Saturday, February 2, 2013

So What about that Belluschi Bank?

Over on the note about sidewalks and the Social Security Administration office, Jim proposes that the old First National Bank building designed by Pietro Belluschi might have been perfect.

And on the note about the McGilchrist building, Walker proposes a fee on vacant buildings as a way to incentivize improvements, leases, and ultimately occupancy.

What great questions! So what about that bank building? Here's a vacant building that shouldn't be vacant.

Doesn't it look like it belongs on the Capitol Mall? All marbled up and formal.

The lack of ground floor windows is a problem.  It's got that dark marble band instead of windows. The building really does turn its back, more than a little frostily, to the sidewalk.  It's not inviting and it's not connected to the wider life of the City as it passes on the street.

The building clearly anticipates most visits by car - through the drive-in in back and through the rear entry off the parking lot.  It's a mid-century autoist construct.

The light inside could be a problem, too.  There are four 3x3 clerestory windows on the north side.  That's it.  It may be a little dark inside.  Everything about the building makes me want to poke holes and to open it up.

Except for the reliefs!

And here's where Jim's idea really takes off.

Logging and Timber
Even though the building was completed in the 40s, Frederic Littman's art looks back to the WPA and the 1930s.

Are these hops?  Agriculture, anyway.
These are working men and women! Images of industry and labor!

Talk about a brilliant match for the Social Security Administration!  You could hardly commission something like this anymore.

So having the SSA here is an idea that really should be explored more.  It almost seems like destiny.  The building, as Jim noted, is a block from the transit mall, and for a facility that will serve a large number of folks who are dependent on transit, this seems ideal.

The building site had been part of a proposed mixed use development, and the building was slated to be demolished.  That development is on hiatus or gone, as it was a casualty very early in the Great Recession, and its owners may still want to build something.

But it sure seems like the SSA office would be a great way to fill the building with a long-term, stable lessee.

The other questions would revolve around light, utilities, and how much the facade might need to be altered and how much alteration the historic district and codes would permit.  These may be more complicated than we think.

So what do you think?

(Many others have asked about the building before, most recently perhaps over at On the Way.)


Victoria said...

SSA, huh, That could be a great idea. I've always thought it would be a great living space because of all that privacy and non-looks to the street. Maybe add an atrium or glass porch and garden on top so people could see in and out. That wouldn't destroy the beautiful marble.

Jim Scheppke said...

It would look great on the front with a US flag and an Oregon flag hanging from the flagpole. It probably gets plenty of light from the windows on the north side. Belluschi was no dummy. I'd love to see the details on the inside. What building have we built in Salem since 1940 that is as good as this one? City Hall? That's much more of a tear down than this one.

Bonnie Hull said...

Great idea, and I agree...this is a great building that should not be vacant in our downtown!

mark said...

Belluschi designed many of the ugliest and most uninviting buildings in the state. His cold icebox style are examples of what most people do not like. The location deserves better. Tear this block of stone down and replace it with something as attractive as a Ladd and Bush Bank. That would improve the corner and downtown.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here, btw, is the best list I've found of the local Belluschis. It comes from a December 22, 2007 SJ article:

1. Willamette University Library/ Smullin Hall, 900 State St., 1938
2. Willamette University Science Building, 1941
3. Willamette University Baxter Complex, 1943
4. Willamette University Doney Hall, 1948

5. Oregon Statesman Printing Plant, 280 Church St. NE, 1944
6. Oregon State Hospital, Breitenbush Hall, 2600 Center St. NE, 1945-50
7. Clinic for Clark Campbell and Wulf, 1280 Center St. NE, 1948
8. First National Bank of Portland, 280 Liberty St. NE, 1947
9. YWCA Building, 768 State St., 1946-52
10. Marion County Courthouse, 100 High St. NE, 1950

I'm very curious about the SJ plant - the just-now-mothballed printing plant looks like a 1980s thing, not a mid-century Belluschi. So is the Belluschi the brick clad office side on the north?

The others are obvious - except perhaps for the office and clinic at the corner of 13th and Center just across from Safeway.

Cory Poole said...

I think the SSA Office would be fantastic at that location. The only possible issue could be handicap vehicle access. But the rear lot could be made available.

Brandon Filbert said...

Actually, this building--while clearly of the "mid-century modern' school--follows very much in the classic small-town bank building vernacular: lots of stone to communicate solidity, windows well out of the reach of bank-run mobs, and an attitude suggestive of tense bank managers with the ease of access found in oysters. Many towns in earlier decades had Victorian edifices expressive of about the same attitude--without, of course, the Cold War detailing.

The stone reliefs do "relieve" the effect, but the whole seems to me to be only a little different from any number of 1st National Banks, minus the local architect connection. I cannot say I like it, but what would likely replace it in this era of "casino architecture" makes it worth saving, I guess.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Library! Now that the City's talking about moving the Police into the Library building, if we moved to a system with a larger number of smaller neighborhood libraries, the downtown library could go in the bank building (with a modern addition if necessary), and then maybe the mixed-use concept could go in on the old City Hall site where there are surface parking lots today.