Of all the people who visit Bend, I might be the only one who usually chooses to thoroughly explore Bend itself rather than visiting any of the world-class destinations surrounding the central Oregon city.
This trip was no exception; in fact, in a single day in March, I undertook a six-hour round-trip from Portland specifically to explore an alley. This is surely the first such trip ever taken by a human. 🙂
And I would happily do it all over again! It was a sunny, 64-degree day, and Mt Bachelor had received 10 feet of snow in the previous 10 days. Yet I never ventured outside Bend city limits.
A ski day would clearly have been a lot more fun, but this trip (and this blog) are all about researching and exploring—and then describing while sharing lots of great pictures of—unique urban places that are rarely visited or known about.
For those not familiar with Bend, a once-sleepy town 162 miles southeast of Portland, it’s still mainly known as a base camp for exploring an unparalleled array of outdoor activities in all directions. Readers of Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal and seemingly every other outdoor- or active-lifestyle-oriented magazine have repeatedly seen Bend in top ten lists.
Within just *25 miles* of downtown’s Mirror Pond, you can:
Ski in any direction from the summit of a volcano—and one whose 4318 acres of lift-served terrain are unrivaled for a single peak
Rock-climb world-class routes at Smith Rock State Park
Watch the Metolius River literally explode out of the ground from an overlook of the nation’s largest single spring
Participate in the Pole Peddle Pedal: a truly unique-to-Bend 6-leg annual relay that combines alpine skiing/snowboarding, cross-country skiing, biking, trail running, canoeing/kayaking and a paved sprint—yes, all in one race
Explore Lava River Cave, one of the nation’s longest lava tubes
Get lost in 350 other known caves in the area
Reach the bases of four different glaciated volcanoes
Climb the nation’s only volcano that’s located within a 20-minute walk of an urban core
Walk along the tops of 600-foot-high cliffs (with no guardrails) along the entire perimeter of a large peninsula while staring across a lake at a 160-foot-tall waterfall that seems to explode directly out of a desert wall
Transition, literally in a few feet, from dense stands of 200-foot-tall Douglas Fir trees to desert landscapes featuring the world’s largest Ponderosa Pine and Black Cottonwood trees
Ride Phil’s Complex, a 300-mile network of singletrack, along with 700 additional miles of mountain bike trails
Visit a different large brewery every day of the month
Star-gaze under some of the darkest skies found this side of extreme southeastern Oregon (where the darkest skies in the Lower 48—and the Burning Man festival—are found)
Learn about ecology and history at the nationally renowned 135-acre High Desert Museum
Fly-fish, raft or kayak world-class rivers
OK, I do admittedly have pictures of all of the areas above; as much as I joke about visiting alleys, I really do enjoy exploring as much as possible of Oregon, Washington and BC. But it would take me *years* just to go through the places in the bulleted list above. So, for now, you’ll just have to be content with pictures of alleys. 🙂 But I’ll throw in a bonus section of Bend’s Old Mill District (originally planned as a separate blog post) just to add some urban Bend scenery and context.
Anyway, given an almost geographically impossible variety of natural attractions so close to Bend, it’s no wonder that historically, few visitors have spent more than a tiny fraction of a trip to the area exploring Bend itself. However, the proliferation of ever-fancier restaurants downtown indicates that this is changing rapidly. Bend’s city population has grown from barely 50,000 in 2000 to roughly 90,000 in 2017.
Bend has also had legendary boom-bust cycles. Its median home prices increased faster than anywhere else in the country in 2006. Just two years later, neighboring Redmond was the only city in the U.S. where home prices plummeted more quickly than they did in Bend.
Tin Pan Alley Introduction
For many years, I’ve been a huge fan of urban alleys throughout the world, whether visiting in-person or researching them online. One day I absolutely must visit Melbourne’s famous “Laneways” and especially Beijing’s hutongs, which are *tragically* disappearing rapidly. Hutongs are alleys that have been formed by connecting rows of siheyuan (traditional courtyard residences).
I’ll eventually write about some of the beautiful alleys I’ve explored in many cities, and I’ll point out the *incredible* potential that cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle and many others have with their existing alley networks.
In fact, I recently wrote about an absolutely wonderful transformation in Milwaukee of what was once the single darkest, most dangerous corridor in the area; it’s now called Black Cat Alley.
On this beautiful day in March, it was Bend’s turn. I hadn’t been to Bend in several years, and I knew that since I was last there, some beautiful art was gradually being installed on what has now officially been called “Tin Pan Alley.”
Technically, Tin Pan Alley is comprised of two parallel alleys separated only by NW Bond Street, in the heart of downtown Bend. The contrast between downtown’s main north-south streets (Bond and Wall) and the desolate alleys just to their east could not be more striking.
Paintings were first hung on these alleys (and parking garage walls, which I forgot to capture) in 2014, and the collection has grown slowly but steadily.
Calamity Jane has nothing on Bend’s Klondike Kate!
Note: the story below Klondike Kate is based on an article from Mind Bend-ers, part of the great, quirky “Bend Buzz Blog” that’s been running since 2012.
So…Who’s Klondike Kate, and why is she prominently displayed on Tin Pan Alley?
