Saturday, October 15, 2022

Capitol Apartments Proposed in 1922 and Abandoned

100 years ago Salem had a housing crunch. A consortium announced a proposal for a large apartment project.

October 15th, 1922

Supporters said "Salem wants this." A few days earlier, a news piece said "People have been roosting in the trees - almost - and living in attics and even tramping the streets for lack of homes."

Oct. 10th, 1922

It was proposed for the "Thielsen corner," the corner of Court and Capitol where today there is a service station and parking lot.

Service Station on Court and Capitol (2013)

It had been the family home for the Thielsens.

Thielsen corner, Court and Capitol
1895 Sanborn map, Library of Congress

You can see the house in the lower left hand corner of this photo.

Same corner, looking northeast
(via On the Way, ultimate source unknown)

The exact history of the house I have not been able to follow quite yet. The Thielsen family appears to have moved to Salem after 1895, the date of the Sanborn map, and may not have built the house.

December 20th, 1922

Its end is also uncertain. The obituary for Jennie Thielsen in 1934 says she died at the "family home on Court street." A few years later a piece from 1938, about the dispute over valuing the Cooke-Patton house in condemnation proceedings for the State Library, mentions change:

[A realtor/appraiser] stated that the Thielsen corner at Capitol and Court in which his wife is interested is drawing down $275 in rent as an oil station property.

It is likely the change occurred in relation to the old Capitol having burned down and the transition that followed, a little over a decade after this apartment block proposal.

October 31st, 1924

The Capitol apartment building itself of course was not built, and a few years later a different group advanced successfully a similar and larger project, the Royal Court apartments, on the corner of Capitol and Chemeketa.

As a counterfactual, it is interesting to consider a different history for Salem with multiple interwar apartment blocks going up north of the Capitol, and between downtown and the railroad. The argument in court over the Cooke-Patton appraisal even said it was "the most favorable apartment house site in Salem." Instead we got the Capitol Mall and then the Capitol shopping center. And now a bunch of surface parking lots. With more housing there, and any State office buildings better knit into a mixed use fabric, our downtown would be much stronger today.

For Royal Court parking
April 13th, 1957

The Thielsen family is worth more attention in Salem history.

Oregonian, April 14th, 1918

Henry Thielsen and his father Hans were important figures in local rail history, engineers for the railroads of Ben Holliday and Henry Villard.

July 15th, 1919

They also had a farm, orchard, and hop yard very near Rickreall, through which the Salem, Falls City, & Western line ran. (Derry is a name associated with the Nesmith family, and all that is a story for another time.)

Thielsen and Derry on 1917 USGS map

And we have seen links to what we now are calling the Grey-Belle and also to the Alderbrook neighborhood.

The family has a number of ties to Salem's development and history. We'll return to them for more later.

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