Monday, June 18, 2018

Veterans Hall Litigated, Abandoned Before Bergs Market at New Howard School Site

It turns out the proposed site for Howard Street Charter School was messy and contested!

As World War II was beginning to wind down in 1945, Salemites planned for a memorial to disabled veterans at Church and Marion. The project went sideways, and after a decade, as well as a major shift in urban form because of autoism, the Berg Market opened and retreated to the back of a large parking lot.

A friend of the blog with an interest in the site shared their research over the weekend, and thanks to it we can trace out a little more of the site's history.

Back in March of 1945 the Disabled American Veterans announced a campaign for a Memorial Hall at Church and Marion. The main entry would be on Church Street, and a side entry would be on Marion Street. It would have an auditorium, banquet hall, meeting rooms, and a Gold Star plaque listing the dead. George Weeks was the architect, and the first estimated budget and fund-raising goal was for $50,000.

December 1st, 1946
The Capitol Mall at this time had not grown very far. In this aerial photo from 1948 you can see only the State Library. The houses in "Piety Hill" are still mostly intact. This was the immediate neighborhood for downtown, and when we eliminated them for the single-use government buildings, we took away many customers from downtown. It wasn't just competition from the shiny new malls on the edges, it's also that we strip-mined the residential core of downtown and eliminated the immediate customer base. (More on that here and here.)

Capitol Mall Area (Church & Marion with arrow)
May 1948, Salem Library Historic Photos
In 1948 note things still standing: Old Salem High School (Macy's/Meier & Frank site), Sacred Heart Academy, the old site of First Presbyterian. Other downtown churches are also still intact. (The full image shows more of the WU campus and many other interesting details!)

The Hall broke ground in June, 1948, just after the photo was taken. But after about a year, the project ran into trouble. Costs had escalated, the contractor wasn't getting paid and the planning committee fractured internally. There may have been other problems also.

Trouble! October 4th, 1949
Abandoned Hall and houses - Sanborn Fire Map, 1950
(It's rotated 90 degrees, so Marion is on the left,
Union on the right, Church at top, alley on bottom)
It got messy and went to court.

In court! July 17th, 1952
Finally, after a few years of wrangling, the lot sold in March, 1953. In turn it was sold to Meier & Frank, apparently as part of assembling a superblock (across four regular blocks) when they were planning for the new store.

After a year or two and the completion of the store and parking garage, to Elmer Berg Meier & Frank leased the half-block, which they no longer needed. The architect for the new building was James Payne, whose firm Payne, Settecase, and Smith later worked on our Civic Center, on the telephone building that is now Hallie Ford Museum of Art, and several other downtown buildings. 

New Grocery Store - July 12, 1955
November 23rd, 1955
While the building itself seems to be just a generic box, an enclosure for a warehouse or grocery store or government office, over the course of the decade as plans shifted from Memorial Hall to supermarket, the building concept retreated from the sidewalk to sit behind a large parking lot.

Here are two views from the late 1950s. (It's no later than December 1958, when First Presbyterian was moved. You can see the new Meier & Frank, a new St. Joseph's, and Sacred Heart Academy is still intact.)

The current building site, late 1950s
Salem Library Historic Photos

Possibly from the same aerial photo session, late 1950s
Salem Library Historic Photos
The Bergs sign on corner
There is no evidence of the foundation for the Veterans Hall, and it's all paved over for parking. The building sits well back from the sidewalk and Marion Street, and the back end nearer Union is very much a loading dock and not all oriented towards the remaining residential area to the north. In concept it is wholly autoist.

So this is an interesting moment in building siting. There's not even a side entry on Church Street. The door faces Marion Street and looks out over a quarter-block of parking lot. The grocery stores we have looked at previously had parking lots, but they still had entries that greeted the sidewalk. The new Safeway on 13th and Marion completed in 1952/53 also appears to have been on this plan as well. This is a transition in our autoism we should note.

A few years later, prospects for the sale of the store is announced.

November 5th, 1959
We start churning through grocery owners and brands: Berg, McKay, Mayfair, Quality Food Market, Food Warehouse. There might be others. In the 80s the First Christian Church bought the half-block and leased it to the State for the Department of Energy. And here we are now.

No comments: