Monday, October 31, 2011

Beer for Halloween

Whether you call it Halloween, All Saints and Souls Days, Samhain, or Día de los Muertos - it's a strange amalgam of carnival and loss. Take a moment to toast the good times and the dead and haunted in the next couple of days. Life is fragile and fleeting.

Here's a Halloween poem.
All Souls' Night, 1917
by Hortense King Flexner

You heap the logs and try to fill
The little room with words and cheer,
But silent feet are on the hill,
Across the window veiled eyes peer.
The hosts of lovers, young in death,
Go seeking down the world to-night,
Remembering faces, warmth and breath—
And they shall seek till it is light.
Then let the white-flaked logs burn low,
Lest those who drift before the storm
See gladness on our hearth and know
There is no flame can make them warm.
For the fun, don't let your Halloween Hangover stop you. Toast the Day of the Dead with an Abominable Winter Ale at the Taphouse.
The Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) party is coming to the Taphouse November 1st with special guest brewer Jaime Rodriguez. This party will be staring later in the evening than previous parties and will run 7:30 to close.

We’ll have HUB swag to give away. A six HUB beer taster tray for $7. We’ll be running happy hour prices on all HUB draft beers through closing. Free HUB glass with your first HUB purchase while supplies last, one per customer please.

Draft beers will be: Batch 1000 ESB Anniversary Ale, HUB Lager, Abominable Winter Ale and Seven Grain Stout. HUB focuses on Organic beers that are produced in their environmentally friendly brewery in Portland.
And since it's not all fun-and-games, think about the lost, especially those lost deep in the institutions of Salem.

As the Prison and Courts grapple with a Capital Case even today, consider all those executed, some of them quite possibly innocent. But whether guilty or not, there's a long, long trail of loss and sadness.

And consider those alone who, without family by their side in dying, and without family after death, still endure the lonely cannister.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

AIA Oregon Top 25 List Omits Salem Landmarks

Over at Portland Architecture and Southwest Oregon Architect, folks are talking about the Oregon chapter of the American Institute of Architecture's 100 favorite buildings.

Neither top 10 list has anything from Salem. Nor does the top 25 list on the AIA website. In truth, Salem probably doesn't have any top 10 architecture - but you know, the Capitol has to be on the top 100 list. Maybe the Supreme Court building? First Methodist? What do you think? What are the most architecturally distinguished buildings in Salem?

Here's the top 10:
Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood (1937)
William I. “Tim” Turner, Gilbert Stanley Underwood

Mount Angel Library, Mount Angel Abbey (1970)
Alvar Alto

Commonwealth Building, Portland (1948)
Pietro Belluschi

US Bancorp Tower, Portland (1983)
Skidmore Owings and Merrill and Pietro Belluschi

Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland (1984)
William Martin

Portland Central Library, Portland (1913)
A.E. Doyle

Gordon House, Silverton (1964)
Frank Lloyd Wright

Memorial Coliseum, Portland (1960)
Skidmore Owings and Merrill

The Watzek House, Portland (1937)
John Yeon

Crown Point Vista, Corbett (1918)
Edgar Lazarus
What's the top Salem building?

(And where are the Salem architects in the conversation!?)

Also, on architecture, it's nice to see Waterplace merited LEED Platinum certification. It'll be really interesting to see how the building is viewed over time!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Downtown Welcome Maps' Amuse-Bouche: History on the Flip Side

You may have noticed a bunch of the new signs have gone up. Naturally, we thought a review of the historic part was in order!

Somewhere we think we read there are eight signs, but we've found only seven. On one side they have a stylized map of downtown. On the other side is a little history lesson with historic photos and captions. The frames are brightly colored and topped with a whimsical icon.

The first thing we noticed is the history's always on the same side, the north-facing side. This means sometimes you can't flip back-n-forth easily between a modern view and an historic view. We wanted the ability to rhyme in time with our eye!

