Friday, May 1, 2015

Architecture Notes: Grant Neighborhood Houses and AIA Salem Awards

The Grant Neighborhood Association meets next week, and on the agenda is last week's publication of the Historic Houses Handbook.

Houses of Grant Neighborhood
First off, it must be noted this is a pamphlet about houses and housing types. It's not a neighborhood history or any number of other things. So to wish for more detail on other matters is in a way also to wish the pamphlet were about something else. I get that. (I want the pamphlet to be two or three times as long!)

But one of the themes to this blog is that a form of atomic analysis that breaks things down into component parts and doesn't look enough at pattern and relation and system really hinders the ways we can think about urban form. Travel by auto erases too much space and makes it difficult to think about connections between things. As a commenter pointed out the other day, talk about transportation systems also entails talk about land use. If stores, homes, and schools are too far apart, even the best bike boulevards, bike paths, and cycletracks won't attract meaningful numbers of people to use them. Here, talk about housing forms and development patterns also should entail talk about other kinds of infrastructure and system.

Some of the most interesting history is the effect our waterways have had on development. The introductory material talks about the flood of 1890 and about needing to drain marshy land in some of the Grant neighborhood in the 20th century - but then there's this interpolated section of boilerplate about the State Capitol, which isn't in the Grant neighborhood!

Too much on the Capitol, not enough on water!
It happens that there is a large square-ish concrete culvert that empties into Mill Creek at the elbow where D, Church, and 5th Streets all meet. Clear water runs out it nearly year-round, and some inquiries into City staff a couple years back suggested its origin had been mostly lost down the memory hole. They identified it as an old 42" stormwater drain that collects from an area reaching as far east as the State Hospital.

But it seems like a good hypothesis that it could be related to draining the marshy areas. Until encountering this note about draining marshes, for a few years it has seemed like it was a candidate for a buried creek. Maybe it's a little of both.

The H-alleys of Oaks Addition
There's also a nice note about the unusual "H" shaped alleys in Oaks addition. Most of the neighborhood has alleys, in fact. Later, it talks about the rise of ranch houses:
The increasing popularity and use of the automobile played a significant role in the development of the Ranch, which incorporated carports and garages into the main body of the house. The impact of the automobile is reflected in many features of the house. For example, the traditional front door sidewalk connects to the driveway rather than directly to the street as it had done in previous house types
It would have been nice to see the impact of the auto on housing form and site plan featured more prominently. Instead, it is more the level of background noise, framed up as "inevitable" - and maybe thereby a little invisible.
Another factor contributing to Grant’s development was the paving of streets in 1907 as the automobile became an increasingly popular mode of transportation. Prior to this, the streetcar was the most prominent form of transportation. It began in 1889 as horse-carts running between the downtown business district and the train depot. By 1890, electric streetcars hit the scene and expanded to the State Penitentiary and Rural Cemetery, but inevitably, the automobile lead to the streetcar’s decline and the last streetcar ceased operation in 1927.
The auto wasn't actually very popular in 1907, so that's a bit of a retro-reading anachronism. Several years later, in 1913 Salem still had only 358 automobiles registered with the State. The triumphalist narrative of autoism consistently places its dominance earlier than actually happened!

Since the neighborhood is completely gridded, a streetcar map of routes through the neighborhood might have been a useful addition. Even today, the neighborhood remains streetcar-scaled far more than auto-scaled.

Four Rail Lines in Grant?
December 16th, 1911
Going back to the "Oaks Addition" map reproduced in the pamphlet, one of the enduring mysteries about it is it shows two additional lines that don't show up elsewhere. Since the map is part of advertising, maybe these were concept plans only - but like the culvert, they're a pleasant mystery!
  1. The current Union Pacific alignment along 12th street
  2. A mystery streetcar alignment along Summer street
  3. A mystery streetcar alignment along Belmont and Nebraska, going out to Englewood School
  4. A buried Oregon Electric alignment along High Street and Broadway
General Grant
Rose Palmer Beecher
Hallie Ford, 2011
A final question. Strangely, there's nothing about how the neighborhood and school got the name Grant! I mean, we know the obvious reason: President Grant. But who and why picked the name for the school at that particular moment in Salem? It seems like that totally merits a paragraph or two in a pamphlet about the Grant neighborhood.

More than this, it is something to consider right at this moment because now that the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is essentially over, we should pay a whole lot more attention to the 150th anniversary of Reconstruction, that period after the war that has largely gone down the memory hole. Grant was a key President during the period, and its issues of Civil Rights, race, and economic opportunity loom unresolved today. (Was there redlining in Salem, for example?)

