Monday, May 20, 2019

Marion Car Park has a Fancier Pedigree than we Thought

Well, we might think that we have an accurate count of buildings associated with Pietro Belluschi, but that would apparently be wrong. Hiding in plain sight is a minor building with ties to him.

Marion Car Park from inside the Conference Center
Guess what?! It's a Belluschi!
It looks like the Marion Car Park, which will be demolished, was designed by Belluschi's firm. A brief note from November 1950 says it will be "of modernistic lines...[and] designed by Pietro Belluschi, Portland architect."
November 14th 1950

At the Library
(But will it be weeded?)
In her 1994 book, Pietro Belluschi: Modern American Architect, Meredith Clausen does not discuss it or list it in the appendix of "major buildings." She does not consider it important. It's a parking garage, after all.*

The Downtown Historic District of 2001 cited it as "contributing" for an entirely different set of reasons and not once mentioned Belluschi. They tie it to mid-century autoism, to early State history and the Holman Building, and to the birth of our historic preservation efforts:
The expansive two-story Marion Car Rental and Park structure, which occupies nearly a quarter of a block, was built on the site of the historic three-story Holman Building, constructed in the mid-1850s. The Holman Building is best remembered today as the meeting place of the Oregon State Legislature from 1857 to 1876 and also as the object of one of the first organized public efforts to preserve an historic building in downtown Salem....In late 1949, property owners Hawkins and Roberts announced their intention to tear down the Holman Building to make way for a filling station and parking lot. In response, Oregon State Archivist and champion of historic preservation, David Duniway led a local group that attempted to persuade the property owners to retain the building and convert it into a civic auditorium and museum. Duniway and his group, although unsuccessful in meeting their stated purpose, received local publicity for their effort, thus raising the awareness of Salem citizens about their history and material evidences of it.
Any association with Belluschi seems to have been lost.

So you might say, borrowing with good reason from art history, that the garage more accurately should be attributed to "atelier of Pietro Belluschi" rather than directly to the master. Who knows what his level of personal involvement would be on a job like this. Firms are big, and this is the kind of thing more junior members would execute. Even on "major" buildings, it takes a team, and we have oversimplified with our cult of the genius architect when we ascribe buildings to one person. Probably there aren't a lot of direct Belluschi fingerprints on this one.

At least here, this finding does not change any opinion about the decision to approve the parking garage's demolition. Parking garages do not help with the urban fabric; even with those funny retail or service bays underneath, this one is a shabby null, and this block should have something taller and more active on it. Though it is an early example of the parking garages from the autoist era, our autoism is not by itself something to celebrate, and there are other, better exemplars of autoist development and urban form if we decide it is important to preserve some of them.

We're still waiting! November 16th, 1967
Later in his career, he talked about the scourge of autoism.

Again, it's Belluschi's YWCA building especially that deserves more attention. Apart from those buildings on the Willamette University Campus and the Courthouse, the YWCA is the most outstanding remaining example of his buildings in town. With the SJ plant more utilitarian and at risk; Breitenbush Hall, the medical clinic, and the First National Bank each demolished; and the Car Park to be demolished, the Y will soon be the last one standing downtown.

In the meantime, it sounds like the Historic District information is being updated, perhaps even with a fully revised and expanded Nomination Form, and this attribution would be one of the corrections to make.

For previous notes on Marion Car Park, on the foreclosure and successive rounds at a demolition permit: early July 2014, late July 2014, March 2015, and December 2018. For all notes about Belluschi see here.

* Significantly, Clausen does list the Esther Foster Dress Shop as a "major" project of Belluschi's. It was at 260 High Street NE where the Transit Mall is today. It still is not clear whether this was a new building or merely an interior shop remodel. Along with the bank addition for Ladd & Bush, also included as "major," it's one of the totally lost works. But if a retail shop counts as "major," that tells us by comparison a little more about how "minor" is the Car Park.

Half-page ad for Esther Foster's - May 3, 1953

Update, July 16th

Here we go! Bye-bye!

via Twitter

Update 2, July 18th

After a couple years off, coinciding with the new City website, the Historic Landmarks Commission a few days ago published the latest edition of their quarterly newsletter. They feature the Marion Car Park and its tie to Belluschi.

Now they write about the Car Park!


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with a note on the commencement of demolition!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with HLC newsletter clip