It wasn't long before we realized the city installed the historic photos away from the sun so that part fades more slowly than the map, which presumably will be easier to replace.

But this also means that you might have to squint into the sun to look at them. The maps, of course, are easy to see with your back to the sun. Since they're the main course, and the history the amuse-bouche or dessert, the priority is probably right.

Still, protecting the historic images in this way makes for some goofy views. If they win the pragmatic and preservation test, sometimes they lose the information test.

We'll do one batch today and another batch some other time.*

The General Layout and Plan

The top half of each sign tends to be a large historic photo and caption. This gets varied: the image is sometimes printed full bleed, past the edges; other times the image enjoys generous margins. The bottom half gets broken up in different ways, some more regularly ordered in columns, some a little more random across the "page." Each sheet seems to have a footer. The overall plan is flexible.

The photos vary unevenly. Some are wonderfully detailed at the enlargement. Some are obviously reproduced from newsprint half-tones. Still others are badly jaggy from being enlarged too much. One on the sign at the Reed Opera House is particularly awful.

The idea seems to have been to select historic trivia, much of it related to the location of the sign - though as we will see, this breaks down. There's not an overall interpretation of Salem history or a narrative that links sign to sign. The lack of a master interpretation is ok, but something to pull the viewer and visitor to the next sign might have been nice - a teaser, to create interest. Maybe a sort of scavenger or easter egg hunt?

Strangely, there's nothing about the walking tour on the signs. You'd think the signs would encourage people to stop at Travel Salem or other places for a walking tour brochure. That seems like an unfortunate omission or lack of coordination.

It's not clear, in fact, that the sign placement consistently thinks through the logic of pedestrians, whether walking downtown or driving downtown and then walking. There is, then, a basic tension between places important in 19th century Salem, and places a 21st century Salemite is likely to walk. The signs don't always synchronize the two.


Since the design is flexible, the most consistent element might be the type. Somebody likes the smart fonts of emigre! They're a terrific choice for something intended to bridge old and new, and meant to offer little tastes of amusement, delight, and learning.

The main text font is an excellent choice. Though it looks vaguely antique, it's not antiquarian. But neither is it contemporary.

Indeed, it looks like Mrs Eaves from emigre fonts, a modernized revival of Baskerville. It's a modern update of a classic font from the 18th century, and a lively choice for historical signage. Nothing stuffy here!

Fairplex, also from emigre, appears in the footers and a few middle headlines. Its slightly angled serifs are also terrific. As with Mrs. Eaves, Fairplex suggests an older face, this time a 19th century face, like something on a "wanted" poster in the Wild West - but with that modern twist, again.

Less successful are the upper headers. The ones in Engravers don't quite work for us.

If the Mrs Eaves has a nice vintage air, the Engravers puts on airs. It's fusty and stuffy, monocled and bankerly. Not a good match for the martini olives, dog, eye, hand and other icons.

We wonder if a non-serifed font might have made for a better contrast with the text face and also been somewhat more legible than the Engravers. At the very least something less rigid and more inviting. That's the great thing about Mrs. Eaves: It has this human whimsy and fineness without also being fussy. She wears funny plaids and hats sometimes!

In the pictures you may have also noticed that the "B" in "Buildings that Move" is different from the "H" in "Historic Waterways." The initial capitals vary from sign to sign, and some of the typographic elements don't seem to have been used much in other signs. There was maybe a missed opportunity for a tighter theme-and-variations approach.

In the end it's clear the history trivia is a bit of a throw-away, an ode to serendipity rather than part of a vision or program. It's tasty, but it's only an amuse-bouche to whet your appetite for more.

Here are four signs, and observations nit-picky and not.

Church and Center

For history, of the four this was our favorite. The site of the old high school isn't much known, and this commemorates it nicely. Though when you look at the sign, you are looking across the street at the wrong block. You should be turned around and looking at the Meier & Frank/Macy's parking garage!

