Salem history: the governor’s mansion turns 100

In 1924, Thomas and Edna Livesley moved into their new home in Salem. Livesley was an internationally known hop grower. He hired Ellis F. Lawrence, a Portland architect, to design the 9,840 square foot home on Fairmount Hill.  

Ellis was familiar with the Salem area. He designed the 1912 Masonic Building, also known as the Franklin Building, located downtown at 101 High St. N.E. It is now the location of Willamette Valley Bank.

Ellis’ design ensured the Tudor-style home had enough space entertaining and rooms for their four children. The location at the end of South Lincoln Street provided a phenomenal view of the Willamette Valley and proximity to a growing downtown.  

The Livesely family home had a variety of residents between 1958 and 1987. In 1987, Medford resident Otto Frohnmeyer chaired a committee of Oregon citizens that raised $1.5 million to purchase and refurbish the Livesley home. When the remodel was completed, ownership of the home was transferred to the State of Oregon with the Department of Administrative Services acquiring responsibility for the maintenance. The Livesley family home would become home to Oregon’s governors. 

Since 1858, Oregon’s first 32 governors lived in private homes or houses rented from the state.

Mahonia Hall turns 100 this year. 

Mahonia aquifolium is the Latin name for Oregon Grape which has been Oregon’s state flower since 1899. Bernard M’Mahon, or McMahon, was an American horticulturist in Philadelphia. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark cultivated seeds along their expedition. When they returned in 1806, their seeds were grown by Bernard in his Philadelphia garden. M’Mahon named the plant that served as the inspiration.

The first dignitaries to stay at Mahonia Hall may have been President Jimmy and First Lady Roslyn Carter. Governor Neil Goldschmidt, the first governor to live in the residence, said the Carters might stay with him following President Carter’s speech at Linfield University on April 6, 1988, according to an article in the Statesman Journal. Carter’s visit and speech, “A Personal Assessment of the Possibilities for Peace in the Middle East,” was part of the Gordon G. Frazee Lectureship series. 

Mahonia Hall has benefited from several remodels. Governor Barbara Roberts asked a committee of private citizens to raise funds for an elevator and remodel bathrooms to ensure they were accessible. Governor John Kitzhaber and his wife, Sharon, updated wiring, removed wallpaper, restored woodwork, and remodeled the kitchen in 2000. In a 2001 interview with Oregon Home, Sharon said, “I like to think we created a neutral canvas that future families can personalize.”

Mahonia Hall is part of the fabric of Fairmount Hills. Every governor integrates into the neighborhood differently. Ted Kulongoski’s dog Hershey was a favorite. The neighborhood hosted a going away party for Hershey at Fairmount Park. One year, Kate Brown dressed up as Raggedy Ann and handed out candy on Halloween. There is pride in knowing the state Governor is a neighbor.


A grape, a contest and a grandmother’s legacy: how the governor’s home got its name

Correction: It is unclear from newspaper reports whether President Jimmy Carter actually stayed at Mahonia Hall in 1988. Governor Neil Goldschmidt told the press he might be staying in the mansion during a trip to Oregon to speak at Linfield University. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Rebekah Willhite is a freelance writer in Salem. Contact her at [email protected].

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Rebekah Willhite - Special to Salem Reporter