Back to more innocent things, though most of the housing types and development participated in larger, nation-wide trends, two elements are highlighted as especially distinctive: the frequency of wooden arch detailing, and a kind of compact Bungalow form possibly unique to the northern Willamette Valley. (Did this come from a local pattern book or architect? More detail would have been nice!)

Wooden arches are a distinctive neighborhood detail

A local bungalow form
The pamphlet, The Houses of Grant Neighborhood, has lots more to be sure!

The Grant Neighborhood Association annual meeting is on Thursday May 7th. The potluck starts at 6:30 p.m., and the meeting proper follows at 7 p.m., both in the Library of Grant Community School, 725 Market St NE.

AIA Peoples Choice Awards 2015

Earlier this week the Salem chapter of the Architectural Institute of America posted the winner in the 2015 "people's choice" awards.

More interesting perhaps than the winner this year is the way the six entries show a distinct lull in building and design.

Two of the non-winning entries aren't from Salem:
Others from Salem, two remodels and a generic car dealership:
And the winner:

Northwest Rehabilitation Associates Sports Clinic
via AIA Salem and CB|Two
Except for the McGilchrist and Roth building, they're all oriented towards parking lots rather than the sidewalk. This isn't a collection of urban forms.

Previous AIA Salem awards (2010, 2014, and the Columbarium should be mentioned) have featured a larger range of buildings. Since buildings take time to develop, we're still seeing effects from the Great Recession, when projects didn't start, and there's just simply not much of a pool of development projects to submit for awards.

I don't know that there's really much to say on this round.

I'm hopeful that once the Boise apartments finish, they'll lease up and jump start the other parts of the development. There's also the stalled project at State and Commercial, the various parts of the Fairview redevelopment, and the Goodwill project in West Salem. So hopefully there will be more to consider in 2016 and 2017.


Walker said...

Read "Sundown Towns" by James Loewen for more on redlining and its precursors ... Of course, all Oregon was redlined when you think about it, right there is the Constitution. Another good book on this is R. Gregory Nokes book "Breaking Chains" where an early black settler successfully sued for his freedom and his children. Talk about dropped down the memory hole .... This book was a revelation, explains a lot about Oregon.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

It happens that a friend of the blog is reading Breaking Chains at this very moment and has shared some of it. It is, as you say, important history that has been largely - and all too conveniently sometimes - forgotten.

It is always shocking to see that it wasn't until 1926 the "exclusion clause" in the Oregon Constitution was repealed.

Though I have not seen the Loewen book, it looks like a fine book. Summaries suggest, though, it's a national history with a special focus on Illinois. What would be especially interesting is something more narrowly focused on Salem in particular. Thanks for the reference!

Though today because of several scandals and all Grant is not regarded highly as President, this was not always so! When the school was renamed, it was said of him: "North school as a name had no educational, historical or ethical value, while the commemoration of tho life of one of America's greatest Presidents and generals Is In Itself a tribute to patriotism." When the proposal was first made at an Arbor Day celebration the year before, "Col, Hofer closed with an eulogy of General Grant, a man who had been showered with the wealth and honors of the whole world, but by misfortune had died poor, so poor that he had not even an officer's suit in which to be clothed for his burial, or a sword to lay upon his coffin."

See articles from April 13th, 1907, March 5th, 1908, and March 7th, 1908.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

From a review of Ron Chernow's new biography of Grant:

"But for reasons that are grimly relevant to this dark moment in American political life, Grant toppled from his pedestal. From his Gilded Age peak, Grant plunged and plunged, past mere mediocrity to ignominy. He became the drunken butcher, an uncouth rube who won the war only because he extravagantly sacrificed his soldiers, a doltish political patsy who presided over the most corrupt presidency in American history. Grant was slandered in service to the Lost Cause, the false narrative that Southerners adopted a century ago to explain away defeat and blot out the shame of slavery. One key element of the Lost Cause was to tar Grant in order to elevate the “honorable” Southern generals he crushed in battle....

Chernow’s book is a relentless artillery barrage of primary sources aimed at proving his several theses: Grant was the titanic genius of the Civil War, the greatest champion of Reconstruction, an underestimated president, one of the finest writers America ever produced, and a humble, charming, and decent man.

Maybe the book will key a reassessment of Grant.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Oh yeah, while on the topic of books, Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America is relevant re: Sundown Towns.)