part of the 19th century comes out.” He said that in the 20th century so it could be updated by a few decades.

While many signs are more recent, around McMinnville, I’ve seen plenty of the 19th and 20th centuries coming out as well.

Here in McMinnville, I’ve made a point of stopping to read the signage on Fourth near Baker.

In front of the Community Center, venue of our wedding reception in 1987, you’ll find a series of signs placed by the Baha’i faith. In back of a far larger sign at the downtown Creekside Community Church, the former Elks building, there’s a 1975-1976 Elkettes plaque. You probably don’t know it’s still there, this remnant of the building’s old use.

How many people walk by the ankle-high plaque on Third in front of Mes Amies, reading “Woodmen of the World, Camp 128, McMinnville Beautification 1976, A Living Gift to the People of McMinnville.” It’s embedded in an unusual triangle base, with an asphalt-filled circle next to it that probably once held a drinking fountain.

It’s evidence of the fact that signs are often obsolete or quirky, and change over time, but are never fully irrelevant. That’s because they tell us important things about What Used To Be Here Before.

“Merchants” embedded in the sidewalk in front of The Merri Artist suggests the name of a store once located there, long before it was Palm Cafe, Pacific Frames, or the current tenant. What’s now and what was are complementary, not contradictory.

“The Boersmas – Dick and Harriet” stands as a rusted but still readable sentinel on Highway 18 near Dayton, a testament to a long-time family whose name is an anchor in downtown McMinnville.

A bronze “BANK” embedded in the front doorway of The Bitter Monk says that someone once thought, “This will always be a bank.” Similar sidewalk inscription in what is now Berkshire Hathaway office in the town of Yamhill.

Signs are formal and (usually) explicit representations of a place and what it once meant to people. They can seem trivial, but they are important. They go up and the expectation is they will be always be read, though that’s not always the case.

The more weathered or hard to read, the better. Damage, faded letters and missing pieces are all part of the personality of the piece.

Someone took the trouble, long ago, to inscribe something on a signboard, wall, stone or plinth along the road. The passage of time serves only to increase the importance of stopping to read it.

It’s easier said than done at times, though. And that’s certainly the case with the green space at 15th Street.

Getting back to 15th and Adams-Baker; visiting the spot is perhaps the trickiest I have ever seen. It feels inaccessible, squeezed by two busy streets on the east and west, and 15th on the south.

Vehicles speed past. Visibility is restricted and visual stimuli abound.

The best way to get there is via the north-south crosswalk on 15th, just south of the flagpole. I would not recommend crossing Adams or Baker, though that was how I first went about it.

While officially ODOT property, McMinnville public works crews take care of the lawn, just as they do on greens and landscape areas on South Baker, the Highway 18 junction and other parts of town, and see to the respectful raising and lowering of the flag.

It’s listed as “Adams-Baker” on their task board. And while not formally considered a park, it looks well-loved.

The purpose of the green space goes beyond any single jurisdiction. This is what the plaques tell us.

Left frame: “For God, For Country, for All Forever Honored * Forever mourned/Our sincere thanks to the men and women who have served or are currently serving in the military and to those who were wounded or gave their lives for our country to have freedom. Lest we forget. God Bless the USA”

Middle frame: “Presented by the Rotary Club of McMinnville in Memory of Our Past Rotarians/ Those who practiced ‘Service Above Self’ gave of their time, their hearts and their good will, to make our community and this world a better place to live. May they always be remembered.”

Right frame: “McMinnville Charitable Fund is proud to partner with Rotary Club of McMinnville and the people of McMinnville, in establishing this monument to honor our country.”

The Charitable Fund is now under the aegis of McMinnville Community Foundation. Waldo Farnham and Lee Vasquez led the effort to create the site sometime around 2005.

So you could say the teardrop triangle of green is the Rotary Club-Charitable Fund-Veterans Memorial Park. It recognizes groups worth taking time to remember and honor, and I think of them each time I drive past.

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at or 503-687-1291.


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