Governor Charles H. Martin's Administration

Governor's Special Session Message, 1935

Source: STATE OF OREGON MESSAGE Of GOVERNOR CHARLES H. MARTIN To The Thirty-eighth Legislative Assembly of Oregon Special Session

October 21,1935

To the Honorable President and Members of the Senate, and to the Honorable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the 38th Legislative Assembly:

I come here today to welcome you to what is probably the most important session of the state legislature since 1872. the fire which destroyed Oregon’s beautiful and historic state capitol building on April 25, 1935, created a grave emergency in the life of our people and has placed a heavy burden of responsibility on the members of our present legislative assembly. There is universal agreement that a new building must be erected. Our previous state house served our people for almost 60 years. In erecting a new state house we are entitled to expect that it will endure for a century.

I have called the legislature together to convene in extraordinary session to solve this major problem. I believe the task is of such magnitude that we should devote our undivided attention to its solution and confine the deliberation of this assembly to a consideration of the erection of a capitol building for our state.

Since issuing the call for this session on October 78, 1935, I have been advised by our Attorney General that the existing state legislation is sufficient to enable our people to get the full benefits of the Federal Economic Security Act, with particular reference to old age pensions, until 1940, and that there is no emergency legislation which can not reasonably be postponed to the regular session of 1937.

Under the circumastances, therefore, it is my request, and I believe it is the wish of a great majority of our people, that the legislature devote its undivided attention to the solution of the problem at hand, namely, to consider ways and means to provide a new capitol building for the state of Oregon. In your deliberations on this vital question, may I assure you of my sympathetic cooperation and desire to aid you in the performance of your duties. The people of Oregon realize that the solution of this great problem rests squarely upon the legislative assembly, and are confident that you will decide with wisdom and discretion, having regard to the needs of our people during the coming years. It is my hope that the session may be brief and that the expenses of the session may be kept to a minimum.

When the fire came upon us, the first need was to house those departments of the state government whose quarters were destroyed, so that the routine of business might proceed. This operation, and the salvaging of unburned records, securities and equipment, were prosecuted as rapidly as circumstances would permit.

The heat of the conflagration had scarcely cooled before thought was given to disposal of the ruins or their conservation if possible. Engineers, architects and other experts employed to survey the situation unanimously reported that any attempt to utilize the badly damaged masonry would be economically unsound and dangerous to human life. The State Emergency Relief Administration offered to supply labor for wrecking. Under the circumstances, it was decided by the State Board of Control that the best interests of the state would be served by demolishing the ruins, and this has now been done at a nominal cost.

The Federal Grant

On the day after the fire I received a gracious telegram from the President of the United States, offering his sympathy and the aid of the federal government to Oregon. Pursuant to the President’s kindly offer an application was made for a grant of funds from the Public Works Administration, and with the active aid of Oregon’s distinguished senior senator, Hon. Charles L. McNary, a gift of $1,575,000 was obtained to apply towards the construction of a building. No federal funds are available for a capitol site.

The Capitol Problem

The legislature’s present task is to take action on four important questions of the capitol program, namely:

Selection of the site.

Determination of the building or buildings to be constructed.

Plan of financing and provision for funds.

Method of procedure.

A very careful analysis of these problems is given in the final report of the State Planning Board on the State Capitol Building Program, dated October 21,1935. Printed copies of this report will be found on your desks.

The first problem, that of the site, seems to be the most controversial of all. I shall, therefore, defer its discussion for a moment and consider the three other problems raised.

Buildings Needed

As to the next decision, that of purposes of the building or buildings to be erected, I am advised that the state’s most urgent needs are: (1) housing for the legislature and those administrative department of government which have lost their quarters, (2) a building specially designed for the state library, and (3) a state office building to relieve the present congestion. Other buildings, which I believe justified, would be an official residence for the governor, and a state museum. I do not expect that such a complete building program can be attempted at this time, but I feel that I should mention these urgent needs because they must be faced in the near future, and we would be short-sighted to ignore them now and fail to provide space for them. It is interesting to me to note that West Virginia, after having spent $10,000,000 on a capitol group in 1932, now finds its buildings very overcrowded, and with desks in the corridors.

