Saturday, July 26, 2014

City Council, July 28th - To Demolish Howard Hall?

Council meets Monday night at 6:30, and the prospect of the demolition of the last remaining building of the Oregon School for the Blind is atop the marquee.

The City looks to be heading towards a big FAIL on that one, so let's start of with what so far looks to be an unqualified success.

Council will receive an information report on possible pod locations for food carts.

Detail from downtown map of possible pod locations
The report is "for example only" and doesn't mean a commitment, public or private, to any location. But it is yet more evidence of striking swiftness and purpose on this project!

A group of downtowners will hold a temporary pod on First Wednesday, August 6th.  Organizers say,
the first Salem food pod pulls into the alley behind Taproot (Pete’s Place) during First Wednesday Pop Up. Fusion, Sample This BBQ and Uncle Chuck’s Wagon join Vagabond Brewing, Santiam Brewing, 2 Towns Cider House and Hard Times Distillery.
As for some of the squawking by restaurant owners, the downtown restaurant scene still doesn't seem like a "mature" or "saturated" market. In an immature market, we should see a "rising tide floats all boats," and it is likely that food carts will not primarily cannibalize existing restaurant activity, but will draw more and different people downtown. Maybe not, but the bet here is that food carts will strengthen, not diffuse, total activity downtown and enlarge the pool of customers for restauranteurs in brick-and-mortar locations.

Howard Hall

Salem's fond of touting its historic preservation efforts.

Just a half a block from Howard Hall is Gaiety Hollow, the home and garden created and shared by Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver.

Preservation Work at Gaiety Hollow
A block away from Howard Hall at Bush Park is a "Heritage All Star" sign for Salem. It is a State program to "to recognize communities that make the most of their heritage resources."

"Heritage All Star" sign at Bush Park
Also on Monday - or maybe it's, Primarily at Council on Monday, is the "call up" hearing to revisit the Historic Landmark Commissions decision to deny the Hospital's application to demolish Howard Hall. Staff recommendation is to overturn.

Submission from Hospital
Lots more documents have been posted to the City's submittal site. One of the latest from the Hospital says "Howard Hall has no value to the history of the school...there are no distinguishing features, either inside or outside of Howard Hall, to show it was ever a place that housed and educated blind students."

So inquiring minds want to know! Exactly what kinds of distinguishing features should we expect on a structure that housed and educated blind students? Should we look for extra large braille dots of architectural terra cotta raised in relief on corners and windows and labeling other architectural or spatial features?

This looks like it's heading towards the idea that there is some "architecture of the blind" that the proverbial "anthropologist from Mars" would discern as something specific for housing and educating blind students.

Maybe I'm misreading this, but it looks a little funny.

Each building, whether at the Blind School, Deaf School, Fairview, or State Hospital took on the architectural style of the day.  That's the dominant note.

Our anthropologist from Mars wouldn't even see the Kirkbride building over at the State Hospital and know for sure it was for an Asylum! It looks like any number of other winged institutional buildings with a central tower circa 1880.

The idea for the blind school was not to build some nirvana apart from sighted society, but to develop the skills necessary or useful in navigating the sighted world. In this regard it would be unusual for the architecture at the blind school to have a suite of "distinguishing features." Instead we would expect it to be like architecture in the sighted world.

I might be wrong, but I'm inclined to see this as a significant misunderstanding of what it might mean for a building to be valuable in the history of the school.

Our medical corps doesn't acquit themselves very well, either. It is a little ironic they display more concern for parking lot expansion than they do for the fact that car crashes are a leading cause of death for kids, and that the lack of walking and biking to school a significant obesogenic factor and ingredient in adult public health problems. Bike and Walk Salem or Safe Routes to School have not roused "Pediatric Healthcare Providers" to this extent. I know some of them contribute to local bike safety education efforts, but there's a disconnect here between macro urban strategies for healthy kids and the micro scale of a single adaptive playground.

The Hospital's development at the Blind School ought to be able to address both. Again, there's plenty of room for both Howard Hall, an adaptive playground, and a modest amount of surface parking.

