Tuesday, March 7, 2017

100 Years ago: Roses for City Beautiful Project

March 5th, 1917
One hundred years ago, the Salem Floral Society announced a
project of beautifying the parking of Marion Street...another plan will be taken up soon to plant a rose hedge along the parkings of some promenade street leading to the fair grounds this will likely be either Capitol or Summer Street...
You may recall that "parking" used to mean not something for temporary car storage on the paved margins of a road, but instead meant the curb strip planting area and its landscaping.

An old rose on Marion Street at a driveway
between Winter and Summer Streets
DAS Yellow Lot in background (2013)
Here's an old rose bush that might have been associated with one of these beautifying projects. Now it is a forlorn reminder of a time when we valued our urban fabric and land more highly than as a gravel lot for cars.

Another tantalizing reminder is the old honeysuckle "tree" at the corner of Cottage and Union Streets.

Venerable Honeysuckle at
Union and Cottage (2013)
City lore identifies it as
Salem's last remaining tree from a program called "Beautify America," a federal program that was existing in the latter part of the 19th century.
I think it is more likely to be something associated with the Floral Society and its "City Beautiful" effort in the early 20th century.

(As a national movement, City Beautiful had its origins a whole generation earlier, but here, as elsewhere, ideas diffused gradually and took a while to reach Salem's fashionable society.)

March 14th, 1916
Interestingly it appears that the Lord family has their fingerprints all over the project.

In 1916, a year before the rose plantings was announced, Elizabeth Lord's mother, Juliet Montague Lord, apparently proposed a larger plan for the Floral Society.
Lord believes that Salem has the opportunity of making itself one of the most artistic cities in the country....

"I came here 36 years ago from the east," said Mrs. Lord, "and noted the beauties of Mill creek and the possibilities for making it a beauty spot, but regret to say that it is in the same condition now as when I first saw it." The fact that Mill creek seemed to be a general dumping ground for glass and tin cans was noted by Mrs. Lord.

"There are great possibilities for Mill creek and many eastern cities would give a million dollars for such a stream running through the residence district. It has many beautiful trees in and along its banks would grow the Japanese cherry tree, syringias, white show berry, dogwood and many shrubs that grow in our woods."

If the beautifying of our streams had been taken up years ago and many of the Japanese ideas followed, Mrs. Lord believes that Salem would have been a city twice its present, size, and although the citizens have been negligent, it is not too late to begin.

Mrs. Lord also noted the fact that about 20 years ago the women of the city made an attempt to organize a society to work for the good of the city and to beautify the streams, but at that time, it was not customary for women to take an active part in civic life, and the men came in and proceeded to run the society until it died a year or so later. With the changed ideas of women's activities, Mrs. Lord hoped that the women of the Floral Society would go forward in their work and make Salem within a few years what it should be, the city beautiful of the northwest.
Juliet Montague Lord
via State Library
It would be nice to learn more about that effort of "about 20 years" before. It is also interesting to notice Lord's interest in Mill Creek as a public asset, the Japonism, and the frank statement of the way the men took over an earlier project in the 1890s. A more public Mill Creek is one of the great missed opportunities in Salem history, and we still have inchoate dreams of creating a path and linear park system along its banks. (Recurring sexism, too: "Begun in 1941 as The Men's Garden Club of Salem, Oregon, Salem Area Garden Club is Salem's oldest established garden club. In 1992, women were invited to join...")

But again, it seems, the Floral Society was not able to institutionalize itself for sustained action, and after another hiatus, in 1920, before she went off to Lawthrope School of Landscape Architecture in 1924, Elizabeth Lord was elected Secretary.

March 29th, 1920
Some will focus on the institutional history of the Floral Society, but here it would be interesting to learn more about any remaining plantings or larger-scale public gardening efforts by the Floral Society that are essentially public in concept.

Later work by Lord & Schryver that is now public, like gardens at Deepwood and Bush Park, seemed to have started as features at private residences; instead I'm thinking of things in the public right-of-way, in parks, or at public buildings. Things that were public in conception from the start.

Before the Lord & Schryver Conservancy was up and running at Gaiety Hollow, Bonnie Hull wrote about some of their work in the Plane Trees at the Courthouse and at North High, and a show at Hallie Ford in 2011 showed a plan for Marion Square Park. There was also a plan for Pringle Park between the Hospital and Church Street. There are bound to be other public bits planned by Lord & Schryver we don't know enough about.

This still, though, is from a layer of work subsequent to the "city beautiful" efforts of the Floral Society.

There's not probably any important preservation work along these lines, but there might be a kind of mapping or signing project that could be interesting. As we redevelop the city, whether in public works like roads and sidewalk, or private redevelopment like new buildings, there are bound to be traces of the earlier projects, and especially when bits of plan are intact or venerable plantings remain healthy enough, it would be nice to be able to recognize them. The urban fabric is a little bit of a palimpsest. "What was there before?" and "Why did they do that?" are always interesting questions!

At the same time, in no small part because of our autoism, lack of interest in walking places, and general presentism, even when heritage trees have plaques and official city parks surrounding them, we still forget to notice them and let ivy take over.

2015 Ivy Pull at Waldo Park, whose tree is from 1872
Maybe it's not possible really to remember much about landscape plantings from 100 years ago. But it would be nice to be able to read the layered history of our urban spaces in greater detail. Even if it cannot rise to the level of National Register type listings, it should be more than secret lore and obscure historical trivia, or, worse, things that have just become invisible and totally forgotten, just part of the background.


Jim Scheppke said...

Thanks for this great post! Wish we could revive a strong desire to beautify Salem. We could start by enforcing the law on temporary signs in the public right of way.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Edit: Added photo of Juliet Montague Lord)