Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Everson House actually the Small House: A Gap in the Historic District and a Hearing on Short-Term Rental Proposal

Back around 2015, as the debate over Howard Hall had found its sad conclusion, the Hospital had purchased the house across the street at 795 Church Street SE, now called the Everson house of 1935 in the Historic District, and wanted to turn it into some kind of short-term stay facility. There was at least one Hearing at the Historic Landmarks Commission. (The process, which I did not follow closely, may have had more turns.)

795 Church, corner of Mission and Church

Apparently they have sold it, and a new owner wants to turn it into a "short term rental."

Hearing Notice

On the one hand this would be a subtraction from our housing stock and might be criticized on those grounds. On the other hand, Mission Street is changing and an even better use for that corner might be a small apartment block.

The Historic District, however, has an explicit aim to foil that kind of change as "encroachment" to be defended against.

The history of the house shows the thinness of our concept for the Historic District, and undermines some of the importance attached to it. Rather than arguing for or against the short-term rental proposal, I want to push against the way we understand and use Historic Districts.

When the Historic District was originally nominated nearly two full generations ago in 1986, historians and authors had very little to say about any significance for the Everson house and described its importance as "secondary." They identified the Eversons as the current owners, but did not at that time ascribe any significance to the Eversons in the historic context of the house.

In the Historic District Nomination

It's a nice older house in the generic sense of "old house," but did not seem to say anything significant about Salem history.

So to call it the "Everson House of 1935" is almost certainly an inflation of historical significance. It's a bit of bluster to conceal gaps in our knowledge, actually.

Indeed, without spending too much time on the research, there are reasons to think the 1935 date might be misleading and another name might better to associate with the house.

An early instance of the address is irrelevant but comical!

Oct. 1st, 1918

The story really starts in 1922, when there is a new bungalow. The current house doesn't really look like a bungalow, but a later piece may clarify.

September 9th, 1922

In fact, the Smalls appear to be a significant family in Salem. The wedding got a substantial headline and the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. A newspaper search in Salem for Brazier Small, hardly a common name, yields well over 2000 hits!

Several years later, in 1929 the Smalls are still there.

December 6th, 1929

In 1933 permits are pulled for remodeling, and it may be that the bungalow was remodeled into the Cape Cod then. There's no note about a demolition or about new construction, so at least at the moment, a remodel seems like the best hypothesis for explaining the current form of the house.

October 21st, 1933

Small was a civic leader and elected.

August 13th, 1929

Back in 1929 he was one of the "big ten of the Salem Legion" who planned the annual convention (Conde McCullough is also pictured). At that time Douglas McKay was Commander of the Post.

December 3rd, 1935

In the 1930s Brazier was a City Councilor and himself Commander of the American Legion Post.

July 19th, 1938

He was still living in the house in 1942.

December 12th, 1942

A few years later, when the Legion opened a new clubhouse on South Commercial between McKinley School and LifeSource, currently the auto dealership (map here in a discussion of the Smith-Ohmart House), Small was pictured.

August 2nd, 1949

Small died in 1982, and the brief note on findagrave also suggests he owned Mount Crest Abbey for a period. 

March 3rd, 1954

A piece in the paper says "executor" and "operator."

Newspaper pieces also associate him with the development of the airport in the 1920s and 30s. He also seemed to be a county judge. He might have been involved in other important things also.

I don't know that he has a major place in Salem history, but he definitely had a place.

I am not sure when Small moved out of the house. Later, for an unknown period in the 50s the Rising family lived here.

November 10th, 1955

And then the Keiser family.

January 6th, 1957

So the Eversons are not associated with the house during any formal "period of significance," which for the Historic District is 1878 to 1938, or even for a decade or two after. (Such a broad period is rather chimerical to begin with.)

During that period of significance for the Historic District, it is the Smalls, not the Eversons, who were associated with the house.

If the house was remodeled from bungalow to Cape Cod in 1933, it would also lack any "original integrity," another factor for very "secondary" kinds of significance. As an exemplar of style, it may be non-contributing, in fact.

The house's inclusion in the Historic District is not based on anything very true, it turns out! The listing in the district trades on a kind of anemoia, nostalgia for something fictive.

It has instead been mainly that it was an "old house," and useful to the aim of exclusionary zoning, that caused it to be part of the Historic District.

The proposal for a short-term rental is likely not the best and highest use for the house and property, but it may not run afoul of our current regulatory scheme. More interesting here, a revised sense of the history of the house should prompt more questions about the way we have formulated and still maintain historic districts.

For more criticism of our Historic Preservation framework and its use for exclusionary ends, especially misuse of Historic Districts distinct from individual designations, see:

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