Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blind School's Howard Hall Avoids Demolition, Saved for an Uncertain Future

Late last week, people walking and biking on Winter Street through the hospital campus could see the heavy equipment tearing down the blind school structures you see here.

The building with the blue door, the chimney, and the unpainted brick were all leveled already, and it was pretty neat, actually, to see the operator of the ginormous scoop gently strip the rain gutter off the next building and separate it with some other metals from the brick and wood. It looked like they would be recycling at least some of the building debris. (Whether big structural lumber and other choicer materials could be reused rather than simply recycled was not clear.)

Within a day, news came out that at least one of the buildings would be saved, and in today's Statesman, Elida Perez has more details and writes that
The application to demolish Howard Hall, a local landmark built in 1923 and the oldest remaining building on the former Oregon School for the Blind campus, has been denied.

The Historic Landmarks Commission denied the application during its monthly meeting Thursday.

About 12 people, including members of the blind community, South Central Association of Neighbors representatives and others, gave testimony against the approval of the application.
Not waiting for the final ruling, in response to the opposition Salem Health pulled the application. They said they had no plans actually to use the building, as rehabilitation would double the likely rents, but that they would revise landscaping to accommodate the building and its footprint.

This will be interesting to watch. Can a building like this be "banked" and mothballed with no intent to use for some years and then pulled out of "storage" for a later use? What happens to an unwanted historical building surrounded by a parking lot? And to what street or streets does Howard Hall mainly relate? How does it fit into the urban fabric? Does it have a future on Church Street in a way it might not on Winter or Mission?

The Statesman shows a two-story building, but the Blind School Sales material appears to show a single-story structure. (So I'm not even 100% sure what building is being saved!)

For more on the background of the proposed sale and the parking lot plans, see here.


KandN said...

Salem Hospital might not have the need like Doernbecher, but maybe the hospital or a separate entity could use Howard Hall as a place for out of town families to stay while a family member has a long recuperation.

Jeff McNamee said...

KandN - Yes, this would be a wonderful idea. My wife and I stayed at a Ronald McDonald House while we lived in NY. It was an amazing place and helped us through a really awful time in our lives.