Thursday, March 31, 2011

First Letter to Editor in Capital Journal Proves Cranks are Eternal

On March 1, 1888 the first Capital Journal was published. In it and the "salutatory" manifesto, there's lots of otiose blather about it being a Republican paper.

Much more interesting is the first letter to the editor, published on March 2nd, the very next day. Cranks and their parties will be with us always!

ED. CAPITAL JOURNAL: - Without wishing to perpetuate a pun, probably now developed into a chestnut, I wish to say that you have made of your paper a capital journal. But I presume, friendly criticisms will, with your usual liberality, be allowed.

In your salutatory you praise the republican party - and very justly - for the fact that, twenty-eight years ago, it "planted itself up on a single sentiment - the preservation of this union. Around this central idea the best and bravest of the nation rallied," etc. Then you declare that "the democratic party has no great principle - this is its misfortune." Now, why stop there? Is there not another party with a great, leading "sentiment," and "a central idea"? Has not the prohibition party a great and grand aim, "the preservation of the union" from the wasting, withering blighting curse of the grog shop and liquor traffic? That our beloved land needs this preservation is evident, for the Toledo Blade, as staunch a republican paper as the CAPITAL JOURNAL, deliberately says that "the country must kill the liquor traffic, or the liquor traffic will kill the country." Then, why ignore this growing party, when drawing comparisons? Do you not think it will be heard from during the coming state and presidential elections? Have not 150,000 among "the best and bravest" rallied around it with wonderful enthusiasm? True, that is not so vast a number. But had the republican party as many, eight and twenty years go? And, without supposing you to be a prophet, do not "coming events casting their shadows before" indicate a large increase in Nov. 1888? Please do the fair thing by us all, and do not limit the active parties already stripped for the fight, with national conventions called, to only two.

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.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

#Salemia at the Blind School

With the demolition at the Blind School, it seemed like a good time to remember it.

Here's the view in 1892 from the front of Bush House looking north across Mission Street. You can see the stone wall that's still on the edge of Bush Park in front of Bush House at the intersection with Church Street. If you click on the image to see an enlargement, you can see the dome of the old Capitol in the distance on the left.

There are few trees, and most of them you see today were planted. The construction is wood, though replaced by brick and concrete in the early 20th century, and now demolished again, this time for a parking lot.

Someone really needs to take down the sign! (Though if they did, we might forget we live in #Salemia...)

(Here's the same view before the rubble.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Toast to Al Jones

We never met Al Jones, but we run across his work constantly.

Many historic photos show his research or were preserved by him. Here's a link to 349 images from a search on his name, for example. (These two from the Grand Theater NRHP nomination images and form.)

According to the Statesman, he died Sunday at the age of 90. He was an old-time newspaper man, and we're sure the SJ will run a complete story. We look forward to learning more about him.

A tip of the pint. Godspeed.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Governor Pierce, the KKK, and a Poem for the Wave and the Lost

Governor Walter Pierce was supported by, and might in some sense be considered a friend of, the Klan.

On Wednesday at 7pm in Loucks Auditorium at the Library, John Ritter will be giving another talk, "The Klan (KKK) in Salem."
Historian John Ritter takes a look back to the days in the 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan was a powerful force in Salem and in Oregon, highlighting an era in which The Klan was a viable political and social force that dominated state politics and Salem’s social life. The program is free and open to the public. More information is available from John Ritter at
Here's a couple of relevant bits from the Governor's message to the Legislature, January 1923:
I have been saddened many times by finding that prominent men of this state behind closed doors are breaking the prohibition law. I ask for a higher sense of moral duty and for an awakening of the public conscience. We must one and all determine to drive liquor from our midst by making it so hard for the bootlegger to thrive that he will be glad to leave our state and take with him his nefarious business. Liquor venders cannot do business alone. I ask you for assistance in a continued effort to enforce the law. I do not want a state constabulary but I do want sufficient police agents to eliminate as far as possible violation of the prohibition act. I also ask that one-half of all the fines collected through enforcement of the state prohibition and narcotics laws be turned into a special fund, such fund to be used in enforcing the laws.
We should enact a law prohibiting the selling or leasing of land in Oregon to the Mongolian and Malay. European and Asiatic civilization can not amalgamate, and we can not and must not submit to the peaceful penetration of the Japanese or other Mongolian races.
Give a big f-u to the bigotry of Peirce and the KKK, and tip a pint of yummy, intoxicating beverage to the survivors and rebuilding effort in Japan.

