Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Streetcar History Downtown, Notes on Mirror Pond and Fairview Addition

While downtown yesterday, thankful for some actual sun, I saw a new "welcome and information center" sign on the southeast corner of Liberty and Commercial State. A whole bunch had been installed a year or two ago, and I'm pretty sure this is a new one. The mounts into the concrete looked newly set, also.

New downtown historic signage - on streetcars!
(Strangely, it omits mention of the Guardian Building,
located until 1947 on this corner.)
The sign features our streetcar network in the early 20th century. It so happens that's also the core of the "walkable" city. So much of what we want to accomplish today centers on the virtues of the city of 100 years ago.

Streetcar system, early 1900s
The sign is totally worth checking out!

One of the routes went out south on Commercial and then Liberty. It was, as the map points out, to serve the Rural and Catholic Cemeteries - which we now call the Pioneer Cemetery and St. Barbara's Cemetery.

(Though it is tiresome now to keep pointing out, it is the automobiles, not people on foot, that are the cemetery interlopers, historically anachronistic, and non-contributing!)

Nearby the Pioneer Cemetery is some neo-traditional infill.

Eric Olsen Development on Rural Street South
(see below for "before" comparison!)
"The Front Porch is Back," as the website blurbs. It is one of Eric Olsen's developments, maybe the first - and only - in Salem. Though he was hired by a land-owner, and so perhaps had constraints he doesn't on land he has purchased himself, the streetcar-era styled development has some real charm and points to many of the design features that characterize his development in Monmouth.

(I am especially beguiled, I must admit, with the square cross-gable cottage in blue. With the Portland Building so much in the news right now, the oversized gestures of the roofline and the modern siding on the small cottage make its otherwise traditional cues also a species of post-modern whimsy!)

As they note over at Hinessight, Olsen has purchased one of the Fairview parcels and is working on a neo-traditional development over there, to be called Fairview Addition.

A clumsy overlay of Fairview Addition and the larger
topographic view map of the whole Fairview parcel.
Pringle Creek Community at upper center;
Sustainable Fairview at middle right;
Simpson Hills development lower corner along Reed.
As those plans mature and develop there will be more to say. Hinessight has more on the preliminaries - but note for the moment the fact there are alleys! Cars will not be front-and-center on every lot. This looks like it could be a great complement to Pringle Creek Community and maybe will help develop the critical mass to accelerate the whole Fairview project.  (Remember, too, that part of the Sustainable Fairview plan calls for a walkable commercial district.  This too will depend on a critical mass of residences, and hopefully those on the other side of Battlecreek will also want to walk to these businesses once the storefronts are built out.)

Interestingly, at an early stage in the development on Rural - the ugly land-clearing one - there seemed to be a good bit of anxiety and criticism:

"What I do not like about Salem" - Rural Street South development
Land Use Network
(see above for an "after" view)
This view is very close to the one above with the blue and brick colored houses. They're both showing basically the same land.

So is the finished project terrible? Certainly not from this angle!

With several of the same principals, Salem Community Vision looks to be in many ways a successor organization to the Land Use Network, author of the criticism, and it might be interesting to step back a moment.  So often we are all caught up in the urgency of the NOW, and have difficulty zooming out for the medium- or long-view.

Mirror Pond with two humans and many waterfowl
on Monday's sunny afternoon
Just as the Rural Street development turned out more than ok, is it possible that changes to Mirror Pond and Peace Plaza would not represent a loss or degradation, but rather a substantial improvement?

Alarm about "draining Mirror Pond" and cutting down trees for a new Council Chambers looks at least a little similar to alarm about tree-cutting at "a planned unit development which will have 13 homes on 1.5 acres. Of the 126 trees on this property, one was kept. Neighbors call this the lone tree project."

Even if the Rural Street development isn't perfect, it's still a very gentle and attractive version of infill for a residential neighborhood, right?  Change can be good!

