Thursday, May 2, 2013

Historic Landmarks Commission to look at State Hospital District and other Public Buildings

On Thursday the 16th at 5:30 pm the Historic Landmarks Commission will hold a public hearing in Council Chambers at City Hall on some proposed changes to the City's historic preservation code.

Restored Kirkbride building in winter
For an interested citizen, though, it's not exactly clear what is going to be discussed.

The hearing notice is more than a little opaque:
Existing Salem Revised Code (SRC) Chapter 230 does not include any processes or local historic design review standards for public resources. As the mitigation for the demolition of portions of the Kirkbride and associated structures within the Oregon State Hospital District, the Oregon State Hospital Replacement Team provided a proposed set of design standards. The HLC and Staff then updated the proposal to include additional provisions which would be applicable to any public resources within the City of Salem.
What is left largely unsaid (perhaps implicit to those that have followed matters closely over the years and other insiders?) is what problem this is trying to address. Are State-level processes seen as insufficient for the City? Is this a squabble over turf? Just what's going on here?  More background would be helpful!

Dome Building last fall
Since in the single-page "fact sheet" appended to the hearing notice there's lots of talk about the State Hospital facility, it's likely that problems are there: The demolition, over-hasty to some, of parts of it for the new hospital facility as well as the prospective demolition or significant alteration of buildings north of Center Street in any redevelopment project once that parcel is sold off.  Debate over the Cremains Memorial might also be in the background here.

Curiously the State Capitol building is also mentioned.  But not other architecturally significant ones like the Supreme Court Building of W.C. Knighton.

It's hard to know what to say about the proposed code changes without seeing them and without more background being made explicit.  But on the surface it looks like more than a merely trivial matter, more than just house-keeping.

McKenzie Hall (pictured), Yaquina, Santiam, and Eola
are likely low-priorities for preservation
Citizens who are interested in finding the right balance between preserving the past, reusing existing building stock, and moving forward with redevelopment for a 21st century city will want to pay attention.

Hopefully there will be more discussion - and there might be new venues for it.

The Historic Landmarks Commission has a suite of new social media: A shiny new blog, pinterest board, and the facebook and twitter, which seem to just have links back to the blog.  As arms of the City begin to embrace a greater online presence, it remains to be seen whether the social media is truly social and creates a conversation, which will include disagreements and debate at times, or just simply promulgates press releases and official notices.  But this is an interesting step!

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