Esther Short Park: Vancouver, Washington


A $6 million investment to revitalize Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver, Washington State's oldest public square, has resulted not only in a rose garden and a brick-paved square complete with bell, but also the jump-starting of a 20-year, $800 million plan to redevelop downtown. The park and surrounding area revitalization have been successful, attracting some $250 million in adjacent capital investments since 2002. New residents are moving downtown, and civic leaders from towns and cities in the region are taking notice.

Designated Area

The park is bounded by West 8th Street to the north, Columbia Street to the east, West 6th Street to the south, and Esther Street to the west.

Children play on the statue of George Propstra, who holds a bronze newspaper that chronicles the role his family played in the park's redevelopment. Photo courtesy Greg Turner.

Planning Excellence

The park's 5.4 acres were originally given to the city in 1853 as a gift from Esther Short, an early pioneer resident of Vancouver. She envisioned a public space where city residents could enjoy the energy, beauty, opportunities, and conveniences that working and living in downtown Vancouver provided.

Beginning in the 1990s, then-Mayor Royce Pollard captured the essence of Short's vision and began a years-long effort to reverse the park's decline with his "take back the park" lunches. Another contributing to Short's vision in the 20th century was Vancouver philanthropist George Propstra, who made a $3.2 million donation to the park.

A mixture of buildings occupy the streets adjacent to the centrally located park, including the new, $30 million Vancouver City Hall completed in 2007 and the Vancouver Center, a mixed-use building with 262 apartments and 16,500 square feet of office and retail space completed in 2000. Also across from the park on Columbia Street are the city-owned Hilton Vancouver Washington Hotel and the Vancouver Convention Center, which were built in 2005.

Hosting a variety of events including the Vancouver Farmer's Market with 250 vendors, Esther Short Park helps draw more than 150,000 people to downtown each year. After more than 150 years since its establishment, the park continues to be the "heart" of the Vancouver community just as Esther Short intended.

Children play in a large fountain system that was constructed as part of the park's redeveloment. Photo courtesy Greg Turner.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Planning Milestones

  • Esther Short, a pioneer who arrived in the Oregon Territory, gifted a 5.4-acre site owned by her family to the city for a park (1853)
  • City of Vancouver adopted the growth management plan, Visions for the Vancouver Urban Area, that redefines the park as center of a 30-square-block area (1994)
  • City adopted Esther Short Redevelopment Plan (1997); outlines 20-year, $800 million effort redeveloping downtown with Esther Short Park the central feature of downtown
  • As a result of the push for revitalization, Mayor Royce Pollard and others raised $5 million and the city invested $2 million as part of downtown redevelopment (1996-2000); since 2002, $250 million in private investments have been made in and around the park

Park Improvements, Features

  • The majority of the park redesign has occurred since the 1990s
  • George Propstra, founder of local fast-food restaurants, together with his wife Carolyn Propstra donates $3.2 million for park renovations (1996-1998)
  • Initial park improvements completed; include oval walkway, radiating walks, gazebo, restrooms, rose garden, civic plaza, pavilion, bell tower with glockenspiel (2002)
  • Pioneer Mother, a bronze statue of Esther Short, by nationally renowned artist Avard Fairbanks; located at park's north entrance (1928)
  • Brick-paved Propstra Square is popular gathering spot and features 69-foot tall bell tower with water feature, bronze salmon sculpture, trout stream water feature designed by Portland, Oregon landscape architect Robert Murase, Craftsman-style benches and planters (2005)
  • Bronze "A Gift for You" sculpture near Propstra Square by Jim Demetro (2001); depicts a girl handing flower to man symbolizing George Propstra's donation to the city
  • Italianate-style Slocum House only building from old Vancouver's residential section; constructed by Charles W. Slocum in 1867, building relocated to park in 1966
  • Park's playground, near the Slocum house, donated by the Angelo family; constructed in a Victorian theme to reflect the park's early history


  • Park's pavilion and bandstand designed by Randy Salisbury of DSP Architecture and built 1999; used for concerts, festivals year-round
  • Rose garden contains more than 98 rose bushes; maintained by the Fort Vancouver Rose Society; popular location for wedding photographs
  • Vancouver Farmer's Market (Esther and West Sixth streets), features 250 vendors; southwest Washington's top attraction; Esther Short Commons site of year-round indoor farmer's market

Philanthropist George Propstra helped spur redevelopment of Esther Short Park, donating $1.3 million for the bell tower's construction. Photo courtesy Greg Turner.