Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Salem's First Attempt to Preserve Oaks? Parrish Grove Effort Failed 100 Years Ago

Nearly 100 years ago Salemites talked about saving a "beauty spot" associated with the Parrish DLC, an Oak grove, and Mill Creek.

The "Parrish Grove" area
between Capital, D, Union Streets, and the railroad on 12th.
1905 Birdseye map, via Library of Congress, notes added

May 23rd, 1922
With a new round of deliberation on the proposed Costco in South Salem this summer, the on-going assessment of the Oaks in Bush Park, and the lack of urban parks along our creeks, it is a little interesting to look back nearly 100 years at what might be the first attempt at Oak grove preservation here in Salem.

Before Parrish Junior High was constructed in 1924, the area just south of it held a lovely Oak grove.

Two years earlier a group of Salemites submitted a proposal for "one of Salem's beauty spots, the oak grove at North Mill creek and Capitol street." They felt it should not be subdivided into lots, sold off, and developed, but instead should be a park or playground.

Ultimately they were not successful, and the area became the Parrish Grove addition, a fascinating pocket neighborhood wedged in between the school, the railroad, the creek, and Capital Street.

I don't know that there are direct lessons here. It is possible to wish they had been successful; the area would have made a very nice park on the creek. With the railroad, the schools later, and then orphaned a little by the Capitol Mall as it grew, a park might have been a better use for that particular area, now about a square of four small, undersized blocks. But that may be visible only in hindsight, and it was reasonable to develop it as housing also. Some of the oaks still appear to be there, and as we face the exigencies of climate, we should be thinking more about housing and oaks, rather than one or the other. It is also possible to think that the current neighborhood achieved a compromise between tree preservation and new housing.

May 26th, 1922

June 11th, 1922
Once the attempt to create a park had failed, the lots, including a couple of houses already built, were sold off. The sales included exclusionary building restrictions.

Lots for sale (exclusionary conditions highlighted), July 5th, 1922
I don't think this bungalow court was built, but it is interesting to see "middle housing" forms proposed and the name of Adam Engle (Engel) on this instance.

December 7th, 1923
There are a couple of stuccoed houses on Stewart Street, and it would be interesting to know how many of the houses here in the addition Engel built.

May 24th, 1925
In the details, there might yet be a more interesting history to retrieve. (Another time, perhaps.)

Not far away, another collection of Oaks routinely gets more attention. Willamette University Professor David Craig recently published a short video, "Oregon's Oaks: A Neighborhood Legacy in Gaiety Hill."

Big Oak at the Smith-Fry House (1859) on Gaiety Hill
The preposition "in" turned out to be significant. I thought it was going to be more about the history "of" and the Oaks "of" or "on" Gaiety Hill, but the hill itself as geographical or historical feature hardly figures in the narrative. It is more about Gaiety Hill as a metonym for the greater Gaiety Hill Bush Park Historic District area.

Smith-Fry House in 1878, perhaps with the same tree at center
And it seemed to have at least a little bit of subtext in an anti-development position, using Oak preservation as an argument against development.

As we talk about climate, reducing driving and carbon pollution, I hope we can reach a more nuanced stance for both/and on trees and development. We are in a city, after all. But Salem is spread too far out, which encourages driving. The close-in neighborhoods are good for walking, but many neighbors want to protect their incumbency privilege rather than sharing the close-in amenities and walkable distances with more people and new neighbors. We should want housing policies that encourage more close-in housing while also siting buildings sensitively to preserve older trees when possible. It shouldn't have to be one or the other.

As part of the "cultural landscape plan," the City just started an online Open House and survey for the Bush Park area, and it is worth reviewing and commenting on. Finding the right balance, the right both/and, between the Oak groves and recreational use is important at the moment.

It's worth pointing out that this time, unlike the time a century ago, we are also talking about the role of Kalapuya people in maintaining those Oaks and ways we have both seized and inherited them. Native people were not recognized in talk about the "Parrish Grove."

So, again, I'm not sure that the Parrish Grove effort can be mapped directly on to any current debate or project. But it is an interesting footnote, and shows that, beyond witness trees or other landmarks, we have been thinking about Oaks as something important for a while now.

No comments: