Monday, April 8, 2013

State Street Trees in the News Again

Back in October and again in January there was talk about the street trees along the south side of State Street between Commercial and Liberty at the Ladd & Bush Bank.

The trees are in the public conversation again.

Trees have been an enduring part of the streetscape.
Note also the bikes! Photo, 1891: Salem Library
(This photo has been scanned well, and will enlarge to show great detail)
According to Salem Cherry Pits, the trees are Japanese Zelkova trees, and the matter has been deliberated on several times, most recently with the Director of Public Works overruling, apparently, the recommendation of the City Shade Tree Committe.  (At least one Zelkova variety is on the City's approved list of street trees, it should be noted.)  Removal could happen this month.

While street trees are an important part of traffic calming and pleasant sidewalks, the cast iron facade of Ladd & Bush Bank is unique in Salem and historically rare in Oregon. The Ladd & Tilton and Ladd & Bush banks were nearly twins in the 1860s, and in the 1960s when the bank was nearly completely rebuilt, the facade from Ladd & Tilton, which had been salvaged at demolition, was incorporated into the expanded facade of Ladd & Bush.

Ladd and Bush Bank in Late Winter, new trees on right, old trees on left
The bank's facades and elevations belong to a very small number of Salem buildings whose aesthetic and historical interest may be greater than the beauty provided by the natural order. In fact, Salem's Revised Code [SRC 86.130(c)(1)] touches on this and contains a provision for downtown street trees in the historic district:  "Trees shall not be planted in a location which would obscure significant architectural features."*  The current size of the trees seems to run afoul of this.  Note how dark is the sidewalk in the photo from the fall (below). We should be able to see more of Ladd & Bush! (Apparently the trees' root systems are also interfering with sewer lines.)

Trees on State in fall color and shade (Ladd & Bush trees on the right)
This is one of those questions on which there's not an obvious answer.  I like the west facing wall (in sun), with the new, smaller trees, so much more than the north facing wall (in shade), with the existing trees.  Whether you also find them oversized is of course a matter of personal opinion, and we should not want to remove street trees lightly.

If you like the outdoors, maybe the big trees will be more important to you than seeing the building when the trees are leafed out.  If you like the urban environment or local history, maybe retaining visibility of the rare and historic bank facade will be more important.

For Lease sign at JK Gill Building, fall 2012
props for the history!
Bayne building reflection in brick
This block of State street is, as several have noted, exceedingly charming, and one of the most interesting in the city.  Most of the buildings date from the 19th century, and the rest from the early 20th.  With the Livesley, Adolph, Gill and bank buildings one one side, and the Bayne, Farrar, Pomeroy and Grey buildings on the other, and as a still-unterutilized gateway to Riverfront Park, it is a street over which we should take special care, more than usual.

To keep or to replace the trees offers no obviously really bad choice and your mileage will vary.

But I hope that a compromise can be reached that will open the canopy to let more of the building be visible while also retaining the virtues and charm of the street trees.

Update - Wednesday, the 10th

Front Page News!
Old Cherry Trees

While on the topic of trees and old things, here's a couple of venerable cherry trees.  They have enormous root systems and trunks, but the smaller caliper of the branches and their distribution makes it look like they were grafted. 
Venerable Cherry in Candalaria area

Venerable West Salem Cherry
Does anybody know anything about them?  I want to imagine that, like the possibility of peers of the Waldo tree, there are remnant fruit trees from 19th century farms (there are certainly lots of fruit trees around from the early 20th and mid-century, but it would be so much more fun to be able to push the dates back to the 19th!).

* It should be noted that street trees, generally a good thing, are more apparently more highly regulated in the downtown historic district than drive-throughs, which are not at all historic and not generally a good thing for a walkable downtown.


Anonymous said...

In the second photo, I think you have your hands reversed!

"old trees on right, new trees on left" should probably read "new trees on right, old trees on left."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

You're right! Thanks. Caption edited.

Anonymous said...

The code you quote is for new trees being planted. If you start applying that code retroactively to old trees, no tree in salem is safe.

The permit to cut theses 5 trees down was reviewed and denied at three different meetings of the Shade Tree Committee, and denied at two public hearings.

Should one city employee over ride so much public input? Make city council responsible for final appeals. We can vote out our Councilors if they aren't representing us, but the citizens have no recourse against a city employee.

Additionally, an arborist said those trees could have lasted another 50 years if the roots had been pruned so they stop buckling the sidewalk. AND since I walk, I can see the architecture just fin, thanks. The trees are being removed for no good reason.

Curt said...

Anon II is correct. SRC 86.130(c)(1) applies to newly planted trees and not existing ones. Under this section, one could argue that the new trees planted on the Commercial side are the non-compliant trees.

Chapter 86 provides no legal direction for this removal other than the authority given to the public works director.

This is another case where the city is using a tortured interpretation of the Code in order to satisfy a pre-determined outcome to the detriment of walkers and bikers.

I don't believe that US Bank, or the public works director gives a shit about how visible the building is.

Anonymous said...

There's another venerable cherry tree at 18th and Market!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

As more has come out, it certainly appears that the bank did not give sufficient thought to pruning the roots and canopies of the trees. It is sad that this wasn't tried first and then evaluated after a year or two.

But also, as others have weighed in, it's clear that fewer share interest in the architecture, so it might be useful to say more about it and why it deserves special consideration.

For one thing, interesting buildings want to be seen from a variety of angles and distances. There's a visual procession of vistas that delight and engage the eye. A good bit of the commentary on the trees has used images looking west along the sidewalk and under the trees. The cover of Salem Weekly is a good example. The cast iron of course is visible here on the left as people walk west towards the park along the sidewalk. But we should want the cast iron to be visible from across the street, from out windows in neighboring buildings, and from even more distant approaches!

A the Architectural Heritage Center here's more on Ladd & Tilton and Ladd & Bush. It turns out that Ladd & Bush is not only unique in Salem, but is "the largest cast iron building on the West Coast." It is significant regionally!

"Architect John Nestor, who had come from the east in 1864, patterned it after Venice’s 16th century Library Vecchia, painting the elaborate two-story cast iron fa├žade to imitate white marble." It is significant, also, that a descendent of William Ladd, Eric Ladd, saved the Ladd & Tilton facade in 1954, making it available to be reused here at the Ladd & Bush site.

The whole story is worth reading, and underscores ways that this building in particular is more special than many in Salem may realize. (At the site are also links to more history of cast iron architecture.)