City News

Salem Civic Center nominated for National Register of Historic Places

Salem’s Civic Center, which houses City Hall, the library and other city offices, is being nominated for a listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the America’s historic places worthy of preservation but doesn’t put restrictions on what an owner can do with the property.  

The center, located at 555 Liberty St. S.E., is being nominated because it represents important ideals for Salem’s community planning and development and serves as an example of architecture called New Brutalist, according to a Wednesday news release about the nomination. It was nominated by Salem’s Historic Landmarks Commission.

The period of significance for the nomination is 1971 to 1972, which spans the dates of construction and completion of the Civic Center.  

The city is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the center this summer.  

Salem’s old City Hall tower, built in 1893 at the corner of High and Chemeketa Streets, was demolished in 1972 as city offices, police and fire departments moved to the new civic center.  

Following World War II, the United States and Salem were rapidly growing. The 1893 City Hall Building was no longer sufficient to house city services and no longer met the needs of Salem government and residents,” the release said. 

It said for two decades the community completed multiple studies to determine the best approach. 

We cannot in good conscious tell you we are at the present time very efficient, cramped as we are and spread around the town as we are,” said then Mayor Vern Miller in a 1968 appeal for the construction of a new city hall.

The $10 million Civic Center opened on Aug. 18, 1972.  

“The great glass and concrete heart of the city’s new civic center officially began to beat this morning,” read a 1972 article in the Albany Democrat Herald.

It said then Governor Tom McCall and Miller made dedication speeches and actor James Drury led a parade the morning of the opening.

A consortium of Salem architects designed the building, with the main courtyard meant to be a modern version of the central courtyards of Italy, the article explained.

Then there were the materials: 24,000 cubic yards of concrete, 51,075 square feet of glass and 2,037 tons of reinforced steel.

Some of the other Salem locations listed in the register include Bush House, the Reed Opera House, Oregon State Capitol and Chemawa Indian School site. 

 Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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