SALEM HISTORY: Salem’s alley names provide a glimpse into the past

Looking down Liberty Street, on the left side of the photo, the Electric Building is visible as it appeared in 1939. Located at 241-249 Liberty St NE, the building was constructed in 1917 and also known as the Yeater or PGE Building (Ben Maxwell Photo Collection, Salem Public Library, 1419)

In 2019, the Salem Main Street Association asked residents to suggest names for downtown alleys and vote for their favorites. About 600 people weighed in. As part of Salem Reporter’s local history series, Jacqueline Heavey, chair of the design committee for the project, explains the reason for the project and delves into the history of Electric Alley.

Why did we ask the public to name our historic alleys?

Naming a place gives it power and identity. Naming recognizes otherwise hidden or forgotten places and brings focus and energy to those places. Naming is a recognized tool in activating underutilized spaces in downtowns and an opportunity to honor history, culture, or geographic features. 

Salem’s alleys have become places of commerce as businesses have located their main entrances along them. The Salem Main Street Association along with these local businesses wanted a way to talk about and find these businesses located on the alleys and encourage more businesses to locate along them. During the pandemic two businesses opened up along the alleys, with the word alley in their names. Flowers in the Alley, a flower shop located along Electric Alley, and Alley Cats, a cocktail bar located on Durbin’s Alley. Our alleyways offer an important north-south corridor for pedestrians and cyclists. Hopefully, in time and in partnership with the city, the alleys will continue to be cleaned up and activated with artwork and festivities that provide the unique experience and draw that will benefit the whole of downtown.   

Electric Alley in downtown Salem on Thursday, September 3. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Electric Alley

Electric Alley is bound by Chemeketa and Court Streets to the north and south. 1859 Cider Company, Le Motive Hairdressing, and Flowers in the Alley are all businesses with main entrances located on this alleyway. 

This alley was named for the Electric Building (also known as Yeater or PGE Building) and the Electric Apartments that face along Liberty St. N.E. The Portland Railway, Light & Power Co. erected the “Electric Building”, located at 241-249 Liberty St. N.E., in 1917.

The Oregon Statesman covered the opening reception in an article for the paper called ‘Cakes Baked at Reception’ on Sept. 23, 1917. 

It was reported that at the opening reception, Mrs. M.E. Hawley, official demonstrator and domestic teacher, baked a variety of baked goods for guests to “demonstrate the efficiency of electricity.” Mrs Hawley made the Portland Rose Cake, The Salem Cherry, and the new Edison Cake. Guests described the Edison as very light.

In the mid-1950’s, a tenant covered the façade and the “Electric Apartments” inscription near the roofline was hidden until 2006 when a developer remodeled the building.

We have two utility boxes wrapped in the alley that tell the story of the opening reception- generously donated by Salem Electric. Through another generous donation from Northside Electric, the Salem Main Street Association was able to light up the Electric Alley tree to offer some ambiance in the evening.

Editor’s note: This column is a new feature from Salem Reporter to highlight local history in collaboration with area historians and historical organizations. If you have any feedback or would like to participate, please contact managing editor Rachel Alexander at [email protected]

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