Saturday, November 14, 2020

Elks Purchase Werner Breyman House in 1920

In 1920 the Elks Club purchased the southwest corner of State and Cottage, the site of Werner Breyman's house. Though the Breyman brothers are hardly a secret, and even "little-known" is probably too strong, they may not be known quite enough and appear to be somewhat underweighted in our standard histories of Salem. A fountain and two buildings have been changed significantly, and the modifications have likely muddled our collective memory.

Elks Club, circa 1950
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

November 12th, 1920

The club building itself still functions today and the SJ wrote about a 2016 remodel. First Methodist purchased it in 1992 and operates it.

Though the Elks club had announced the purchase in 1920, there was a gap while they got organized and raised funds. A few years later they were ready, and opened bids on September 15th, 1924, starting construction shortly thereafter. They held the first meeting a year later on September 26th, 1925, and the next month hosted a public open house.

Public Open House, October 23, 1925

Here's the house in 1903 before all that. It is looking south from State Street. In the background on the right is a little cupola, and in the 1895 Sanborn map you can see an alley structure with a separate address and cupola.

Werner Breyman House, May 1903
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

Breyman house on State and Cottage (LOC)

With the Elks purchase, the house was moved a block to the 200 block of Cottage Street, and carved up into apartments with a fourth floor added to the top. (See here and here.) Ultimately it was demolished in mid-century.

People seem to have found brother Eugene's house more interesting, and we have more photos of it. By Salem standards both houses were pretty grand. (See Ben Taylor biking in front of it and a later color shot here.) 

The design of Werner's house is not clear. The Downtown Historic District suggests it should be associated with architect Holly Cornell (1859-1911), whose only known existing building is the South First National Bank Block, the south half of the old First National Bank building, formerly Clockworks and now Wild Things Games. A capsule biography from 1882, cited in Wilbur F. Boothy's burial record in the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery, suggests instead that Boothby designed it.

Werner Breyman (1829 - 1916)
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

Even with several downtown buildings associated with the Breyman name, Breyman street close to downtown, and the neglected fountain at the Capitol, the Breyman family probably doesn't get enough attention as a significant second-wave Salem family during the early statehood period. Indeed, the fountain may be the best emblem for their passing fame, as it has lost the upper statue, has been misidentified as a war memorial, and is instead a pioneer memorial. As with the statue and fountain, the Breyman brothers aren't totally forgotten, but details are sometimes fuzzy or changed.

A horse drinking at the fountain
A Pioneer, not Spanish-American War, memorial
(State Archives)

However, they were important people in the development and history of early Salem. In a biographical note duplicated on several buildings, the Downtown Historic District Nomination says

Brothers Werner and Eugene Breyman contributed to the commercial development of several communities in the Willamette Valley (including Amity, Lafayette, and Portland) as well as Salem's commercial, social, and cultural life during a period of robust growth in the capital city (the 1860s to the 1890s). Natives of Bockenem, Hanover, Germany, Werner and Eugene Breyman immigrated to the United States (Wisconsin) in 1846 and 1853, respectively. Werner traveled overland in 1850 to Oregon Country from Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Eugene left New Castle, Wisconsin, in 1855 traveling to Oregon by way of the Isthmus of Panama. In 1856 the two brothers formed a partnership, which undertook numerous business ventures over the next half century. They operated a general merchandise store in Lafayette, Yamhill County, and also opened a general merchandise store at a crossroads that became the nucleus of Amity. They brought their mercantile acumen to Salem in 1863-64, opening a store in the Moore block at the northwest corner of Commercial and State streets and, in 1874, in the Breyman Brothers, or "White Corner," building....Their business was said to be the largest retail and wholesale general merchandise store in Oregon outside Portland.

The brothers retired from merchandising in 1880, and turned to real estate development and the loan business....Over the next two decades, Werner and Eugene Breyman owned and developed several properties, including Midland and Rosedale additions to Salem, and had financial interests in the Sunnyside, Eastland, and Boise additions in Portland. Additionally, they held stock in several regional banks.

(See also the SHINE historical digest on Werner's wife Isabel Watt, and burials for Werner and Isabel in the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery. Isabel's father, John Watt, was a veteran of the War of 1812, and is buried in Amity. Other Breymen family are also in the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery and in City View, notably Jessie Breyman, first wife of Charles McNary and killed in an automobile crash in 1918)

Four downtown buildings are still associated with the Breyman brothers, three at an important downtown corner, the other just across the street and down a little. While the Downtown Historic District Nomination discusses them individually, in the section with a narrative history of downtown this cluster, falling across the narrative's periodization, does not get, I think, the weight it merits. There were bigger, fancier buildings associated with other merchants and developers, but I can't think of another group spanning nearly 40 years of development in Salem. Even if the group is not unique, it is significant.

  1. The White Corner of 1874 (remodeled)
  2. The Breyman Block of 1904 (remodeled)
  3. The New Breyman Building, circa 1910
  4. The Bush-Breyman Building of 1889

Maybe the biggest factor in the relative weighting is the moderne remodel that erased much of their 19th century imprint on downtown. The buildings of 1874 and 1904 were heavily remodeled and are no longer recognizable. Still, the basic massing of the buildings are the same and underneath must be the old bones on the corner of Court and Commercial.

Three buildings at Court and Commercial:
1. White Corner of 1874, 2. Breyman Block of 1904,
3. New Breyman Building, circa 1910

The building from circa 1910 and the remaining half of the Bush-Breyman building are still largely intact.

The remodel of the two older buildings stripped some real character from downtown, alas. Though there were fires and the buildings were not wholly demolished, instead renewed for what seemed best under the then-current conditions and demand.

The Breyman blocks of 1874 and 1904
Before remodel, in 1938
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

The White Corner of 1874 was announced in November that year. (Old photo here.)

November 27th, 1874

An early, grand-opening ad gives a flavor for their stock.

November 27th, 1874

The next spring they announced the name "White Corner." It's not clear whether they coined it themselves, or whether Salemites had started the name in popular discourse because of the whitewash or other coloration.

April 23rd, 1875

In late 1903 they announced the next building. Bike Peddler is there today.

December 1st, 1903

the Breyman Block of 1904
home of Bike Peddler
(see notes on 1913 Moose Carnival)

In a reminiscence as the building was nearing completion, the paper said

Before the "Old White Corner" building was built, 1874, which transplanted the old "Red Front" stables, now located on Commercial and Trade streets, this corner was famous as the old "circus corner," where every traveling show and menagerie would pitch its tent and give its performance.

We don't have a good history of the first generation wood buildings that preceded the second generation masonry buildings we appreciate today in the Historic District. It is interesting then that the Moose Carnival also took place there a decade later, still operating as a circus corner.

The Buren and Hamilton furniture store was the first tenant in the building of 1910.

September 13th, 1910

There is surely more to say about the Breyman family, and maybe we can come back later with more and a stronger interpretation. There are bigger, grander buildings associated with different merchants and developers in Salem, but the way the Breymans developed the corner incrementally with buildings in 1874, 1904, and 1910 does not seem to have many parallels in Salem, and it would be interesting to learn more about their residential real estate projects also.

1 comment:

mark said...

Thank you for your history lessons.