Thursday, September 21, 2017

History Notes: A Wine Bar for Downtown, Letters to Asahel Bush

The Historic Landmarks Commission meets tonight, Thursday the 21st, and their agenda brings news about a new wine bar proposed for downtown.

They have another interesting item. The Mill's "History in the News" as well as a major project on the letters of Asahel Bush are also worth noting. (All of them grapple in one way or another with the question of how best to retrieve and make lively the past.)

Starkey McCully Block

Proposal for a new wine bar and apartments
At the HLC is a proposal with a varied package of changes for the northmost third of the Starkey-McCully Block, one of the very oldest intact commercial buildings downtown.

Starkey-McCully Block and First National Bank
(The tower and Gerlinger Block on the corner are long gone,
but you can still read Lamport in the sidewalk!)
Image circa 1887, Salem Library Historic Photos
You may remember that the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation bought part of it, the southmost two-thirds, a couple years ago and there was a debate about whether Urban Renewal subsidy should be going to a non-profit that would not be paying property taxes for the "tax increment." (Here, here, and here.)

The ownership of that northern third was separate and was not in the sale to the SKEF, and now either through a different sale or merely that the current owners wish to upgrade, the HLC is looking at a
Major Historic Design Review of a proposal to add new signage, replace the front storefront, and construct a new addition on the rear of the Starkey/McCully Building (1867), a historic contributing resource within the Salem Downtown National Register Historic District...
On the whole, Staff Recommendation is for approval.

But it's a little bit of a mullet! The "business in front," including the new signage, is a set of quiet changes that mostly enhance and do not disturb the historical qualities of the architecture and function of the building. They propose to paint directly on the building the words "Bar Vino" and in the proposal appeal directly to old-time signage also painted on buildings - much like the ghost signs we can still see around town. The wine bar itself looks like a very nice use for an old historic building, a space that will have lots of character. (Though it will be interesting to see if it can escape the fate of Clockworks, which closed next door a few years ago. Commercial Street here has seemed much quieter than Liberty, and just one block has seemed to make a lot of difference. Hopefully things have changed!)

Concept for wine bar, plan view
The "party in back" comprises a much larger set of changes, and the Staff Report recommends at least one change and condition on the approval.
The applicant proposes to...remove the historic non-contributing additions on the rear portion of the property, and add a three-story addition with penthouse level abutting the alley. The new addition would be connected to the existing 1867 building by a courtyard at the second floor.
Later additions on alley to be demolished,
replaced by three new apartments in a modern style
By bolting three new apartments onto the historic structure, they will add a small amount to the stock of downtown housing and the corresponding activity of residents. The proposal calls for metal siding, and the Staff Recommendation notes that no downtown building in the Historic District has metal cladding. It recommends instead to reuse bricks from demolition - "to preserve this historic material" - and to employ them in siding the new addition.

The penthouse won't be visible from Commercial Street and in general the change in architectural style will be visible mainly from the alley, not from the main streets in the Historic District.

All in all this seems like a good compromise between preservation and modernization, and crucially adds to the stock of downtown housing (even if these look deluxe).

Falk House

Falk House of circa 1876 - via Discover
Also on the agenda is the Falk House on the hill just above French Press in Candalaria.

With full front porch - and a bike! Circa 1900 - via Staff Report
a proposal to
A proposal to install a new retaining wall and fencing, and replace the front porch, deck, doors and windows at the Falk House (1876)
From the 1994 Historic Resource Inventory:
The Falk house was reportedly built around 1876 by a member of a Smith family. The property has ties to the Fabritus Smith family and to Samuel Clarke, both early farmers in the area. In 1891 Samuel A. Clarke is noted in the Salem City Directory as residing west of Commercial Street, one and one-half miles south of the Willamette Hotel (in downtown Salem). Samuel Clarke was a noted journalist, author of "Pioneer Days of Oregon History", editor of the Oregonian for a short time, editor of the Oregon Statesman for several years, and editor and owner of a newspaper called the Willamette Farmer for many years when that journal had a larger circulation than any other agricultural paper ever published in Oregon. Clarke is believed to have named his fruit farm in the area "Candalaria".
Commercial Street was the old highway, and it runs in a little depression between the rise on which the Smith-Ohmart House sits and the larger rise of the Candalaria hill. And it wouldn't be surprising for Fabritus or another member of his family to build another farmhouse just across the way.

