Montavilla is a neighborhood shaped by the freeways along two of its borders. These massive roadways seem permanent and inseparable from the city itself. However, a local documentary filmmaker has examined Portland’s history of removing freeways and abandoning expansion plans. A practice that leaves remnants of infrastructure all over the city, creating questions for those who did not live through those parts of Portland’s history.
The creator of these documentaries, Peter Dibble, looked to his interests when selecting projects. “I’m fascinated by transportation infrastructure and local history, so I guess it was inevitable that I would discover Portland’s colorful history of freeway projects. I couldn’t find any videos online that cover this really interesting history, so I took it upon myself to compile my research and make these stories accessible to a wider audience.”
Dibble’s professional background is in graphic design and motion graphics. He explained that documentary filmmaking is a relatively new pursuit for him. “I never actually put any serious thought into making documentaries until last summer.” Not all of Dibble’s projects focus on Portland. His other works look into railroad history and its forgotten technology. Regardless of the subject, each video features a polished storytelling skill and features impressive imagery that creates entertaining looks at history’s influence on our current infrastructure.
Dibble’s first video about Portland’s roadways, Remnants of Portland’s Unbuilt Freeways, took three months to put together. Following that success, he felt well equipped to produce the longer video about Harbor Drive, The Forgotten Story of Harbor Drive: Portland’s Demolished Freeway. That film required four months to complete. Each project required extensive research to knit together a story worth telling. “Some great information is readily available online, but I found myself digging deeper and trying to piece together how these individual projects were all related to each other.” Dibble’s explained that being employed full-time limits his ability to make videos as quickly or as often as he would like. “These projects are limited to the margins of my spare time. I’m also a big believer in ‘quality over quantity.'” With over 150 thousand views each, people enjoy the results of this filmmaker’s time-intensive process.
Many details uncovered through research don’t make it into the final product for the sake of keeping a steady pace and staying on topic. Some may end up becoming documentaries on their own, but others will always remain on the cutting-room floor. Dibble described one abandoned project from the late 1940s that is of interest but did not fit into the larger story. “Portland’s bridges were jammed like crazy with traffic. One of the proposed solutions was to completely remove all of the bridges and replace them with tunnels under the Willamette River. This never gained any serious traction as far as I could tell, but it’s fun to think about.” Another fascinating event from the 1950s also captivated Dibble during his research but failed to make it into either video. “When downtown was getting ready to switch over to one-way streets, this required the retirement of three streetcar lines. On the last night of service, Portlanders swarmed the historic streetcars and literally ripped them apart to keep pieces as souvenirs. The account of the events that night is so chaotic and entertaining.”
More Portland-themed documentaries are in the future for Peter Dibble. There are still many stories from Portland’s history that he would like to dig into. However, followers will need to wait as his process takes time. Subscribing to Peter Dibble‘s YouTube channel is the best way to stay updated on his current projects and show support.
Cover image curtesy of Portland City Archive