Friday, July 23, 2021

City Council, July 26th - Bush Park Plan seems Rushed

There are many things of interest on the Council agenda it turns out. On Monday they will also look to adopt the Bush's Pasture Park and Deepwood Estate Gardens Cultural Landscape Management Plan.

Sections were greyed out and incomplete

When the draft plan was circulated for public comment last month it was incomplete and key sections were greyed out.

New draft has completed sections

The Staff Report for Council on Monday is silent on the fact that the draft has been substantially updated with new sections. In fact, the plan itself is not included at a regular attachment at the top of the Staff Report, but is buried down in the middle of it as a separate link, and again not mentioning that it has been updated substantially in the last month.

In the updating the document ballooned: The draft published for public comment had 315 pages, and the latest one has 882 pages, and in size from 28MB to 82MB. 

Maybe these additions are truly not significant, but that's a lot of material just to slide in silently!

The public comment is mainly institutional letters in support and seem awfully rubber-stampy for a plan on such a key Salem institution, truly one of the defining features of Salem.

When it was published, just one month ago, it seemed thin on the "cultural" part. A person knowledgeable about about the parks disagreed, saying

The "cultural" part of the CLMP does not seem "weak" to me. The oak groves and camas fields are certainly cultural and the CLMP spends a lot of time focused on protecting these. The spatial arrangements of many of the significant features of the Park (open fields, Bush buildings, orchard) are cultural features and these are also addressed and protected in the draft. Indeed, the draft arguably precludes the addition of any new features to the NW corner of the Park by recommending the application of USDoI standards, with some exceptions. And the Deepwood historic site gets lots of attention, with an eye toward restoration and preservvation.

The Staff Report addresses this indirectly a little, saying

The parks’ historic resources are officially documented in the 1986 National Register of Historic Places Nomination for the Gaiety Hill/Bush’s Pasture Park Historic District between a Period of Significance from 1878-1938. The historic resources covered by the CLMP include walkways, orchard trees, upper and lower oak woodlands, camas fields, Deepwood Estate Gardens, Bush’s Pasture, and stone walls along Mission Street SE. Buildings and associated structures are not included in the CLMP.

Leaving out the buildings, and even things like the rose garden, is a pretty big omission. Human intent and ongoing activity in time formed the "spatial arrangements" of things, and even though the plan uses the word "history," the way that the "historic resources" are treated tends to a static, ahistorical sense of an aesthetic whole as we perceive it now.

Here are a couple of historical and cultural angles that seem undernourished. (There are over 500 more pages in the second draft of the plan to consider! And there may be more to say later. In particular, the Tribal contribution still seems secondary and not given enough prominence.)

Deed Restrictions

In the letter of support from Pioneer Trust Bank, they write

I may have missed it but I would appreciate the final report disclosing the actual deeds with the language restricting the use of Bush Park.

It would be very interesting to learn more about restrictions!

There was in fact some weirdness at the start.

April 3rd, 1917

Council did not accept the first try at a donation "on account of some parts of it [the deed] being somewhat ambiguous."

Even after language was clarified in negotiation, there are interesting details. 

For one, the gift is revocable, which could be one reason why Pioneer Trust was interested in the details being included. Shouldn't we have more discussion of this fact? If there is a sense in which a donation of Bush Park is precariously Salem's, we ought to know more about that.

The actual Deed:
"upon a breach...this deed shall become null and void"

In the revised, second draft plan and its publishing dates, part of the deed is included as an appendix.

But Pioneer Trust was likely commenting on the shorter version that did not have it included. That is evidence, again, the draft Council is asked to adopt has not been read and reviewed adequately.

And even in the expanded draft plan, the reproduction of the deed is whacked off in the middle of the third condition and, at least according to newspaper reports from 1917, there were additional conditions, six of them.

Maybe that's an innocent omission, but that is also evidence that the draft is not yet ready for final adoption.

What is this boulevard?
Sept 24th, 1917

What is this boulevard that "shall meander in the main 50 feet from the base of the hill which in a southeasterly direction crosses the original place referred to in the description of the land"?

The main pathway runs north-south roughly in an alignment along Church Street, but is the lower path system really a meandering "boulevard"?

There are things to look at more closely!

The nature of the gift and the way it expressed the power of the Bush family ought to be a fit topic for a cultural reading in a park management plan.

And how did the terms of the gift change between 1917 and the late 1940s when it was consummated?

I still think the fact that Bush House in 1878, Deepwood in 1893, and the Lord & Schryver firm in 1929 all correlated with major economic Depressions is a significant fact we are not facing very squarely. We want to talk about beauty and recreation, but the parks, houses, and gardens are also about status, wealth, and power, established at a time when many were not prospering.

The plan's epigraph

A kind of noblesse oblige came to characterize the park and the way we understand Deepwood and the activities of Lord & Schryver, and that surely is part of the cultural significance of it all.

Previously see:

The Ideological Valence of City Beautiful Planning

It is interesting to see "beauty" invoked in that epigraph from 1960. The culture of "City Beautiful" was very strong in the 1920s at the time our first zoning scheme was developed. Here's part of a three page spread from exactly 100 years ago. In fact, the language of the letter in 1960 echoes very closely the language in 1921 about most beautiful city in the west. There is a thread of connection here.