As Mind-Benders states, women in Bend have always been the adventurous sort, pursuing passions like skiing, rock climbing, rafting, and, in the case of Kate Rockwell, marching through downtown wearing a showgirl costume and rolling a cigarette with one hand.
Klondike Kate’s nickname was earned from her illustrious career as a vaudeville performer and showgirl, which included a stint in Alaska (the “Klondike”) in 1910.
The retired vaudevillian bought a horse, a gun, and a camping outfit (“all the necessities for a lady of the time,” as told by Mind Bend-ers), and she bought a property east of Bend, sight-unseen, where she homesteaded for three years until she earned the title to the land.
The 1915 equivalent of a cougar, at age 39 she married a cowboy half her age. The relationship, like many others for her, was rocky and short-lived.
After a decade on the ranch, Kate moved to downtown Bend’s Franklin Avenue to be closer to the general populace; this clearly had mixed results. People were either highly drawn to her and called her “Aunt Kate,” or they totally disapproved of and avoided her.
Her habit of always choosing local transient men (“bums”) to do major home projects was considered highly unladylike by the “cultured” folk. She was often assumed to be a prostitute or “a lady of ill repute,” but Deschutes County Historical Society’s executive director, Kelly Cannon-Miller, says that this was never the case.
Kate was a legend to those who adored her. She famously tended to the sick, particularly during the nationwide flu pandemic of 1918 when Bend’s entire population was quarantined for two months.
Bend’s Fire Department even made her an honorary member for her tireless efforts to bring food to men fighting blazes on cold nights.
Kate was also famously charitable, even to a fault. She’d often say, “Whenever I get down to my last dollar, there’s always someone who needs it more than I do.”
After Klondike Kate died in 1957, her ashes were scattered from an airplane over the site of her former high desert homestead. Bend’s famously fearless and fun-loving outdoorswomen say that her spirit lives on in Bend.
Additional Tin Pan Alley art
The need to *activate* Tin Pan Alley
Tin Pan Alley is actually two parallel alleys that run between Bend’s three primary north-south streets. There’s *enormous* potential with these between-block corridors. And now there’s JUST enough art to entice a few people to actually start intentionally walking through these still-far-too-under-utilized urban alleys.
But as some of the pictures below (as well as the very first image on this page) will show, VERY few of the businesses located along the alley even acknowledge its existence. They continue to literally turn their back to this great space. Hopefully these images will get the Downtown Bend Business Association to recognize what a GEM-in-the-rough they have. People are almost universally *not* curious enough to look around the corner; they tend to go directly from A to B with no deviations at all (typically while staring down at their phones).
Thus, there’s an increasing need for WAYFINDING and real PLACEMAKING. A picture’s worth 1000 words, as they say. The last few images in this section will hopefully get the DBBA and all the businesses located along Tin Pan Alley to notice the incredible potential the twin corridors have. After all, the location could not possibly be any more central, and downtown Bend continues to grow incredibly quickly.
Here’s one of the problems Bend is having in activating Tin Pan Alley; they still let CARS rather than PEOPLE occupy key spaces in the alley, such as right next to the beautiful theater and coffee shop. The space should be highly *activated*, rather than be used for *parking*.
Downtown streets bordering Tin Pan Alley
The main north-south streets of Bend are Wall Street (closer to the river) and Bond Street, a block to the east. Technically, Gasoline Alley runs between Wall and Bond, and Tin Pan Alley runs on the other (east) side of Bond. But both alleys are considered Tin Pan Alley today.
The Tower Theater is at 835NW Wall St, in the heart of downtown, a block east of beautiful Mirror Pond, which is a wide curve in the Deschutes River that often has surprisingly glass-smooth water. Mirror Pond is, of course, more widely known these days as a beer, but now you know where the beer gots its name!
The Tower Theater was built in 1940 and lovingly restored. The beautiful adobe-looking building to its left (our right) is the also-now-restored building housing the old Liberty Theatre that was built way back in 1917.
A beautiful trail leading to the Old Mill District
This section (as well as the section above) was originally intended to be a separate blog post, since they feature aspects of Bend that have nothing to do with alleys. But I decided to just create one huge post on Bend instead. 🙂
I did this for two reasons: 1) I was originally planning on doing a very detailed separate post on the Old Mill District (it really deserves it).
However, 2) I spent the last two sections being quite harsh on Bend’s walkability, cycling infrastructure and placemaking efforts. So, I wanted to show some much more attractive images to make up for it–and to encourage downtown to attract more bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the *entire* corridor from Greenwood Avenue (the northern tip of the downtown business district) all the way south to the riverfront Old Mill District. I thought it would make more sense, therefore, to include this section on this post–and to end on a more hopeful note. 🙂
Below are several typical scenes within the Old Mill District, which is a mile south of downtown Bend, via the Deschutes River
Examples of beautiful alleys from around the world
It will take me years to go through the images I’ve captured of alleys from all my trips. So, in the meantime, enjoy these images below, courtesy of Portland-based Alley Activation, which is run by my friend Melinda Matson! By the way, their great new “woonerf icon” is available for licensing, with donations supporting their work.