Thursday, September 15, 2016

At the Historic Landmarks Commission: A Footbridge, a Caboose, a Mid-Century Contractor

The Historic Landmarks Commission meets tonight, and the main course is the proposed clinic for the corner of Mission and Liberty. There's not much to add to the previous discussion. (There might be more to say on the zoning matter at the Planning Commission in a few days, however.)

So let's talk about the other stuff!

The new Court Street footbridge will have a different alignment
The new Court Street footbridge over Mill Creek will have a significantly different alignment, passing farther south of the old sidewalk and bridge, and with a little bit of swerve on the sidewalks. It's also going to be a little bit wider.

So that was interesting.

The bridge report table of contents!
But there's a crazy amount of engineering reportage that seemed to be required. Holy smokes that looks like a textbook instance of unnecessary red tape and administrative apparatus. It totally looks like something that should be simple made complicated. It's just a footbridge. Does it really require all that? Maybe it does, but wow.

Mission Mill 100 year flood plain in red
The caboose for Mission Mill seems like it will be a nice addition, especially for rail fans. It also has some red tape stuff, but its amount seemed reasonable. One of the factors is the extent of the 100-year flood elevation. The caboose will have to be placed one foot above the "base flood elevation" - so I guess that's the 100 year line. It's not important to know exactly. But it is interesting, then, to see that the Boon House, the Parsonage, the Jason Lee House, the Warehouse Building, and part of the Dye House are all in the flood plain. Was all that flooded in the 1996 flood? Yikes!

Also on the agenda is a nomination for a "local landmark" and there are some great tidbits in it.

Mark Hatfield observed stars here?!
Somehow it never registered that the funny little observatory at Waldo and High Streets was Mark Hatfield's growing up! Maybe the usual suspects haven't written about it. Do you know of any published discussion? It would be nice to confirm this as more than secret neighborhood lore. At any rate, if true this is neighborhood trivia and history that deserves more visibility!

Viesko Obituary, April 18th, 1968
(cut-n-paste, not original layout)
The nominated house is associated with Edward Viesko, a contractor also associated with several significant mid-century area buildings, the Meier & Frank building, Marion County Courthouse, and several at Willamette.

Old High School circa 1907, demolished for Meier & Frank
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
When a developer or builder is long gone, we laud them! But they also cut down trees, demolished historic structures, accommodated the then-new mid-century mania for parking. They commissioned many of the same sins we lament today, but they benefit from the patina of age and distance. Their legacy is all burnished up.

Old Courthouse circa 1904, demolished for new Courthouse
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
All this is also a reminder that our approach to Historic Districts and Historic Preservation is too often still a "Defense against Developer Dark Arts," an attempt to insulate against change, and a framework that is insufficiently developed to actually preserve important things. Buildings in the flood plain, masonry buildings unreinforced for the earthquake, the final remaining buildings of key State insitutions - we have a lot of preservation needs that aren't in fact being addressed by the framework. The band-aid scale is problematic: We can tell you not to install vinyl windows, but we can't give you the resources to save a building or to reinforce it against catastrophe.

Update, February 13th, 2019

In a piece on rental reform at the Legislature, the paper's got a photo of the Viesko House.

This isn't much of a real problem, but it's worth noting. Back in December 2016 Council and the Historic Landmarks Commission approved "Local Landmark" Status.

Was it always a rental? Now it's a certainly a rental.

If it was owner-occupied, the owners either flipped it or vacated it to rent it out.

The historic designation looks more like a move to improve cash-flow than something for preservation. It looks a little like they were gaming the system a little.

Just an interesting side note.