The proposal itself looks like a solid act of restoration and the Staff Report recommends approval straight-up.

History in the News

Last year in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, Elisabeth Walton Potter wrote an appreciation for fifty years of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Elisabeth Walton Potter
on the National Historic Preservation Act
Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2016
She's been writing herself about architectural history for even longer than that law!

I don't know if this was her first piece, but back in Marion County History, volume 8, 1962, she wrote about the form of the Jason Lee House.

Elisabeth Walton Potter in 1977 teaching at the Boon House
(University of Oregon)
She - and her matchless local expertise - will be a panelist for the Mill's "History in the News" tonight, Thursday the 21st.
As national controversy rages over whether and how to remove statues memorializing the Confederacy, communities across the country are beginning to consider the meaning and significance of public memorials, buildings, streets, schools, and teams in their own places. Oregon State University, for example, is in the process of conducting community meetings to reevaluate buildings named after a pro-slavery newspaperman, a Confederate army soldier, and a coach who resisted desegregation of the basketball team.

This History in the News panel discussion considers these debates over historical monuments and memory, and the broader questions they raise about the complex history of colonialism, racism and white supremacist imagery in American culture.
It'll be interesting if any local examples surface. Most of Salem's history has been idealized, and there are lots of places where we don't fully grapple with the ambiguity of history. Asahel Bush and his pro-slavery, pro-Union perspective seems like a central ambiguity in our history we haven't adequately accounted for in our official and popular histories.

In their transition from John Calhoun College to Grace Hopper College, Yale articulated a strong heuristic about a person's "principal legacy." At the University of Oregon, they retained Deady Hall, but renamed Dunn Hall to Unthank Hall. Without directly responding to Yale's example, this also seems to express a distinction between a person's principal legacy and any secondary legacies they may have left. Maybe it's early to say there is a settled consensus, but it sure looks like an emerging consensus on how to handle these things. By this standard it is easy to conclude that Bush's principal legacy stands on other grounds. It does not seem like there are any streets or buildings or other monuments here to people whose principal legacy was devoted to slavery or to other evil.

Letters to Asahel Bush

Speaking of Judge Deady and Bush, all too quietly the the other day the Salem Art Association announced a huge new project.

"There seems to be an impression going abroad
that you are secretly an abolitionist."
Judge Deady to Asahel Bush, February 9th, 1857
They're publishing images and transcriptions of letters to Asahel Bush.
The handwritten letters to Asahel Bush II in the 1850s and early 1860s were preserved by the Bush Family following his death in 1913. During the Works Progress Administration’s Historic Records Survey in the late 1930s, these historic letters were rediscovered and transcribed. Multiple copies of these typewritten transcriptions were gathered into sets by correspondent and archived at the University of Oregon Library, the Oregon State Library and later at the Bush House Museum. Continuing efforts to reproduce and interpret these historic letters were undertaken by a University of Oregon photo-reproduction project in 1942 and the Oregon Historical Society’s microfilming project in 1964.
The Art Association, which operates Bush House, got some new grants to publish it all to the web.

Browsing it is not yet the easiest thing, as it does not seem they have run things through OCR, so there's not yet a database of the text itself. Not one public, anyway. The interface is a little primitive, and you have to go by date or by author. The summaries of the letters may also err in a irenic and harmonizing tone, and it seems very possible that there is more controversy or even icky behind some of them.

Unfortunately the letters Bush himself wrote are not included, so the correspondence is all a very one-sided. It's a little like reading twitter between a public account and a locked account. Hopefully they will be able at some point to secure permissions for the other side of correspondence when it still exists.

Even one-sided, the trove is still amazing.

If you are interested in early Oregon or early Salem history, this will be invaluable.

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