(1905 Salem High School, Salem Library Historic Photo Collection)

The other part about the sign's location that might be a little odd is that it's next to the entry to a parking garage and ugly chain link fencing. At the corner are a couple of banks and the shabby Greyhound station is just up the street.

It's not adjacent to a high-traffic pedestrian location, but instead is adjacent to a high traffic auto location! If it is intended to lure people out of their cars, it's too far from the driveway - and to the east, away from major destinations. If it is intended to be seen by people walking around, locating it next to the main Macy's entry on High and Center might have been better. Since there aren't many storefronts on Church in this area - the record store a block away looks like it's closing - and since Center street is busy with cars, the logic of site placement for pedestrians is not clear here.

Church and Ferry

Highlighting the old mills and the significance of the waterways was neat - but the stream of mystery was missing from a map purporting to show the waterways in the 1880s!

On this detail from the 1895 Sanborn map, you can see the mystery waterway along Mill Street, the the northmost arm of a trident at Church Street, where the Pringle, Shelton, and mystery creeks converge.

The map on the sign shows the confluence only of Pringle and Shelton creeks.

It's also directly across the street from First Methodist, surely on the shortlist for most important historic buildings in Salem. It is odd that a sign in this location doesn't acknowledge that in any way.

Still, the placement here, at a sort of gateway from Willamette, the Parkway, and the Bush Park/Gaiety Hill neighborhood makes some sense. People are likely to be walking here.

High and State

Here's where the sign orientation gets tricky. To look at this sign you look south down High Street, but the view in the photo is west down State Street, so you have to turn 90 degrees to the right.

Look closely and you'll see the mystery "bathroom vents" on the old Courthouse grounds! (This photo looks like it's from later in the 1930s, so it muddles rather than clarifies the question of date. Strangely, it's from Mission Mill, and one wonders why they didn't reproduce it on their own blog post, since it's much higher quality than the photo they used.)

And though the headline talks about the theatres, the theatres are to the south. They aren't in the photo!

There's a pretty significant disconnect between text, image, view, and site placement here.

At the same time, by the Courthouse and across from the nascent "restaurant row," it is a good high-traffic walking location. The apparent mandate to orient the photos on the north side does interfere with good information design, however.

Liberty and Commercial

Though the information on this sign is nice, the location is lousy. This is a total location fail!

When you look at the photo, you also look south down Liberty. But the photo shows Commercial! Why didn't they align the location with the photo, either both on Liberty or both on Commercial? Moreover, the view is north up Commercial from the corner at State, rather than an equal view down south from the Corner at Chemeketa. That's complicated: Your orientation is turned around 180 degrees and displaced two blocks south and one block west. It's a knight's move in chess! This sign is too random and general, insufficiently responsive to site.

This matters because right at the mall entry, this is a very good walking location. This is a good site with a mismatched sign.

The brick, reading "Convict Made, 1912, O.S.P." from the Oregon State Penitentiary is a nice detail, though. That's one of our favorite bits, and something completely new to us.

So do you have a favorite sign or observation about them?

* Or maybe not. It's possible another round would just be otiose. If you're curious, they're at the Grand Hotel, Riverfront Park, and the Reed Opera House. So where's that eighth one?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Indie Rock, but no Beer, at the Library

Too bad you can't drink beer in the library!

Tomorrow night the reading series at Willamette will have a new wrinkle: Indie Rock.

Al James of Dolorean will talk and even perform a little in the Hatfield Room at the Willamette library. Presumably he'll perform some from his recent record, The Unfazed, released earlier this year.

James is a WU grad and the talk's at 7:30pm.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sometimes U Think, Sometimes U Don't: Willamette U Brainpower on Tap

Two events, one past and one upcoming, show mental function and malfunction at work at Willamette University.

U Think

The monthly U Think lecture shows off fruitful collaborations between academics and ordinary citizens.

This month David Craig returns to talk about Citizen Science and Squirrels. You may recall him from his lecture on crows almost exactly a year ago.

