The idea for this park came at the turn of the century when the 1903 Olmsted Report pointed out the need not only for parks within the city, but for a greenways along the riverbanks in order to ensure their preservation for future generations. In the late 1920s, the seawall was built along the Willamette's west bank for the protection of downtown from the annual floods. The seawall not only cut off the water from the people, but the people from the water as well. The construction of Harbor Drive along the west bank in the 1940s continued the trend of isolating the public from the river.
With the opening of the Eastbank Freeway (Marquam Bridge, I-5), Harbor Drive became less important to the traffic flow of the city. Governor Tom McCall created the Harbor Drive Task Force in 1968 in order to study proposals for creating a public open space in its place. In 1974, Harbor Drive was torn up and construction of a waterfront park began. It was completed and dedicated in 1978, gaining instant popularity. In 1984, the park was renamed Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
Today, Tom McCall Waterfront Park is one of the Portland's main attractions — with beautiful views of the Willamette River, and home to the Battleship Oregon Memorial, the Founders Stone, Salmon Street Springs, the Japanese American Historical Plaza, the Police Memorial, and the Friendship Circle with numerous sculptures.
Tom McCall Bowl Beach, along the shore of the Blues Festival bowl area - just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, provides summer access to swim in the Willamette. Learn more about improving access to the river from Willamette Riverkeeper and The Big Float.