Saturday, January 14, 2017

House at Corner of D and Capitol is Story about Early Home Electrification

The symmetry, the large porch support at the corner, and most of all, the gentle swoop and curve in the roofline on the house at the corner of D Street and Capitol Street, across from the State Archives and Parrish Middle School, has made it a perennial object of curiosity. On walks and bike rides, it has always seemed like it would repay much closer study in architecture and in local history.

via the google
Over at her Discover blog Virginia Green had written a note about it, but without more details on the "features more usually found in homes of a sunnier climate," it seemed less interesting than it somehow ought to be.
William G Allen, a prominent Salem businessman who owned Allen Fruit Packing designed this house himself 1920 and had his own crew build it. It is of unusual design with features more usually found in homes of a sunnier climate. Allen and his wife owned it until 1954 when Charles and Ruth Jens bought it. She was the first female psychiatrist on this side of the Rockies and practiced in the house until 1998.
For the Sunday paper, the history column advances a very different story, and curiously has details on different set of features!
The culmination of Frank and Clara Barton’s electrical aspirations was the home they built in 1920. Their electrical dream home was built at 901 N Capitol St., now the law offices of Gerald L. Warren and Associates. It was designed and built with the express idea of demonstrating just how comfortable, convenient and economical a home outfitted with electricity and modern conveniences could be. Every door had a light switch and electrical outlet high enough that no bending over was needed to plug in the vacuum sweeper.

Housed in the basement was an electric bath heater that provided hot water for bathroom, laundry and kitchen use as well as an electric laundry with a mangle and washer. The kitchen appliances included a hermetically sealed oven with insulated walls that retained heat and an economical automatic shut-off. But probably the piece-de-resistance was the electric sideboard in the dining room with glassed-in compartments for a dozen or so small appliances known as table conveniences. A grill, toaster, percolator, teapot, egg-boiler, etc., with plug connections for four appliances at a time. Clara Barton emphatically boasted to a local reporter at the time that “with this convenience, one could sit at the table and cook a meal without ever rising from the chair!”
The story has a number of other twists and turns and is a fascinating slice of Salem history.

Just from some casual spot-checking, the Bartons do show up in the paper there in the 1920s, and so this is probably the narrative we should prefer. (Perhaps the Allen Fruit story belongs to a different house, which still sounds interesting.)

As social history the story is also interesting. It appears that Clara Barton's celebrity as a writer may have surpassed her husband's significance at times, and there are so many angles to consider: The role of credit in the early 20th century, early electrification and consumerism, marriage and domestic roles after the 19th Amendment and early feminism. In addition to their personal story, they seem emblematic of so many other larger forces that shaped the economy and culture. They and the house deserve a longer study!

The house is currently a law office, and who knows how much of the original interior remains, though. There may not be much potential for a closer investigation of its architecture and design, alas.

As you walk around on the North Capitol Mall or in the neighborhood around Grant, Parrish, and North, consider checking it out and thinking about the Bartons.

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