Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Historic Landmarks Commission to Consider old Leslie Junior High

Just what counts as adequate "mitigation" for the demolition of old Leslie Junior High is on the agenda tomorrow night the 16th at the Historic Landmarks Commission.

Leslie Junior High School, 1927 - 1937 (2014)
The Staff Report calls the demolition a "Level Three Adverse Effect" and summarizes what is required. The HLC will evaluate the School District's proposal and decide whether to write a letter of support, to write a letter of concern or outright opposition, or to be silent. The HLC has no formal approval function, however.

Mitigation for Loss of Leslie Junior High School
The District proposes to
create a video to memorialize and document the history of the building and site. [The District] will also include educational information on site inside the new construction, such as a display panel. Your organization is invited to participate in the memorial project. Some ways to particpate include [etc.]
I read the tone of this as weird. It's like a form letter! "Your organization" is not very specific and it also looks like they are trying to offload responsibility for the project onto the HLC. It does not seem to be a very thoughtful overture.

It will be interesting to see if the HLC has a similar reading or otherwise has any criticism.

Picking the future site for Leslie
March 6th, 1926
Hopefully they will give due weight to the site and to the politics and geography/sociology of the school in 1926.

We probably have too much of a focus on the style of the building, its bricks and form and architect, and not enough on these other factors of its history. (Previous note here.)

In reading a little of the history, I learned that the District was explicitly naming schools after ministers! The relevant fact about Parrish and Leslie is not necessarily that they were early settlers, but that they were ministers.

One LTE claimed there was an interesting meteor or erratic in the nearby field and suggested it would make a good cornerstone. Is there a story about the cornerstone here?

Tuxedo Park was distant enough from the built up portion of the city that connections to the sewer would be expensive. And there were several gullies running through the field, and there are seasonal streams then that have been filled in. And what about the name, "Tuxedo Park," what aspirations and signalling is implied in that?

Finally, consider, too, how little really we remember about East/Washington School. Would we consider as adequate "mitigation" a 16mm film about the school made just before its demolition? (And is any video format today likely readable in 100 years, if we are still around? What meets an archival standard?)

East School (later Washington School), circa 1886
on the current site of the Safeway
between 12th/13th and Marion/Center
Salem Library Historic Photos
A good rule of thumb would be to ask what we wished we knew about that school, and then ensure that we document the equivalent for Leslie.

Historic Districts and Attempts to Insulate Neighborhoods from Change

Existing Historic Districts in red, potential new ones in yellow
Also on the agenda is the 2019 Annual Report and 2020 Work Plan. In the context of a discussion of the process for an updated Historic Preservation Plan is a map of potential new historic districts. In addition to their laudable aims, these look a little also like an attempt to gum up, or "protect against," any new zoning arising out of Our Salem or HB 2001.

Take the square in West Salem. That section in the Edgewater District is very much part of this circa Kingwood Park development from about 1910. And it is increasingly clear that historic districts - as opposed to individual listings - have the same primary function as building restrictions. That is, Historic District exercise some of the same exclusionary functions and are a licit successor in our contemporary zoning schemes. (See notes on the 1920s history of Salem zoning here.)

Original plat for Kingwood Park, 1910 - Polk County Assessor
A happy feature, maybe not quite a primary purpose, but one that really motivates people, does not relate to understanding history, but in the guise of "preservation" instead denies the historical reality of change. It acts to exclude undesired/undesirable neighbors, whether they be in commercial or residential configurations. Historic Districts are fundamentally exclusionary. Preservation has come to mean exclusion. The technical word is "compatible" development, but compatibility has strong subtexts about cost, wealth, and density. The rhetoric we often see about "invasion" or "encroachment," and notions of stylistic purity, are all coded and in key ways displaced from the actual point of exclusion - which is to insulate the neighborhood from change and from the wrong kind of people or buildings.

Kingwood Park ad touting building restrictions
January 2nd, 1911
But as we face a housing crisis and climate crisis, insisting on widespread preservation of 20th century development patterns is counter-productive. Note that this new yellow outline also overlaps with our current Edgewater Mixed Use Zone, and this is an area we are already considering for change. Too much of Historic Preservation is structured around a fear of change and an attempt to deny historical processes. And the way it's currently structured, it doesn't do enough to stop demolitions. (Again see here for a critique of our current understanding of Historic Preservation.) I believe we should designate fewer historic resources, keep them at the level of individual lots or buildings, not whole neighborhoods, and offer much greater support to those we decide are truly important. Quality, not quantity.

Other Projects

Downtown utility wrap project locations
In the report there's also a map of the downtown utility wraps, and it would be nice to have an equivalent map for the SESNA project. They haven't said anything about the wrap at State and Cottage on "indigenous art," and that will be especially interesting once it goes in.

Two new projects are very exciting. Apparently the 990 Broadway project is on hold for a bit, and they will be digging at the original site of the Jason Lee House. The photos in the Library's collection all say it was at 960 Broadway, and there's a mid-century office building on that site now. The Grier Building even has a plaque about the Lee House. So it's a little unclear how the vacant lot relates to the original house. It will be interesting to learn more!

New projects for 2020
And updating the photo collection will be terrific. There are a number of errant captions, low-res scans, and other things that can be cleaned up.

No comments: