Planners drop Gen. George Custer’s name for Hillsdale MAX station

By Rick Seifert


The name of George Armstrong Custer lives on in history, thanks largely to his defeat and death at Little Big Horn in 1876. The battle to the death was part of the federal government’s ignominious “Indian Wars.”


So it was strange that Custer’s name recently got a boost from Tri-Met planners when they slapped it on a proposed Southwest MAX Corridor station stop in Hillsdale.


A few of us noticed and complained. We are happy to report that we prevailed.


What was once on the Max line map as “Custer Station,” presumably because it was near Custer Street (not far from Custer Park) will be known “for the remainder of the design process” as "13th Avenue Station," according to an e-mail from Libby Winter, the TriMet community affairs coordinator.


The inestimable Don Baack, the South Burlingame Neighborhood Association, and I had raised the naming issued with Tri-Met.


Winter wrote us saying the new name resulted from Tri-Met’s agreeing that “'Custer' does not reflect the inclusive values of the community and is insensitive.”


She added that numerical cross streets are preferred for the stations because they help emergency responders identify locations. That seems odd in this age of GPS navigation. Still, if that’s what it takes to quash the Custer name, so be it.


Now that Tri-Met is willing to re-open the station naming issue, I’ll repeat another request: That the one mile of Bertha Boulevard between Barbur and Capital Highway be renamed “Hillsdale Boulevard,” and that, accordingly, the new station near the Burlingame Fred Meyer store be named “Hillsdale Boulevard Station.”


You may know who Custer was, but do you have a clue about “Bertha”? And why is her name also on an avenue, a court, and two water tanks in Healy Heights? Further the Bertha name is on a much longer but less well known section of Bertha Boulevard that runs west from Hillsdale.


Indeed, on the old Red Electric inter-urban line, the stop at what is now Hillsdale was called “Bertha.”


The Red Electric connection is the key to the “Bertha” mystery. Bertha was Bertha Koehler, wife of Richard Koehler, the general manager of the Oregon & California Railroad for thirty-two years.


Thinking that “Hillsdale Boulevard” would be a grand gateway to Hillsdale, I’ve pursued the renaming matter with the City and hit the wall in the form of a mindless, myopic code provision.


The code, in section 17.93.010, titled “Criteria for Renaming a City Street,” wrongly assumes that the only reason a person (or a community) might want to change a street name is to honor a person who is 1) deceased for at least five years, and 2) widely deemed “prominent.”


Alas, I am proposing that Bertha Boulevard’s name be changed to a place, Hillsdale, which happens to be very much alive and near and dear to our hearts.


Is that too much to ask of City Hall?


What do you think? Let us know.