It would be very interesting for the Land Use Network to revisit old worries.  How'd things turn out? It can't be that everything was awful, can it?

(Previous notes on Olsen developments see here and here.)


Susann Kaltwasser said...

To judge the Olsen Rural Street project without seeing what was there before is kind of unfair. Have you been to the subdivision? What was there before was mostly old fruit trees and grown firs that were planted about 50 years earlier to screen off the property from the neighbors. It was combined with a smaller parcel to make the whole PUD.

At the time the adjacent property owners had shaded backyards and privacy. Then the trees came down in one day basically with no notice. So you went to work in the morning and when you came home that night, your life was totally changed.

Not only did they had debris in their yards, but they had sun on their houses. All the shade loving plants that neighbors had planted and loved soon died from too much heat. The shade that kept their houses cool in the summer was gone making their homes hotboxes. Costly improvements were needed that were not compensated by the developer. Backyards that were used as an oasis in the past became unusable. Privacy was gone. People can now see into bedroom windows.

Neighbors were given a free fence where trees were before. When the developer put in the fence all the plants in the area were destroyed. Olsen promised to replace them, but never did. A few trees were replanted, but it will be maybe 30 years before they provide any real shade.

Then if you go into the subdivision, know that it is only one way around a loop. Parking is kind of strange. Driveways are so short that you can't actually park in the normal head in fashion, you have to parallel park in your driveway or put the car in the garage. You can't actually have visitors park near your house. Anyone who comes can use the few extra spaces at the end of the subdivision if the residents are not using them all, otherwise you have to park on the street and walk into the area.

Are the houses themselves nice? I only was in one inside. It was kind of a strange layout, but I guess if you were a single person or a retired couple it might work ok. The houses were pretty pricey for the square footage.

All in all I think there is a place for this kind of compact development. i am not sure it is suitable for most people however. I understand that one of the people that invited the development did it in part as a demonstration, but since then nothing else has been built like it.

And halfway through the building process that person wanted out. But I think they ended up not being able to do so. I do not know what the turnover rate is.

But clearly you have to really like your neighbors because you are basically living an apartment life at high end housing prices.

That said, Olsen has some good ideas and it will be interesting to see how the Fairview project turns out. I said at the time of the Rural project that it was not all that bad, it was just in the wrong place.

And yes some of the SCV people are the same people who know something about land use, but many are from other experiences and backgrounds. What is probably also true is that we are active people who want to see more citizen involvement and more responsible government spending of tax dollars. Seems that we have that in common with Breakfast on Bikes people.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Forgot to mention that my mother used to talk about the streetcars in Salem. She grew up here and said that you could get all over major parts of Salem on the system for a nickel. She lived out on the edge of town in the 1928-40 which was at 21st and State and said she could take the streetcar to school.

Did you know by the way that the old streetcar tracks are still on State Street under all that asphalt? A couple of decades ago they ground down the street to repave it and for about a week you could see the tracks and the brick that was used as their foundation.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Didn't see the tracks two decades ago, alas, but repaving two summers ago exposed some of the Oregon Electric interurban tracks up High Street, and there are notes and photos here and here on that! (The sign's map doesn't show these interurban lines, however.)

Anonymous said...


An update tonight from the SJ:

"Eric Olsen, a local developer, plans to buy a 50-acre portion of the former Fairview Training Center site in southeast Salem and create a 225-lot housing project.

The sale of the land —located south of Leslie Middle School, along Pringle Road SE—hasn't closed. But Olsen and the property's seller, Sustainable Fairview Associates LLC, said a deal was nearly complete....

The sale of the 50-acres is an approximately $4 million transaction, Beaton said. The seller has also agreed to transfer an additional 15 acres, at no cost, that will be preserved as open space, Beaton said.

The sale will not officially close until Olsen get his preliminary plans approved by the city, Beaton said. Olsen's proposal for the property is consistent with Fairview's master plan, he said."