Sunday, August 27, 2017

Eclipse and a Delightful Fullness in Downtown

The energy downtown was great!
Did you make it downtown for any part of the eclipse? The energy was terrific, with lots of sidewalk life!

On the lunch hour sidewalk seating at the restaurants was busy, but not uncomfortably crowded, and it was so great to see and feel the activity downtown.

At least in the informal aggregate assessment of the total bump in business done by the paper, it sounds like Friday and Saturday were mostly a bust, however; Sunday was better, and the post-eclipse crowd on Monday the best.

It's hard to say off-hand how it compares to other events, though, like an especially good First Wednesday, On Your Feet Friday, or the Hoopla. This would be nice context also to have. In absolute terms, it sounds like a disappointment and really undershot projections.

Monday was best
In any case, walking around downtown after the eclipse was wonderful, and the sidewalk life, with many tourists and residents, jazzed with vibrant energy. It was stimulating.

But it is possible that with all our attention directed towards the sun, we missed out partially on the full social dimension of the event.

There were lots of pictures of people at the eclipse circulating on social media, of course. Journalists and viewers took plenty of photos of the crowds at the Fairgrounds, the Capitol, and Willamette, especially. Some too of the crowds at Ankeny. But it turns out interest focused on a narrow band. There were very few images it seems of the campers in our parks. And most images were of people watching during the eclipse. I haven't seen much street photography of the crowds and restaurant lines in downtown Salem afterwards. Perhaps it was a mistake not to think more about documenting a wider range of activity. (Do you know of any people whose cameras were pointed more at earth and people than the sky?)

Elsewhere, on facebook the City did feature notes about both Peace Plaza and Mirror Pond. Peace Plaza was hopping, and that was nice to see. The activity at Mirror Pond still seemed rather secondary and sparse.

More of this at Peace Plaza! - via City of Salem
In any case, there were other things to notice, too.

The demolition crater at Belluschi's First National Bank
The Belluschi bank was all down, and only excavation and debris removal seemed to be left.

Here's a similar scene during excavation for its construction in 1946. But notice the continuous void now - no Old City Hall, no Capital Journal building, just surface parking lot.

The old Capital Journal Building and Belluschi Bank lot, 1946
Old City Hall in background
Salem Library Historic Photos
Up State Street, a fellow eclipse traveler pointed out the whimsical swoop in the railing on Belluschi's YWCA building. That's very playful detail in contrast with the general severity of the modernist mode! The bank building had nothing like that, I think. That's another sign of the greater humanism in the YWCA design.

Swoopy railing detail, water damage above
But up above, under the eaves, there is water damage on the concrete, and the building needs attention. Beyond just its physical state, it could be so much more. A reader pointed out that Willamette is using it for storage, so it is not completely vacant or abandoned, but it is one of very few downtown buildings featuring the sociability of a porch entry, and there could be so much more activity here to complement Hallie Ford, the Capitol, and Willson Park. Unfortunately, asbestos needs to be abated there for any kind of business or other human occupancy, and that is a brake on redevelopment.

Sometime in the past few months, PGE cleaned off the moss on the substation by the Union Street Railroad Bridge, and you can now see clearly what must be a Trojan-era logo!

The substation itself is not at all appealing, but the legacy concrete and brick work on the enclosure is more interesting than pure function required it to be.

PGE substation on Union and Water Streets
At the same time, there's another instance of ornamental emptiness in the small plaza on the corner at the bridgehead. (And of course the surface lot beyond that to the east on Front Street.)

Ornamental Emptiness: Plaza on Union at Water - via streetview
Finally, it was great to see the new murals all completed in the full context of tourism and street life. However, even with Rudy's reconfigured main entry to the restaurant space under the parkade, Mirror Maze remains deeply underwhelming. By contrast Waldo Stewards looks resplendent and like a solid win.

Waldo Stewards complete
Apart from the astronomy of it all, what urban details did you notice during your eclipse experience?


Jim Scheppke said...

The activity at the Peace Plaza was due to a program that the Salem Public Library sponsored there. The Library gave away 700 pairs of eclipse glasses at the event. Peace Plaza was also packed with hundreds of children and parents on August 17th when the Library sponsored a huge party for children completing the Summer Reading Program. So the Library is making use of the Peace Plaza for large community events. I am told that if the library bond measure passes on November 7th that part of the $18.6 million raised by election will be used to repair and "activate" Peace Plaza. Not sure what "activate" means exactly, but it sounds good. I hope readers of this blog will plan to vote 'Yes'!

Walker said...

"Peace Plaza" is intentionally hostile and unwelcoming because it was made to be so. It's the no-man's land between the City Hall Bunker and Library Bunker, with no comfortable seating or amenities that would invite anyone to linger and relax or read there -- despite the library. The designers could have been designing for the film versions of Lord of the Rings -- imposing architecture meant to strike terror into the hearts of mere humans.

The whole complex is a concrete fortress between two high-speed freeways, it is so unwelcoming that the little cafe that abuts the plaza keeps failing because there is not enough foot traffic to sustain it. The streets are very dangerous --- there is no way for anyone not in an auto to safely access from Commercial, and the crosswalk on Liberty is a sick joke.

Personally, I hope the library can be saved but when the cops leave, the north bunker should be razed and we start all over. It's even possible to fantasize about a large, mixed-use block, top floor condos, affordable apartments, and several bottom floors for city office buildings.