Plenty of room
(inserted to post on 7/29)
Maybe as advocates for active transportation we have failed to make our case, but it seems like the professional literature is out there, and pediatricians should know that we need to curb our autoist obesogenic environment and land use.

Pediatricians letter

It might not be surprising that the same boilerplate appears in this letter and several others. Clearly it was furnished by the Hospital as a template or petition.

Two Lost Buildings:
Old City Hall and Derby Building in Distance
(Looking SE-ish from north side of Chemeketa and High)
Salem Library Historic Photos

SE Corner of Chemeketa and Commercial, then and now
Then: Eldridge Block circa 1940, Salem Library
Inset, today: Chemeketa Parkade
(Click to enlarge)
One person writes,
I work in the mainenance department [of the Hospital]. I have personally been in and walked through Howard Hall. There is NO way you could consider this building as anything historic. In my opinion, this building is an eye sore....Howard Hall is a piece of rotting JUNK!!!
A useful exercise might be to substitute "Old City Hall" for "Howard Hall" or to play madlibs with other buildings we have demolished and lost. Many of them were not in great shape and could be talked about in exactly the same terms as supporters of demolition talk about Howard Hall. Old City Hall wasn't in very good shape - and a lot of people miss it badly. But once we remove ourselves from the insistent pressures of the NOW, one in which the building is more than a little shabby, and project ourselves or our children and grandchildren 10, 25, 50 years into the future, it seems very likely that the loss of Howard Hall will be regarded much more with regret than with satisfaction.

(For all notes on the project and demolition hearing, see here.)

Zoning and Code Work Session

Before Council, a reader pointed out a couple weeks ago there's also a work session on the Unified Development Code "clean-up" project. The first part of it was supposed to be "policy-neutral," to represent no changes in policy. I'm not sure they succeeded 100% with that, but code is complicated and that's not something we follow closely here. The next step, items on the so-called "bucket list" represent policy change. One of them, for example, should be changes in bike parking requirements and standards that arose out of Bike and Walk Salem. There is a lot on street connectivity and street standards, residential infill standards and other good stuff.

But then you get to zoning and permitted uses. Talk about Ptolemaic epicycles! We really should transition to something more like a form-based code - something with less on "what you do" and more on "what it looks like." Our modern successor to exclusionary zoning just looks like a charlie foxtrot, and the more we try to salvage it, the more complicated it gets.

Anyway, the formal topic for the work session at 5:30 in the Library Anderson Rooms is "Planning Salem: Discussing a Long-Range Planning Work Program for UDC follow-up items" and though it's complicated, even Byzantine, it's an opportunity for Salemites to change the way we develop and redevelop.

11 comments:

Brian Hines said...

Great post. You've gotten me to look at the Howard Hall issue in a different way. I'm planning to testify Monday night, at the council meeting, in favor of preserving Howard Hall.

But now I'm leaning toward saying something different from the written testimony I've already submitted. So thanks for the insight.

What struck me after reading your post is that we're really talking about a secular form of "soul" and "spirit" here -- the inner side of life, not the outer (both are part of the human experience, of course).

People who talk about Howard Hall just being an old broken-down building aren't appreciating that inner side, which is what makes life meaningful rather than mechanical.

The same distinction, I believe, lies at the heart of every land use'ish issue in Salem, including the third bridge, downtown parking, riverfront development, a new police facility, and such.

Arguments occur over the outer, while what motivates both proponents and opponents of a certain policy position is the inner. This is notably clear in the Howard Hall case.

A historic building, as you said, isn't what it is because of the materials that make it up. Nothing on the outside screams "Historic!", just as nothing on the outside tells anyone that the jewelry on my left hand is a wedding ring with lots of significance to me.

Take it off, lay it on a table, and it is just a ring. Those in favor of demolishing Howard Hall are making the mistake of discounting the inner life of Salemians. But again, this is where life is really lived -- from the inside, not the outside.

(There is no outside within an inside: consciousness.)

KandN said...

It struck me, while driving past the yawning hulk of the slowly transforming Boise Cascade building, why is it worthwhile to turn/reinvent that humongous concrete cavern into something to benefit the community and not do the same for Howard Hall?
Howard Hall is just begging to be turned into a museum about the history of the education of the blind. If there's space--perhaps a sensory type room. And (my imagination tends to go crazy) wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get it all done not with just local support, but with a kickstarter?

