K. Williams Brown quoted me in a column in the SJ Sunday , and we had a thoughtful conversation Friday about Salem architecture. The columnist, only here two years…from the south originally, was wanting to write about the “new brutalist” nature of public buildings, and lamenting that Oregonians don’t appreciate good architecture. Over the weekend I thought a lot about what we said…the columnist’s comments, my responses, my 40 years in Salem…some of that time working to save and safeguard Salem’s built environment. Losses, successes.
I’ve come to think that the real problem here is that people don’t value Salem enough. We ARE the second city…for culture, for shopping, for food. The REAL city, in many minds, is Portland. And that is true, Portland is a real and wonderful city. But Salem has history, fun, music, art, good buildings, good food, terrific parks, bike trails, even really good (if not always beautiful) coffee. All that stuff. Maybe we just don’t have “critical mass”…a large enough population that includes proponents for all these things in real numbers.
Take the U.S. National Bank of Oregon. A beautiful 1940-41 building…a landmark building…a building splicing traditional materials with modernist design ideas including sheer glass window walls
and adorned with a wonderful set of Frederick Littman reliefs.
(Inside were a terrific set of Leroy Setziol wood sculptures, but the Portland Art Museum has those now…somebody in Oregon appreciates the good stuff.)
This mid-century building was designed by the internationally famous OREGON architect Pietro Belluschi. It was built seven years before his very famous Equitable Assurance building in Portland, the very first tall, international style building in the world. And our building contains the same set of ideas as the Portland building. But our building is not valued, and indeed is disliked in Salem…many would love to see it disappear. Imagine. This treasure right down town. It sits empty. If it were in Portland it would be on a second life, a hip life of some sort. And that is the sadness of living in Salem.
But give it another look…this lovely little TRULY modern building, orphaned in a post-modern world…before it’s gone.