Mill Ends, the 'smallest park in the world,' vandalized

Mill Ends, the 'smallest park in the world,' vandalized
A file photo of Mill Ends Park from late January, 2013. Courtesy KATU photographer Sean Broderick.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Someone ripped out the lone tree at the world's smallest park in downtown Portland.

The tree was discovered missing from Mill Ends Park (in a median at Southwest Taylor and Naito Parkway) last week and the city has since replanted a Douglas Fir sapling (which cost $3.25) to take its place.

"It was important to replace it so the leprechaun there had some shade from the sun," said Mark Ross with Portland Parks & Recreation, which maintains the little park.

Did he say 'leprechaun?'

That's right - you see leprechauns frequent the park, or so the story goes...

Mill Ends Park has been around for decades. It was created by Dick Fagan, a columnist for The Oregon Journal who noticed a hole in the concrete dividing the lanes of Front Avenue and decided to plant some flowers there to spruce it up. He then named the little spot after the column he wrote.

Another story, a whimsical one, states that Fagan had seen a leprechaun there and grabbed him. As the story goes, Fagan then got one wish granted to him and he asked for a park of his own. But he forgot to specify the size, so the leprechaun gave him a tiny one.

The park was dedicated on St. Patrick's Day in 1948 but didn't become an official city park until St. Patrick's Day in 1976.

Fagan wrote about his little park from time to time in his Mill Ends column.

"I stopped at Mill Ends park the other day, and sad it was to see," he wrote on March 18, 1960. "The golden fence was blackened and bent, and inside was the dead rattle of bright flowers long gone."

Fagan was also known for weaving tales of leprechauns who lived at Mill Ends Park into his column, something his readers enjoyed.

"It was Dennis O'Toole himself, the head leprechaun of Mill Ends park, standing there with his hands on his hips and glaring at me with a baleful look in the eyes of him," Fagan wrote in the same column on March, 18, 1960. Fagan explained that he had been remiss in taking care of the park and his lack of attention had angered the leprechaun.

According to Portland Parks & Recreation, the O'Toole character even complained about the 11 p.m. curfew at city parks and dared the mayor to try to evict the leprechauns from Mill Ends. O'Toole went so far as to threaten a leprechaun curse if it was ever attempted, which of course it was not. To this day, the leprechauns are allowed to stay in the park after hours.

Fagan wrote for the Oregon Journal for three decades. He passed away in 1969 at age 58 and Mill Ends Park, along with its leprechauns, became a part of his legacy to the city.

Over the years, the little park that Fagan created has been one of the quirky curiosities of our town. In 2001, the park even drew the attention of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, which flew all the way here from New York to produce this funny little spoof:

A few years later, in 2006, construction on the Big Pipe Project on Naito Parkway forced crews to move the park. For a year, the park sat across the street in a plain pot without so much as a sign to mark what it was.

A year later, in 2007, Mill Ends Park was moved back, but not to its original location. It ended up being placed about seven and a half feet from where Dick Fagan had planted it decades before.

Mill Ends Park was returned to the median with great fanfare. The Fagan family, including Dick's 92-year-old wife, Katherine (pictured at right), was at the celebration. She was joined by  Mayor Tom Potter, city officials, the Royal Rosarians and bagpipers.

Throughout the years there have been various flowers and trees and such planted at the little park.