Jim Scheppke said...

"Howard Hall has no value to the history of the school...there are no distinguishing features, either inside or outside of Howard Hall, to show it was ever a place that housed and educated blind students."

With this statement, Salem Hospital shows a callous disregard for the memories of many hundreds, maybe thousands, of Oregonians who spent a portion of their youth at Howard Hall between 1923 and 2009. Their experience of Howard Hall was quite different than that of sighted persons. It had nothing to do with "distinguishing features" of the architecture. Howard Hall was home. Some of them have testified. Will their voices be heard? Do they matter?

KandN said...

And while we're at it:
What distinguishing features were in the house where George Washington grew up that made it of any particular historical value?

Curt said...

The pediatricians petition is small and nearly all the signatories are from Jefferson and Turner. Salem pediatricians are conspiciously absent.

In his testimony two weeks ago, the Salem Health CEO declined terms that the conditions proposed by the city for a demolition permit. They are not committed to this playground.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

A reader sends a comment by email:

Re: But then you get to zoning and permitted uses. Talk about Ptolemaic epicycles! We really should transition to something more like a form-based code - something with less on "what you do" and more on "what it looks like." Our modern successor to exclusionary zoning just looks like a charlie foxtrot, and the more we try to salvage it, the more complicated it gets.

"But of course. It is through control of what people are allowed to do in their buildings that the unspoken, unrecognized, pervasive auto domination reaches its peak, since 99% of the fights supposedly about building use actually arise out of concerns about how many and what kinds of motor vehicles the building use will foster.

In other words, because we won't openly talk and think about how auto ism has degraded Salem and how making autos the center of all planning and zoning, we wind up tearing great gaps in our city, while spreading out uses so much that it's hard for anyone but the autoists to make use of things, because our code is an indirect, feeble attempt to grapple with the negative externalities of living in a city that puts cars ahead of ahead of people in priority.

As long as building uses are licensed and regulated but all persons* are assumed to have a god-given unfettered right to go anywhere in Salem in a private auto, we will continue to degrade Salem, squandering our money and dissipating our heritage, making Salem look like countless other soulless, charmless places. That's what our building code aims for, and by god it's working.

(*Since the official view is that only people wealthy enough to have their own private auto deserve any consideration, it's accurate to say that Salem feels it right to provide all persons with full access to all parts of town ... Car owners are the only persons who count, and so they're the only persons period.)
"

Anonymous said...

@Curt - Norm Gruber, the hospital CEO, submitted a clarification -
http://www.cityofsalem.net/Departments/CommunityDevelopment/Planning/Historic/HowardHallDemolition/Documents/Gruber%20Letter.pdf

saying the hospital "concurs with, and agrees to be bound by" the conditions proposed by city staff.

Anonymous said...

Looks like it was a unanimous vote to overturn.

Deborah Carlson said...

Hi all,
I'm a fan of Salem Breakfast on Bikes, I love Salem, I love historic buildings and I fully support the hospital's plan to demolish Howard Hall in order to build an outdoor therapeutic area contiguous with the new rehab facility which will include an adaptive playground.

I've never posted on your blog before (actually I don't think I've ever posted on anyone's blog before) but am doing so now to address a few points made in your post about "Our medical corps" and the “boilerplate” letter that I submitted on behalf of myself and a number of pediatric providers from Childhood Health Associates of Salem (CHAOS).

I first learned about the hospital’s plans at the May 27 Family Resources, Support and Training (FRST) workgroup meeting of the Marion-Polk Coalition for Special Needs Children. Marybeth Beall is the facilitator of this group as well as a number of other community health improvement groups. Marybeth and other members of the FRST workgroup had already provided testimony in support of the proposed therapeutic adaptive playground. Following the meeting, I decided to write a letter of support for the hospital’s proposal and then never got around to it. After learning that the hospital’s plans had been rejected, I once again decided to write a letter of support. However, given my propensity to procrastinate, I asked Marybeth if she would provide a petition-style letter that could be submitted by anyone who wished to show support for the hospital’s proposal. You wrote “It might not be surprising that the same boilerplate appears in this letter and several others. Clearly it was furnished by the Hospital as a template or petition.” In fact, the letter was drafted by Marybeth Beall at the request of myself and other members of the FRST workgroup.

