by David Sweet
There are a number of mature Monkey Puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana) in Sabin and other parts of inner-city Portland. These curious trees are native to Chile and Argentina where they thrive on the lower slopes of the Andes. An ancient species, they are sometimes called a living fossil. The story of how they happen to be here provides a link to an interesting chapter in Portland history.
Portland was booming in the 1880’s and ‘90’s, but the national economy was rocked by a series of recessions and depressions, caused by an unregulated financial industry. After the Panic of 1893, it was suggested that, to aid recovery, Portland should host an international fair, marking the turn of the century. This idea blossomed into the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905, marking 100 years after the Expedition of Discovery floated down the Columbia. The exposition was held at Guilds Lake in Northwest Portland, near where the Montgomery Park building stands today.
The Exposition was a huge success, attracting more than 1.6 million visitors in it’s 5½ month run, and actually turned a profit for its investors. It was said that Portland had joined "the great march of progress."
Some suggest that this event was responsible for Portland’s explosive growth over the next five years, from 161,000 to 270,000.
Among the 21 nations exhibiting in Portland that year was Chile. As a gesture of goodwill, the Chilean delegation distributed seedlings of the Monkey Puzzle, the national tree of Chile. Portlanders planted these in their yards, and some have grown into the stately and unusual trees that grace our neighborhood today. The growth of these trees into towering giants reminds us of the event that triggered the growth of our city.