One of Pietro Belluschi’s landmarks faces demolition in downtown Salem.
Despite its listing in the National Register of Historic Places, Pietro Belluschi’s First National Bank of Salem building will likely be demolished by September 6th.
Constructed in 1946, the building’s design follows a mid-career trend in the work of Oregon’s foremost modernist and features the exquisite application of pink and grey granite at the lower level of both of its primary elevations with white marble panels above. The rather severe façade of the building is broken by a slightly recessed entry surmounted by an angled flag pole and eight beautifully-executed marble reliefs by Frederic Littman on the theme of Oregon industry. The side of the building is devoid of ornamentation but exhibits a large display of steel sash windows across its upper expanse. Similar materials and detailing can be found in Portland’s 1948 Oregonian Building and as far away as Boise in the Idaho Statesman Building of 1952.
Despite having been occupied by various banks for half a century, the building has been unoccupied since approximately 2000. In 2001, the bank was listed in the National Register as a contributing element of the Salem Downtown State Street-Commercial Street Historic District. While listed properties in Salem enjoy the protection of design review and the possibility of demolition denial by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission, owners of listed sites may apply to the commission for approval to alter or demolish historic structures. In 2008, the long-time owners of the First National Bank building successfully applied to the Salem Historic Landmarks Commission for permission to demolish the structure and construct a new mixed-use development in its place.
As part of the demolition approval, the commission applied three conditions which must be met by the owner. The first, a thorough documentation of the building which meets Historic American Building Survey (HABS) standards has already been completed. The second stipulation is the development and installation of interpretive signage at the site describing the architectural and historical importance of the building while the third is the careful removal, storage and reuse of the Littman sculptural reliefs on the exterior of the building. Neither have yet been accomplished.
With development plans hampered by the national downturn in the economy, the ownership group was successful in receiving three subsequent two-year extensions. The last of those extensions will expire in early September and the owners must begin demolition or re-apply for a new land use approval with no guarantees of receiving permission to demolish the building.
Restore Oregon has recently learned that the property is in the process of being sold. The new buyer has not yet been identified. We share concerns with the community that the loss of this modernist landmark will irreparably damage the fabric of Salem and its Downtown State Street-Commercial Street Historic District. Furthermore, because of the national importance of Belluschi and his work, this demolition and its impact would be felt across the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Restore Oregon continues to monitor and assess the situation. Please contact us if you see any changes at the site.