Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Four Corners of Dud: At Commercial and Chemeketa Streets

We spend a fair amount of time here lamenting and lambasting the empty lots and surface parking lots downtown. Most of the voids had buildings on them at one time, and after fires or other building loss, owners haven't found sufficient incentive to rebuild on them.

There are other lots that have buildings on them, but are underwhelming, sterile, or just duds.

In thinking about the prospect of the UGM move, the old Gerlinger Building on the southwest corner (Firestone today) of Chemeketa and Commercial came to mind. Between the Chemeketa Parkade straddling the two east-side corners and the buildings on the west side, there are no empty lots here. But there are now four corners of dud. We haven't exactly trashed the intersection, and there are useful businesses on the corners, but the architecture is dull or unfriendly, especially with the parkade, and in total it is much less lively and interesting than it should be.

West side of Chemeketa & Commercial
from north, 1943 - detail
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
Of all the intersections in downtown, especially those that have buildings and are not empty, it is the one I most wished we still had around in an older form. High & Chemeketa is a close second, but that's more related to the voids on the old City Hall site, and the still-empty north transit mall. In any case, even with the too-big roads, Liberty & State as well as Liberty and Court retain most of their integrity and are intersections we should cherish and value while we still have them. By comparison, Chemeketa & Commercial is charmless and lifeless.

This is just a tour of the four corners and what used to be on them. It surfs around in time and is not trying to show what the intersection looked like at any one particular time or to trace out the specifics of building development or retail history. So it's a little ahistorical in that regard. But all four quarters were intact during the early- and mid-20th century, and talking about them together is not to create a chimera.

City of Salem Historic Buildings map, notes added
The Gerlinger Building (First National Bank), Southwest Corner

West side from south, 1887 - detail
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

First National Bank ad, March 1888

Southwest corner in National Register Nomination
for the South First National Bank Block, circa 1900

Without tower and corner windows
detail from 1943 image above
From the National Register Nomination on the south portion of the First National Bank Block, formerly Clockworks and now Wild Things Games:
As originally constructed, the Italianate business block combined with the three-story High Victorian Gothic First National Bank* (c. 1884-1885) at the corner of Commercial and Chemeketa Streets and the 120-foot long Starkey-McCully Building (1867), which extended south to the opposite end of the block, to create a street facade of exceptional extent and continuity....

The First National Bank Block was the first co-operatively financed redevelopment project in Salem. Those involved were W. N. Ladue, president of the Bank, who spearheaded the project, Benjamin Forstner, John Hughes, E. Lamport, Tilman Ford, and Mrs. A. A. Wheeler. As the Salem Statesman reported: "For several years the need of a building to fill up the yawning space between the Starkey block and the First National Bank building, on Commercial Street, was apparent. The two brick buildings mentioned are handsome structures, but the old wooden buildings between the two caused the entire block to present an ensemble that was not in the highest degree prepossessing"....

[T]he two-story block of seven stores was much in harmony with the three-story bank building owing to its similar three-bay serial composition and the use of cast iron columns, sheet metal cornice and pents, parapet cresting, and spandrel ornament of identical patterns....

In 1963, the five stores to the north and the bank building on the corner as well were demolished....
I am curious about when the tower was taken off and the corner windows remodeled to the 45 degree bay. There may be more to say about this lost building, its corner, and its name (see footnote).

State Insurance Building, Northwest Corner

State Insurance Building, northwest corner, 1946
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
Under Runaway Arts are the remnants of the first floor of this building. It is generally regarded as having been demolished, but this is not quite true. You can see the round cast-iron window surrounds and chimney bits in a couple of places on the Chemeketa Street side.

But here's a little bit of a puzzle. That mansardy third story always seemed awkwardly jammed on top of the other two levels, and here is evidence that it might not be integral to the original building.

An early two-story version of
State Insurance Building?
1887, detail
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
In that 1887 view from the south, it looks like there is a smaller, two-story version of the State Insurance Building. So that's something we'll see if we can chase down!

