Construction is underway at 990 Broadway N.E., which will produce 23 residential units. Developers worked with historic preservationists to make sure artifacts from Salem's pioneer era were preserved. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)

Typically when a developer begins work on a new building, work crews start digging one big hole. 

But a new housing development at 990 Broadway N.E. began with 10, said Charles Weathers, the owner of Orreo, LLC, the company that’s developing the formerly vacant lot. 

The 15,000-square-foot lot is located on one of the most significant archeological sites in Salem, said Kimberli Fitzgerald, the city’s historic preservation manager. The site was the previous location of the Jason Lee Mission house, which Fitzgerald said is the first European-built structure in Salem. 

“In my opinion, it’s one of the most significant archaeological sites in Salem,” said Fitzgerald. 

The house, built between 1840 and 1841, served as the base for Lee, a Methodist minister who is considered the founder of Salem as well as Willamette University. In 1963, the house moved to the Willamette Heritage Center, where it remains as the oldest standing structure in the Pacific Northwest.

For decades, it remained a vacant lot. When the city planning commission approved permits for development on the project in November 2019, it triggered a historical and archeological review process because it’s located on one of the city’s 250 known archeologically significant sites in Salem, said Fitzgerald. 

Normally, the developer or property owner is responsible for completing the work to make sure that any historical artifacts are preserved. But because the site has particular significance, Fitzgerald said she approached Weathers and the property’s owner, Luke Glaze, about partnering with them on the review. 

“Since we are going to disturb the ground, let’s look around,” Weather said of his response to the proposal. 

Fitzgerald said they brought in Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde, as well as the Willamette University archeology department, the Willamette Heritage Center and others to help excavate the site meter by meter. 

She said the collaborative approach paid off. Partners on the excavation brought in ground-penetrating radar to locate potential artifacts and volunteers began methodically excavating the site in April and May of last year. 

Of the more significant finds was the Lee house’s brick foundation, said Fitzgerald, which she said raises questions over whether the bricks were manufactured locally or brought in. The excavation also unearthed 2,000 artifacts that are currently being sorted, she said. One of the items found was a child’s marble, likely from a family that moved into the house after Lee’s time, she said. 

Ceramics and bones from deer and elk that made up the diet of the house’s inhabitants were also dug up, said Fitzgerald. Once all the items have been analyzed and sorted some will likely go on display at the Willamette Heritage Center.

Fitzgerald said that in the meantime people have been surprised at the findings.

“Oh, I didn’t know this was here,” is a common comment Fitzgerald said she’s heard. 

Now, the property will again become housing. 

A rendering of a new housing development at 990 Broadway N.E. , designed by CBTWO Architects. (Courtesy/ORREO, LLC)

The roughly $3.35 million building will have a horseshoe-like design, wrapping around the courtyard, city spokeswoman Nicole Miller said in an email. Its new residential units will include 16 studio apartments, five one-bedroom and a couple of two-bedroom units. The bottom floor will include 2,5000 square feet of commercial space. 

Construction of the building, designed by CBTWO Architects, is partially funded with a $572,689 grant in urban renewal funds from the city. Forty percent of the units will be leased to tenants at or below Salem’s median family income. The median household income in Salem is $55,920, according to U.S. Census figures

After Weather began conversations with the property’s owner, Luke Glaze about developing the location, it became clear that its zoning and location in an urban renewal area made it suitable for housing. 

“The need in Salem and in the valley is for housing, so we wanted to find the design to get the most housing out of the square footage,” he said. Weather hopes the building will be ready to have tenants move in by July.

Disclosure: Property owner Luke Glaze also owns Salem Reporter’s current office space.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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