One of Salem’s most prominent public buildings will be sold to a private developer if all goes according to a State-sponsored plan to divest the property later this year. Listed as a 2013 Most Endangered Place, the 1912 Dome Building was once part of the sprawling Oregon State Hospital campus in Salem, an institution made famous (or infamous) by the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While the southern portion of the campus was recently rebuilt for continued hospital use (including a museum), the northern portion is largely vacant and has for many years been eyed for sale and private redevelopment. Although several older buildings remain on the northern portion of the campus, the Dome Building is an iconic landmark worth preserving.
The Dome Building originally served as the receiving ward for the hospital, admitting new patients to what was then known as the Oregon Insane Asylum. In 2008 the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places along with the entire hospital campus because of its architectural and social history.
As reported in a recent Statesman-Journal article, Salem preservationists are becoming increasingly concerned the stately building won’t be given the protection and reinvestment it deserves once the building leaves public ownership. Currently managed by the Department of Administrative Services, a process is under way that would engage a private developer in the sale of Dome Building and the surrounding 47-acres to make way for a $100 million urban redevelopment project. A first attempt to find such a developer failed earlier this month. A new process to identify a developer will begin soon, however, public funds to maintain and plan for the property are dwindling.
While the Salem Historic Landmarks Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office have some authority over the future of the Dome Building, many recent advocacy issues have shed light on the limitations of Salem’s public review processes. One prominent example is Howard Hall, the State’s former School for the Blind, which was sold to a private owner who now intends to demolish the landmark property. Salem preservationists worry that if protections are not put in writing now, the Dome Building may meet a similar fate in the years ahead.
Restore Oregon has been in regular discussions with the Department of Administrative Services, the City of Salem, and local preservationists for the better part of the last year to find solutions for the Dome Building. To alleviate concerns that the building will fall into disrepair, be inappropriately altered, or face the wrecking ball after its sale, a conservation easement has been proposed as a mechanism to ensure its long-term preservation. Local discussions continue to evolve, but all parties remain hopeful that a successful adaptive reuse of Dome Building will be made a part of the larger redevelopment vision.