A historic queen anne home on a small street north of downtown faces an uncertain future.
After housing a series of families since about the 1880s, the home at 1950 Water St. NE was purchased by the Salvation Army in 2007. The Army now wants to demolish or move the structure, so it can use the land it sits on to expand the agency’s services for homeless populations, already situated on adjacent lots.
The historic nature of the home may impede these plans.
“We built a beautiful facility at the Kroc Center, and we hope to build a beautiful facility here,” says Captain Dan Williams, Salvation Army County Coordinator for Marion and Polk Counties. “We aim to build something of that same quality, but to house homeless men and women and to provide social services to benefit the community.”
At the time of the 2007 purchase, the Salvation Army was unaware that, decades ago, the City of Salem had placed the home on the Salem Historic Resource Inventory. In 2016 the city provided Salvation Army with a 1993 Historic Resource Survey form regarding the house that says “one early resident was A.E. Gilbert, brother of A.F. Gilbert of the prominent Salem family.” The City told the Salvation Army that if they need the structure to be torn down, it will require Historic Resource Demolition, an involved process mandated by Salem code that includes approval by the Historic Landmarks Commission.
“The [Salvation Army] officers who bought the property didn’t know the home was on a historical list,” says Gary Nelson, a historian and Vice Chair of the Salvation Army Advisory Committee. It would have made a difference, Nelson says, “because we’re not in the business of restoring buildings; we’re in the business of providing social services.”
Nelson has investigated censuses, directories and insurance maps back through the late 1800s to find documentation that the home was in fact a Gilbert residence. He says he hasn’t found any indication that a Gilbert ever lived there.
Salem’s Susan Kay Huston, a proponent for preservation, found possible documentation in an old file that contained property tax statements and an earlier appraisal. The typewritten document suggests that A.F. and Mary E Gilbert bought the home, (or the property,) in 1882 and sold it in 1889.
Historian Virginia Green, author of Shine On Salem, http://shineonsalem.org, a well-known online resource, says realtors know about the historical resource list and the landmark status of the property should have been reported to any prospective buyer. Although Green is convinced the property was once a Gilbert residence, she says, “What’s important is not who owned it, but that it has been designated by the city as a local landmark.”
The home at 1950 Water St., she says, “has the three qualities needed to be deemed a Local Landmark: age, integrity and an established provenance.” A critical value for historic structures is whether they look like they looked when they were built, “especially from the street,” Green says. “And this house has that integrity.”
A group of Salem residents who love the fine old home and its history, including some who have lived there or whose ancestors once lived there, advocate for its preservation now. They are neighbors, admirers of architecture and community members who want the home to remain in its longtime location on Water Street looking west over the Willamette River or at least be moved, perhaps to Riverfront Park. They say that although the building is not ADA-accessible or built to current code, it still has beauty, use and value.
Jennie Morris’s family inhabited the home for nearly 50 years, beginning in the early 1960s. “My mother always told me this was the first Queen Anne built west of the Mississippi,” she says. “It should not be torn down. It deserves better.”
Huston is aware that several people have wanted to buy the house in recent years. “It is a treasure,” she says, “a treasure for this community.”
The Salvation Army is open to a sale of the structure. Nelson notes that although he has sufficient information to have the home removed from the Historic Resource Inventory as a first step in its demolition, “our preference is to have it moved, so it can be put into in use where it is most beneficial to the community.”