March, 1889
The State Insurance Building might be most famous as answer to a trivia question: Where did Herbert Hoover work when he lived in Salem? He was a clerk for his uncle's business in the building.

June 30th, 1892
Eldridge Block, Southeast Corner

Eldridge Block on southeast corner
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
See previous notes on the remnant Greenbaum's preserved, here and here. Also the corruption that basically killed the 1897 Legislative Session.

The fact that the Eldridge block (and the Hotel Argo) have been replaced by a parking structure is just endlessly demoralizing.

Hotel Argo, Northeast Corner

Hotel Argo on northeast corner
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
For an exhibit on Salem restaurants, the Mill showed a brochure from their collection:
One side of brochure for the Hotel Argo, Salem, Oregon. Advertisement explicitly states it only employed American women in their dining room.
Brochure, circa 1930 -WHC 83.043.0012.022
The Hotel was remodeled in 1938 with great hoopla about electrification, and the annex dated to 1928, so the brochure must be from right around 1930 if the annex could still be described as "new."

Big Spread in Statesman, August 24, 1938
In an October 2017 SJ story about the prospect of redeveloping the UGM block, they said
The ideal use of the land would be some sort of mixed-used development there with commercial and residential space, [Urban Development Director Retherford] said. Another idea that's been floated is a boutique hotel.

The terms of the purchase option agreements mandate the agency has to pay no less than $1.5 million for the Union Gospel Mission parcels and no less than $2 million for the parcels from Argo Investment Corp., John Saffron, and the Gassner-Saffron Trust.
The hotel market in downtown Salem is baffling. You'd think that between the State offices and Willamette University there would be more demand supporting a wider mix and greater number of hotel types and rooms. But this is apparently wrong. Maybe things are changing now. It is also interesting to see an "Argo Investment Corp.," and maybe if other parcels get purchased by the City we will learn whether this is merely a nod to the Hotel Argo or whether that group is continuous with investors who sold the hotel property two or more generations ago.

More than anything, it's the brooding autoism of the parking garage that kills the mood on the corners here. Even with the arcaded storefronts along Chemeketa underneath it, it just doesn't pull people from Liberty to Commercial. Hopefully as new things go in on the UGM site, we will figure out ways to knit that block better to those immediately east of it.

* But in the Nomination it's never called the "Gerlinger Building" nor is Gerlinger even mentioned. That seems like a meaningful silence. In the newspaper also, the late 19th and early 20th century mentions seem to call it the First National Bank, not "Gerlinger Block" or "Gerlinger Building." So how did the building get the name "Gerlinger Building"?
Gerlinger Building with misidentified location
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
It may not be a coincidence that the Library's photo contains an error.

There is an inferior copy of the circa 1900 image in the Library's Historic Photos collection, and its location is in error. Researchers at the Mill saw this in 2011 and said
This image, part of the Al Jones photo collection at the Willamette Heritage Center, is also posted on the Salem Online History Photo site. The site misidentifies the address of the building as SW corner of Commercial and Court."
The Bush & Brey Block is actually on the southwest corner of Commercial and Court.

Bush & Brey Block on southwest corner of Court & Commercial
(Salem Library Historic Photos - but it's also misidentified,
as the "Bush-Breyman" building!)
So what is the authority for calling the First National Bank the Gerlinger Building? There were a few other First National Banks, including the recently-demolished Belluschi Bank and the still standing Livesley Tower, and an alternate name might have a useful disambiguating function, but the name Gerlinger doesn't appear in some places you might expect it to be at least referenced, and if this misidentified photo is the origin, then it all seems a little suspect. 

Do you know anything about it? We'll update and edit the post if it turns out Gerlinger is a total red herring or fabrication.

Minor Update, June 7th, 2020

The building is pretty consistently called the "old First National Bank" building/block. Here's a clip from 1931.
"Old First National Bank" and "State Insurance Company"
March 28th, 1931


Ann Williams Thomas said...

Your history posts are always fascinating, thank you!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

In "What to do with Remnants of State Insurance Building?" (2021) there is more on the original two-story version of the State Insurance Building.