Monday, March 28, 2011

Lost Glories: Frank Lloyd Wright's Design for the Capital Journal

The Statesman-Journal is celebrating some 160 years this week, and CT will join in the fun.

One of the most notable empty lots in town is mid-block on Chemeketa between Liberty and High. You can see the alleyway in both images.

It was the site of the Art Deco-y building for the Capital Journal. You can see similar (but plainer, and much less glazed) buildings at 14th and State, the site of the Capital Market and an early Safeway Store, and the north side of Court Street between Front and Commercial.

Here's a view from the street corner looking east, towards High Street. That's the old city hall in the background.

The view appears to show digging out the foundation for Pietro Belluschi's First National Bank building.

But Belluschi wasn't the first distinguished architect for the block!

Salem almost had a Frank Lloyd Wright!

In his article about the project,* Donald Leslie Johnson writes that in the spring of 1931
Wright was invited by John Clifford, president of the Salem Arts League, to give a talk in Salem and meet politicians, including the new governor, Julius Meier. A major inducement had been the prospect of a commission that was described as a "new capitol building group." At dinner before his talk, Wright met the respected editor [George Putnam], known as a crusader for reform.


Within days Wright received the retainer with a cover letter outlining the proposed building's program. Putnam cautioned that it would be "some years" before the building would be required, that was, at least until a current lease expired. The flat site west of City Hall, on the corner of Chemeketa and Liberty streets "just off the business district," was given as square (165 by 166 feet). It therefore occupied the (northwest) quarter of a city block.
With the retainer in hand, Wright made some drawings, but apparently Putnam didn't like them. One of the elements likely problematic was the early approach to columns that ultimately informed those in the Johnson Wax Building. There was also disagreement over some apartments, a roof-top garden, and other elements.

So here's a double toast. One to an historic near-miss! And a toast to the Art Deco Capital Journal building that was torn down and is now a parking lot.

* 'Frank Lloyd Wright's Design for the "Capital Journal," Salem, Oregon (1932),' by Donald Leslie Johnson, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 58-65

For the one built Frank Lloyd Wright around here, see the Gordon House in Silverton.

The Salem photos are from the Salem Public Library Historic Photos Collection here and here. The captions are inconsistent: One says the building was finished in 1924, the other 1946. The later date is plainly wrong; if the date of the image (not the building completion) is correct, it shows work for the Belluschi bank building on the corner. If it is dated incorrectly, it might be from the early 1930s, after the Wright commission was declined and the corner lot occupied by a new filling station. The Sanborn maps don't help much: The 1926/27 map shows a home on the corner, and the 1950 update shows the printing plant and offices. Either way, the CJ building appears to date from several years before 1946.

1 comment:

  1. I guess this is one of those Salem's cultural cemeteries things. Sigh.