As we write, a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station appears to be a very real possibility. There's lots of other craziness, misfortune, and hate in the world. So create, and do not destroy.

Here's a misreading (your mileage may vary):
Sea Girls
by A. E. Stallings

for Jason

"Not gulls, girls." You frown, and you insist—
Between two languages, you work at words
(R's and L's, it's hard to get them right.)
We watch the heavens' flotsam: garbage-white
Above the island dump (just out of sight),
Dirty, common, greedy—only birds.
OK, I acquiesce, too tired to banter.

Somehow they're not the same, though. See, they rise
As though we glimpsed them through a torn disguise—
Spellbound maidens, wild in flight, forsaken—
Some metamorphosis that Ovid missed,
With their pale breasts, their almost human cries.
So maybe it is I who am mistaken;
But you have changed them. You are the enchanter.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Science Pub Mardi Gras: Smarties Talk Rubidium, Ditch Rude Idiom

Want stouter fare with your beads and boobies? How about some Mardi Gras grub and Science Pub!

(And you'll finally remember that "data" is a plural noun! -
Quantum : Quanta :: Datum : Data)
Quantum Coolness
Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 6:30pm
Salem - Brown's Towne Lounge

Search the Internet for “quantum” and you'll find offers for data storage, fishing gear, health supplements and fuel systems. Almost all of the top results are unrelated to the theory of quantum mechanics, which can make it difficult to separate science-fact from science-fiction.

In this talk Michaela Kleinert, Assistant Professor of Physics at Willamette University, will reveal the unintuitive province of the quanta, a realm where physical laws seemingly defy everyday human experience. Learn how to spot quantum snake oil and more at this Science Pub Salem!
Since it appeared on the internet, it's not exactly a rumor, but word is Willamette is now exploring options for a Humanities Pub! How great is that!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lost Glories: McMahans Furniture Site and the Griswold Block

One of the downtown empty lots is in the news today. Writing in the Statesman, Michael Rose says that a bank wants to buy the lot and erect a new building.
Columbia Bank intends to buy the lot at 260 State St. and construct a building on the property, said Mark Shipman, a Salem attorney who represents Columbia. The bank wants to open a branch in the proposed building, which also would have space for other office and retail tenants, Shipman said.
The lot at present is a gravel wasteland, the sole residue after the 2006 fire that destroyed the McMahan's furniture store. (The SJ story has more on that, as well as Robert West's historical page - scroll down to item 9)

Before the building operated as McMahon's it was a Hogg Brother's furniture store.

But even that was a second or third round of redevelopment. In 1940, the earlier building had been demolished.

The history on the first and second set of buildings is not entirely certain and in the interest of time we haven't verified the online accounts.

According to West, the Griswold Block was one of very first brick commercial buildings in Salem, originally built in 1858. It was enlarged to 3 stories in 1862, and survived a fire in 1865.

In the early 1900s, architect Fred Legg seems to have had an office in the building, by then called the Murphy Block. During the snowstorm of January 1937, someone took a photo from the sidewalk near Alessandro's site, looking across to the Pioneer Trust building and the hotel. (For a better scan and detail see here.)

The new building in 1940 was then also called the Murphy building.

The corner of Commercial and State was hopping at one time. We saw some of the activity in the images of the parking lot next to Alessandro's. It is one of the prime corners in Salem, and it should be hopping again. This section of State Street can be lovely, and full of activity.

Hopefully the bank's desire for a parking lot and a drive-through window can be tempered. Downtown doesn't need more parking lots! It needs lovely buildings and inviting storefronts!

(Top image here, all historical images from Salem Public Library Historic Photograph Collections.)