How did CHAOS providers end up signing this letter? I am married to a CHAOS pediatrician, Ken Carlson. My closest friends are pediatricians at CHAOS. I took my letter over to CHAOS and convinced a number of providers to sign in support of the hospital’s plan.
“Bike and Walk Salem or Safe Routes to School have not roused "Pediatric Healthcare Providers" to this extent.” The CHAOS “Pediatric Healthcare Providers” were “roused…to this extent” by my physically taking the letter to CHAOS, talking to as many providers as I could catch and asking them to sign. Some providers declined to sign despite my heartfelt wheedling and cajoling.

The hospital did a truly lousy job in garnering local support for this much-needed, valuable community resource. Had the hospital actually made any effort to engage the families of special-needs children and adults there would have been an outpouring of organized support for the hospital’s proposal.

The providers at CHAOS are a great group of people and I am dismayed that, in signing a letter supporting the creation of a therapeutic, adaptive playground, they can somehow be seen as displaying “more concern for parking lot expansion than they do for the fact that car crashes are a leading cause of death for kids, and that the lack of walking and biking to school a significant obesogenic factor and ingredient in adult public health problems.” It’s unfair and untrue.

“I know some of them contribute to local bike safety education efforts, but there's a disconnect here between macro urban strategies for healthy kids and the micro scale of a single adaptive playground.” It is disingenuous to suggest that support for the hospital’s proposal indicates a lack of interest in community health and wellness endeavors. Please, please, please invite local physicians to the planning table! Let docs know where to show up and how to help. If nothing else, draft a boilerplate letter for healthcare providers to sign when you need their support on an issue.

I’ll show-up and I guarantee there are other community-minded docs who’d be willing to help.

Thanks and keep up the great work,
Deborah Carlson, MD
Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
drdebcarlson@gmail.com

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks, Deborah!

Will circle back later for a more considered response later this evening...but note that there's a graphic inserted just now you might not have seen in previous posts. It's at the center of the claim the Hospital should easily be able to accomplish both goals: save Howard Hall and build adaptive playground.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks again for stopping by, Deborah!

A few more thoughts...

The main problem here is the Hospital's commitment to vast oceans of free parking.

One important thing that health care professionals can do is to call on the Hospital and the School District to enact, and to educate parents of children about the benefits of, these "Healthy Places" recommendations from the Center for Disease Control:

-Consider policies that reduce vehicle miles traveled; these policies can include vehicle miles traveled tax, tolls, or congestion pricing in downtown areas.
-Implement parking pricing schemes.
-Reduce the availability of on and off street parking to encourage alternate forms of transportation.
-Create alternatives to single occupancy vehicle travel through the improvement of multimodal transportation options, including carpools, vanpools, public transportation, and active transportation—any self-propelled, human-powered mode of transportation.

If the Hospital charged for parking, especially for employee parking permits, they would better allocate the existing parking supply and also be able to redevelop the blind school property with things that generated more value than surface lots devoted to free parking. They would not need so much additional parking.

The current plan at the Blind School calls for 87 parking stalls above the maximum permitted by Salem code. In these 87 stalls an adaptive playground could easily be built. (See diagram inserted into text - there's room for at least 5 playgrounds!) By design or by accident the Hospital engaged in a divide-and-conquer strategy, pitting preservationists against people with disabilities. The fact is, there is room for both Howard Hall and a playground.

No one has said there should be no playground, it is important to note. It seems clear this is a great need in the community.

But it should come at the reasonable cost of superfluous parking lot space, not at the cost of an irreplacable historic building.

As specific projects or calls to action, we are at a bit of a lull just now. Candidate projects for a significant source of state funding didn't make the final list just announced, the City has already made selections in the bond surplus projects, and it seems like we are "in-between" on a lot of funding sources right now.

But one can always ask one's City Councilor for a commitment to move forward on a full-fledged family friendly bikeway in Salem.

Thanks for visiting and for the dialogue!

More conversation to come!