Wednesday, December 2, 2015

City Proposes to Demolish 1908 Le Breton Hall at Fairview

Well this sucks, and if it is the first official act of the Steve Powers administration at City Hall, it's a terrible portent.

Citing higher than expected preservation costs, the City is proposing to demolish the oldest structure at Fairview, Le Breton Hall.

Le Breton Hall shortly after construction at
the Oregon State Institution for the Feeble-Minded
circa 1908 - WU Archives
From a "Future Report" on the park, dated December 7th for Monday's Council meeting:
Staff recommends that the Agreement be amended to require the Seller to deconstruct the building [Le Breton Hall] prior to transferring the land to the City. This recommendation is based on the high cost ($140,000) to secure and weatherize the building; the ongoing annual cost to secure building; the anticipated high cost to renovate the building for an as of yet undetermined use; the lack of funding source for the renovation, and; the lack of funding source to maintain and operate the building after it has been renovated.
Le Breton Hall was designed by Walter D. Pugh, who was also responsible for the Old City Hall (1893), for the Grand Theatre (1900), and the Bush-Brey and Bush-Breyman blocks (1889) on the west side of Commercial between State and Court. Though his architecture isn't always first rate, his buildings have played an important role in the second and third generation of Salem development and history. As an increasing number of buildings at Fairview are demolished, the remaining ones take on a greater importance. Le Breton is the oldest building and the primary one with direct ties to the first stage of the institution, a now embarrassing one in which it seemed reasonable to talk of the "feeble-minded." Scrubbing this history for a park seems mean and cheap.

Oregonian, January 8th, 1911 (Le Breton, top left)
This site is challenging for historic preservation, but feels like the City is now pivoting much too quickly from an interest in preservation to the park and to demolition.

Hopefully more will come out about this change of heart.

(For previous notes on the Fairview parcel, the demolitions, and the park, see here.)


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added a clip from the Oregonian)

Anonymous said...

This is disappointing indeed. Earlier this month at the "Salem History Matters" blog and radio show, our Historic Preservation Officer Kimberli Fitzgerald said:

"We were pleased to learn that during National Historic Preservation Month in May 2016, Joy will once again be leading a hands-on window repair workshop. The attendees will be working on a window at the new city-owned historic building, LeBreton Hall on the former Fairview Training Center campus in southeast Salem."

Guess that's not going to happen?

Kurt said...

Of course Powers will go along with this.
He was hired because he is a "team player".
Just like the case of the Deaf School, any action that stands in the way of financial gain by developers or special interests, regardless of the positions of the so called "Salem Historical Preservation Commission" position (talk about irrelevancy!!) will be met with the legal and public relations forces needed to achieve demolition.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I hope I get tone and nuance right here.

I am very skeptical of the speed with which the City has gone from "let's preserve it in a park" to "it's too expensive." In the Staff Report, the only cost that has an actual increase attached to it is the "weatherization" cost. The other costs are - or should have been - anticipated and do not seem to have changed. So as a total proportion of the preservation cost, an increase in the "weatherization" budget isn't all that large.

So more information needs to come out about this change of heart.

However, this site is more challenging than the blind school site. The corner of Mission and Church has foot traffic and auto traffic, and it seems impossible that a use for Howard Hall could not have been found. If "location, location, location" is paramount, Howard Hall had a lot of things going for it.

By contrast, as Alex rightly points out in a comment on another post, access to the Fairview parcel is problematic. It does not have nearly so favorable of a location - at least not until Fairview gets built out. And by surrounding Le Breton with a park instead of the "village center" that was in the original master plan, there won't be much in the way of economically meaningful adjacent activities and attractors that would make it easier to find an economically viable reuse plan for Le Breton.

So a reuse plan for Le Breton Hall has always seemed like a bigger hurdle, and it got harder with the park, than a reuse plan for Howard Hall.

And unlike the Hospital, at least some genuine, good-faith effort has gone into trying to find reuse activities for buildings at Fairview. Crucially, "they have actually tried."

And if a good-faith effort fails, then we should not censure them in the same way we might censure those who didn't even try.

At the moment, while the move to demolish Le Breton is disheartening, it is also something for which a certain agnosticism is prudent, and we should not rush to certainty on this or that detail or total judgement.

But I do hope the decision to demolish can be delayed. It seems hasty.

We are erasing so many traces of the state institutions that were absolutely central to Salem in the late 19th and especially the early 20th century.

Unknown said...

LE BRETON HALL and the FAIRVIEW COMMUNITY PARK. The Community Park has been an important element in the Morningside 360 Neighborhood Plan that we worked on the last five years. It was adopted by City Council in August 2015. The park was shown as an identical "asterisk" to the Parks Master Plan, because a site had not been identified. However, for the past 18 months Sustainable Fairview has been proposing the Crescent at Fairview as the site of originally a 35 acre Community Park. It's currently being worked on in a series of four monthly work sessions with the public, interacting with a landscape architect consultant (who also headed up the Minto Island Park Plan). Morningside Neighborhood Association learned that the City was interested in saving and reusing three buildings in The Crescent. LeBreton Hall was the administration building, and would make fine museum. Another building has an indoor swimming pool, and Salem badly needs that. So Morningside N.A. endorsed locating the Park at Fairview. The City went ahead and negotiated that land purchase (SDC funds) and the Master Plan process started. As recently as two weeks ago, at the first Planning Meeting at Pringle Hall the LeBreton Hall was presented as being a building the City and the community is interested in saving and "adaptive re-use" into a suitable use for that elegant building. So it is a shock to read in "Breakfast On Bikes" that there is now a city staff report recommending demolition, or what they call "de-construction". Too bad that cannot consult with the neighborhood association, and the public participants in the current planning process that makes it the centerpiece or jewel in the Fairview Community Park.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Interesting about the swimming pool. The building that houses it is already approved and slated for demolition, I think. The purchase agreement only contained language about preserving Le Breton: 4.3.1 says "With the exception of the LeBreton building, Seller shall demolish all structures, including foundation and basement walls..." Do you know otherwise?

Unknown said...

I ride by Old Strong Rd. every morning on my way to work. The building with the pool is gone. I had high hopes the Le Breton building would at least remain...


Unknown said...

Sustainable Fairview let us down with their 15 years of benign neglect. If you leave the roofs to leak the interiors deteriorate, leave the heat off and mold forms, let people come in and rip out hardwood flooring and anything of value, and you have nothing left to really save. At least it the cost to restore the buildings once you have let them get to that stage it is too late. North Campus is a different case. The state has kept the heat on, and generally (with a couple of exceptions) the roofs are intact. There are opportunities for adaptive reuse there ... about half a million sq.ft. Hillcrest School will be another opportunity, in three years, when that closes.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

From Council Agenda: "This item is being pulled due to a revision in the cost estimate necessary to deconstruct the LeBreton building and abate any hazardous material."