This lecture, titled "Bright-eyed and Bushy-tailed about Citizen Science," takes place on Wednesday,
Oct. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in Brown’s Towne Lounge. Craig, whose research was featured in the PBS documentary “A Murder of Crows,” will discuss the Western Gray Squirrel, a North American species now threatened across most of the West Coast by an introduced species.

Craig will talk about squirrel behavior and why the Western Gray Squirrel population is declining. Also, he’ll discuss the development of citizen science and how you can participate.

“Nature photographers and backyard wildlife enthusiasts can contribute to scientific efforts to preserve our native, declining squirrel species,” says Craig. “There’s a citizen science project for almost every passion. At U Think, I’ll talk about squirrel behavior and how people can participate in related work, but there are ways to contribute to research just by lending your gaming system’s processing power when you are not using it.”
(Squirrel Taxidermy from Mac's Taxidermy)

U Think?

While we may not always be sober here at Capital Taps, we try not to be too snarky. But this particular keg blew.

At an alumni event on the Willamette campus recently we spied a mini-burma shave series.

Most of the signs were banal boosterism - but one leaped out!

This sign read:
Did you know?

During the University's first half-century, its land holdings were gradually sold to meet other needs, so much of the present downtown Salem is built on former University land.
It was good to read the correct use of it's/its, but there was a problem...

Wouldn't it be great to have Whole Foods, Henry's 12th Street Tavern, and the Brewery Blocks in downtown Salem?!

Who chose the photo? How could someone in Salem who works at Willamette possibly mistake a shot of downtown Portland for a shot of Salem? Did the alumni department outsource the sign project out of town or even overseas? Is this a prank? What's going on???

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pie in your Pint? The Colonial Roots of Pumpkin Ales (and the Origins of an STD)

We've almost always thought of Pumpkin Ales as stunt beers, gimmicky confections aiming to put pie in your pint.

It's true that some beers are more confectionary than others. Pouring at the Taphouse right now, Elysian Night Owl lands in the middle. It has the full compliment of spice, with "with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice," but it's not super sweet, thankfully. It's one of the best examples, in fact.

But the roots of pumpkin ale are much older and less sweet than this! With the weather turning, it's time to think seriously about fall beers.

Back in the good old days of the Colonial era and early Republic, malted barley wasn't always easy to get, and fermentable sugars might come in many other forms. An important source of them was pumpkin, the squash native to the Americas.

In this herbal and medical treatise from 1801, Samuel Stearns writes about the nourishing, strengthening, and yes, sometimes gassy, properties of early beers.

He says:
Beer, Cerevisia

Common malt beer is made of water, malt and hops. Porter and ale is also made of the same ingredients. - There are likewise other kinds of beer, as pumpkin beer, bran beer, spruce beer, etc.

Malt liquors, when good, are called nourishing and strengthening, but when they have grown sour, they are apt to produce a dysury, or a gonorrhoea; to remedy which, give a little brandy. When malt liquors have become tart, they should be drawn off, as they are used, into a jug, and to every pint of the liquor, a drachm of powdered chalk ought to be added, which railes a new ferment, and destroys the acidity.

Ale sometimes produces flatulences, cholics, and the cholera morbus; but not calcarious diseases, as has been asserted. A constant use of ale, keeps up a constant fever, and is therefore injurious.

Porter agrees with some constitutions, but not with others; and the same may be said of other malt liquors. It cured a young women in Connecticut of the palpitations of the heart when other remedies were tried in vain.
Happily, today we have a better sense for what might cause dysuria or gonorrhea!

For more on the history of pumpkin beers, see this note on serious eats.

And don't forget about Ken Burn's Prohibition! For old-media types, it starts tonight on TV. For new-media types, you can get a prohibition name and Facebook avatar, or watch vice on your iDevice. Either way, we'll thumb our noses and toast the vast wrongness of it all.