Thursday, September 19, 2013

Capitol's 75th Anniversary Hoopla Yields Interesting History; 1938, as Now, Transitional

You might not think much of the "bowling trophy" on the 1938 Capitol, but when you consider its competition, the art-deco-y modernism of the winning classical facade actually looks pretty great.

Which design do you prefer?
(75th anniversary site)
Consider how chunky and out of proportion is the central element in one of its modernist competitors!  It's so top-heavy!

By comparison the winning design is refined, balanced, and harmonious. It really is a graceful modernist interpretation of a classical dome with symmetrical wings.  I think it will only continue to look better and better the farther away we get from its design and construction.  

Yesterday some of the history was presented in a lecture at the State Library by architectural historian Lee Roth.  Anybody go?

In honor of its 75th birthday, the State has set up a mini-site with links to lots of archival images and newspaper articles.

There's tons of great stuff!

Did you know that one plan was to expand south of State Street?  This required buying the site of Willamette University and relocating the university to the Bush property - so no Bush Park!  Negotiations on this, it seems, were pretty serious for a while.

Hillsides were also popular.  Fry Hill, right by the library was one site discussed.  Proposals for view lots in Candalaria, Morningside, and on Ben Lomond near McKinley were also floated.  The Grabenhorst development in Candalaria was so interested they offered to donate the land!

In the end, the choice to build at the same site and to expand northwards may well have been the best choice - but it was hardly free of consequences.

Cooke-Patton House Demolition, 1939
Current site of State Library
Salem Library Historic Photos
Indeed it was in some ways tragic.  For the expansion of the Capitol Mall north led to the demolition of one of Salem's premier residential neighborhoods, so-called "Piety Hill."  

Looking South from D Street
This prosperous district, and its collection of impressive houses, was an important source of foot traffic into downtown, a key ingredient in downtown health. When we talk about downtown being empty or not-so-vibrant, one of the reasons is that the expansion of State government displaced a large body of generally well-to-do customers for downtown merchants.  It was a substantial chunk of 24/7 purchasing power, one downtown has missed for several decades, and not at all the same as the 9-to-5 purchasing power in the office buildings today.

Looking north at Piety Hill.  The State Library and central lawn
 is the only part built; the rest of the mall area is still housing
Salem Library Historic Photos
A Seismic Retrofit and a New Plan

The need for a seismic retrofit of the Capitol presents Salem with a new opportunity in a moment of transition.

According to the Capitol Master Plan Review Committee Report to the 77th Legislative Assembly, the Capitol will need to be empty from 2015-2019:

Recommendation 4: Vacate the Capitol temporarily!
This means:
[being] vacated for the duration of the construction beginning as soon as possible following the 2015 Session....Based on the expected construction schedule, this will require the Legislative Branch to relocate for the 2016 Short Session, 2017 Long Session, 2018 Short Session, and the interim periods in between.
A new office building would likely be constructed:
the Review Committee recommends coordinating with DAS to provide the temporary space needed to relocate the Legislature from 2015 to 2019. DAS currently has plans for construction projects in the Capitol Mall area, including the construction of a new Executive Branch office building. Currently, DAS is spending considerable state resources to rent space for state agencies on the private market. By constructing a new office building, DAS can save overall costs by bonding the construction at favorable rates while eliminating expensive leases....If the new office building is finished by the interim following the 2015 Session , the Legislature can relocate to the office building from 2015 until the start of the 2019 Session.
There will be car parking and traffic implications!  The State is not likely to build any new parking garages - nor should they.  Currently, much of the undeveloped land owned by the State in the Capitol Mall area is surface lot parking.  Hmm...where will a new building go, do you suppose?

You can do that calculation!

So here's a great opportunity for the State, the City, Cherriots, and local advocates to transform patterns of commuting - including things that will relieve rush hour congestion on the Marion and Center Street Bridges at a much smaller cost than a $1 billion giant bridge and highway!

Will we in 75 years - heck, will we in a decade - look back and find dumb, tragic, or wise and beneficial decisions?


Curt said...

Another great headline:

"There's No Such Thing As Free Parking: A Biker's Manifesto"

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Missed this earlier in the year...

The Spring 2013 issue (vol. 114, no. 1) of Oregon Historical Quarterly has two relevant articles!

"Populists, Dreamers, and the Citizens who Built Oregon’s 1938 Capitol" by Floyd J. McKay and "Architecture of the Oregon Capitol" by William F. Willingham.

The McKay piece has more on the site selection and politicking especially.

One thing McKay misses is the demolition of the Piety Hill neighborhood.