Salem Beautiful issue, July 21st, 1921

The ways that beauty had exclusionary functions is something that we should think more about.

Today we see beauty in the park as some neutral aesthetic expression. But beauty and cleanliness were harnessed to ideological and political ends. Earlier in the year in 1921 the American Legion was working on cleaning in two different ways, and there is an uncomfortable relation, sometimes outright slippage, between the two notions of cleaning. On a front page in April of 1921 two articles, not quite side-by-side, but nearly so, talk about the Legion taking command of the clean-up effort for a more beautiful Salem and about support for anti-Japanese legislation.

Two different kinds of "cleaning up"
April 6th, 1921

Previously on Salem Zoning and the role of deed restrictions:

Bush Legacy

All in all, the cultural and historical significance of Asahel Bush are still danced around. The plan defers much, and is awfully quiet about the sources of Bush's wealth, describing is only as "other business affairs." It is likely the activities that funded the large estate were not always laudable and deserve more scrutiny. And shouldn't we talk more about the irony in the way the Kalapuya do not have a claim on the land, yet the deed to the park imposes several ongoing claims upon living Salemites and the City itself. At least the plan does use the words "white supremacy," though we still aren't talking very much about this with regard to Bush himself.

Asahel Bush (1824-1913) left the major imprint on the Gaiety Hill Historic District area. As a newspaperperson, banker, and public official, he was recognized as one of Oregon’s most influential people for nearly sixty years. With the growth of Salem, he extended his efforts into other business affairs, and became important in many financial and civic enterprises. In July 1860, Bush bought 100 acres from Reverend David Leslie, part of the Leslie Donation Land Claim. The Bush family lived in the Reverend David Leslie house prior to the completion of the Bush House in 1878....The City of Salem, led by the Bush House Museum and the Salem Art Association, will reimagine the interpretation of the difficult history of Asahel Bush and the Bush House. Bush was the publisher of the Oregon Statesman (now known as the Statesman Journal; he was a supporter of Oregon entering the Union as a free state while holding white supremacy beliefs. This reinterpretation will include the Oregon Black Pioneers as well as representatives from interested local Tribes.

Public Process

Because of the importance of Bush Park, the way this plan is being adopted still feels a little rushed, and it recalls a little the way the City tried to stage-manage the SRC with a blizzard of late-breaking reports and information on which the citizenry had to comment on very short notice.

The plan as it proposes to be adopted right now is more about a management plan. The centrality of the "decision flowchart" testifies to this, as well as the fact that on Council agenda it is a consent item.

I still find the "cultural landscape" side underpowered, and it might be better, even, to wait until the the effort to "reimagine the interpretation of the difficult history of Asahel Bush" is complete or at least farther along. Is there a reason this plan must be adopted right now? It might be prudent to shelve it for a year or two until we have a better view of Asahel Bush and a fuller understanding of the cultural context for the estate and subsequent park. Sections may yet need to be revised.

I am not prepared to argue that the park will need to be renamed. But I do want to suggest that the history that led the University of Oregon to rename a hall, formerly named after close Bush associate Matthew Deady, is also in play here, and we should not commit to a plan for Bush Park, which includes a cultural component, before we have a better understanding of that history.

Denaming Deady Hall, Register-Guard
(June 2020)


MikeSlater said...

Thank you for bringing attention to Bush's Pasture Park Cultural Landscape Plan. You raise some important points about Salem history and the park that need more discussion.

My understanding is that the City undertook the report in response to requests from organizations such as Salem Art Association and Mission Street Parks Conservancy (on whose board I sit) to add features to the park, as well as the city's interest in repairing and adding features. The City explained that they felt they needed to have a better sense of context and a better process for deciding if, why, and how park features would change. Unlike other parks, Bush's Pasture Park does not have a master plan.

Cultural landscape reports follow guidelines established by the US Secretary of the Interior. These guidelines do not focus on assessing the past, but on documenting landscape uses and features for the purpose of future management. For example, the cultural landscape report on the Alcatraz Prison gardens does not explore American penal history or Alcatraz's role in that history,. Instead, it describes landscape features such as location of plantings beds, plant material, hardscape material and the various groups of people who created and interacted with those features (prisoners, guards, family of staff), then proposes a plan of restoration and management.

The Bush's Pasture Park plan is a bit different in that it envisions preserving and managing features that existed during the park's period of historical significance, but also features added after that, as well as new features. This is a complex balancing act and the new report will provide a rational basis for managing the park in the coming years.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Wait, so this whole thing was prompted by the premature installation of "the Sentinels"?!

That's something that should have been made explicit in the planning process, and not just insider knowledge for those who know the secret handshake!

More seriously, I do not know the formal requirements for a cultural landscape plan, it's true. Perhaps this plan follows them and is well-formed. If so, maybe some of the criticism here is of the form instead. As a genre, then, it may be a little misnamed with insufficient attention to any "thick description" of the cultural elements. Thanks for the clarification.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(And, indeed, here is the template from the National Park Service.)