Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Belluschi Legacy in Danger: YWCA Building Deserves Attention

Just a periodic reminder that our stock of buildings designed by Oregon's leading modernist architect, Pietro Belluschi, and probably Oregon's greatest and most important architect period, is very seriously dwindling.

Front page today: Beginning the Demolition on
First National Bank (1947)

Medical Office on Center Street (1948)

Breitenbush Hall at the State Hospital (1950)
Entry in the HLC "This Place Matters" Contest
Here's the list of buildings recently standing and their status:

1. Willamette University Library/ Smullin Hall, 900 State St., 1938
2. Willamette University Science Building, 1941
3. Willamette University Baxter Complex, 1943
4. Willamette University Doney Hall, 1948

5. Oregon Statesman Printing Plant, 280 Church St. NE, 1944, at risk
6. Oregon State Hospital, Breitenbush Hall, 2600 Center St. NE, 1945-50, demolished
7. Clinic for Clark Campbell and Wulf, 1280 Center St. NE, 1948 demolished
8. First National Bank of Portland, 280 Liberty St. NE, 1947, in process of demolition
9. YWCA Building, 768 State St., 1946-52
10. Marion County Courthouse, 100 High St. NE, 1950

Post's Carnegie Library (1912), Belluschi's YWCA (1952),
and Belluschi/Doyle Pacific Telephone and Telegraph (1930)

One of the Reliefs:
Logging and Timber
At this point, we really need to be thinking about the still vacant YWCA building on State Street near Winter. It's our last and best remaining fine-grained building that is not on an institutional campus. There's the courthouse of course, but it's big and currently in use. It also doesn't relate to nearby buildings or to the street and urban fabric in the way the YWCA building does. The Statesman Printing Plant is generic and does not seem to sparkle with any Belluschi detailing; as it is redeveloped, it seems likely to be changed, and this does not seem as big a loss as the others. But the Y's porch, its cornice/clerestory line as it extends from the library next door, and the other nods to the library seem like valuable expressions of site-sensitive modernism we should be more interested in celebrating and preserving.

For more discussion of the bank see here. For all previous posts on Belluschi see here.

Update, July 23rd

In a history note from the Sunday paper, a few more details:
The bank replaced a Shell service station on the southeast corner of Liberty and Chemeketa streets NE....

The bank previously was on the first floor of the original First National Bank Building, now known as Capital Center. Work on the new site began Feb. 4, 1946, and it was completed the following year in March....

[I]n a statement given to the Oregon Statesman [sculptor Littman said]:

“Above all, I wished to keep my sculpture in harmony with the character of the building. From the structural point of view, I was concerned about creating a type of form appropriate to local light conditions; from the point of view of emotional expression, I strove to express man’s relations to his environment and livelihood and to show this relationship as an affectionate one.

“Continuity, harmonious relationship, between products of the state and the forms of the people involved in the cultivation of these products, are indicated in the ‘Hop Picker’ and in the ‘Horticulturalist’ (names of the reliefs). I have attempted to express the concept of natural strength, vitality and importance in the figure of the ‘Logger.’

“The third relief on each side shows an animal group, a cow and calf on the left and sheep on the right — livestock so intimately invested in the economy of this region.

“Our concern with learning, progress and the outside world is expressed in ‘Education.’ This represents a meditating girl student with a book and globe.

“Finally, in the highest row of carvings, I found it fitting to conclude the composition with the bolder geometric shapes of factories and mechanical equipment representing ‘Industry’ and ‘Commerce.’ ”

City treasurer Paul H. Hauser opened the first account in the new building, a deposit for the city of Salem.
Update 2, August 14th

via Twitter


Anonymous said...

I love historic preservation but come on, that marble building is hideous and it has been empty since 2000 according to that article. A huge building to be vacant for that long in the heart of downtown (any downtown) is the real problem.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The other posts on Belluschi have been critical of this building. It is - "hideous" is too strong! - problematic as you suggest. It is cold, unfriendly, and the lack of sidewalk level windows a real barrier. And you are right that it has been vacant for a long time without a successful adaptive reuse and/or remodel.

The focus here in this post is less on this particular building than on Belluschi's whole body of Salem work, which in the past five years has sustained real loss. It is the YWCA that seems most important now, and the argument here is that that building in particular deserves more attention and help.

Still, there is no approved building plan for the bank lot, and so it will be replaced in the short term at least by an empty lot. This also is a problem. The demolition would be easier to swallow if it were immediately being replaced by a strong new building and new commercial or residential activity.

Walker said...

Just another datum showing the need for a land-value tax rather than a property tax. Whoever is leveling that building is going to get a giant tax reward for flipping off the rest of Salem by replacing that building with nothing -- see the old City Hall lot for an example.

What Salem needs is to shift taxes so that idle and underused land being held for speculation is taxed as if it was fully developed, so that there is no reduction in carrying cost and no reward damaging the urban fabric and the neighboring businesses.

We also need a $300/monthly fee on all commercial storefronts in the downtown core, forgiven so long as the storefront is occupied with a business ... rising to $400/mo after 12 months of payments and $500/mo after 24 months. Take all the money raised and put it in a pot for low interest loans and grants to that same pool of landowners paying the fee --- in other words, charge unused storefronts a fee for the damage they cause to the vitality of downtown, but use the money solely to help those same landowners invest and improve downtown. This would strongly incent landowners to come down to the market in their rent demands rather than letting properties sit idle year after year.

Scott S said...

While the YWCA build may look vacant, it is owned by Willamette University and currently used mainly for storage. I know one of the issues/costs with the building is asbestos abatement before any real reuse could be accomplished.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with a few details from today's history piece in the paper.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with photo from the demolition.

Anonymous said...

The SJ just posted a history note about the YWCA!

Probably it'll be in the Sunday print edition.