Cost of Main Building

State Treasurer Rufus C. Holman advises me that the state is in a very favorable financial; position, and that the next few years will see an even greater improvement in the state’s finances.

How much Oregon should spend on its capitol project is a question that must be answered by the legislative assembly. The State Planning Board, after study of present needs, outlined a program requiring four and a half millions, including a capitol building, a state library and a new state office building. Another investigation by the planning board, based on average expenditures of other states for capitol buildings proper, indicated that Oregon with its present population would be justified in spending three and a half millions for the main building. On this basis the application was made to the Public Works Administration, requesting a grant of 45 percent of the total, or $1,575,000. With unusual promptness, this very generous gift was offered the state of Oregon. The legislatures, only present obligation for financing of the capitol building proper, if it agrees on the proposed expenditure, is to provide the 55 percent balance, $1,925,000.

What Other States Spent

I want to point out that, on the basis of contributing $1,925,000, Oregon would be spending less on its capitol building than any other state in recent times, excepting three, and far less than the average. The costs of state capitols built since 1912 are as follows:

Arkansas (built in 1912) $2,500,000

Idaho (built in 1912) $2,290,000

Montana (built in 1912) $490,000

Utah (built in 1916) $2,739,500

Missouri (built in 1917) $3,775,000

Oklahoma (built in 1917) $1,500,000

Wisconsin (built in 1917) $7,203,800

Wyoming (built in 1917) $402,500

Washington (built in 1928) $6,554,000

Nebraska (built in 1932) $3,000,000

West Virginia (built in 1932) $10,000,000

North Dakota (built in 1934) $1,996,500

The average cost of these last 13 capitols is about 4 millions.

From these figures it is evident that Oregon, proceeding on a $3,500,000 program, with almost half of this amount granted outright by the federal government, would be following an extremely economical, modest program.

Capitol Financing

After consultation with the state treasurer, the attorney general and the federal authorities, I am happy to advise that the state’s 55 percent share of the $3,500,000 for the building can be provided out of the general fund of the state as follows:$650,000 for the year 1936; $650,000 for the year 1937; $625,000 for the year 1938, making a total of $1,925,000.

As an alternative proposition I suggest that this sum be secured from the liquor revenues of the state. I am advised by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission that the estimated net revenues of the commission for the three months of October, November and December, 1935, and for the years 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939 are $7,411,000. After deducting outstanding indebtedness, there is over $6,000,000 available for the uses of the state over that period. Under the existing law the net revenues are temporarily diverted to relief purposes for the current biennium, but, as the relief burden will be very substantially reduced by the President’s work relief program, I believe that the entire financing of the state’s share of the capitol building and the purchase of a suitable site can be had from the liquor revenues. This would mean that the entire capitol project could be financed without adding one dollar to the state’s debt within the meaning of the constitutional limitation, nor would it to the slightest degree add to the tax levy burden which is now so seriously depleting the resources of our taxpayers.

Capitol Commission

Referring to the method of procedure in erecting a sat capitol, I recommend that the legislature create a non-political capitol commission of five competent and outstanding citizens, the members to be appointed by the governor and the commission to be fully empowered to act.

Capitol Site

I come now to what in my opinion is the most important decision to be made, namely, the site for the future capitol program. This decision is vital because upon it all future developments depend. By thoughtful action now this assembly may save our people millions of dollars of expenditure at a later time; by a hasty, prejudiced , or ill-advised vote, it may give the state an impossible problem from which it will suffer for generations and only partially be solved by the expenditure of large sums in the comparatively near future. I have received a mass of overwhelming evidence from other states of this Union who have bitterly regretted the mistakes of earliest generations, ---mistakes for which they have had to pay dearly and continue to pay for now.

I have one broad recommendation to make on this matter of the site. The state of Oregon, for which this legislature now has full responsibility, should have an adequate site, regardless of its location, for the development of future buildings.

Capitol Sites of Other States

Miss Mirpah G. Blair, assistant librarian, under the personal direction of Miss Harriet C. Long, our state librarian, has prepared a very careful and accurate compilation of other state capitol buildings and their sites in this country. I believe you will find this report on your desks at the present time. This statement presents an idea of what other states have considered proper sizes for their capitol sites. I shall mention a few. Arkansas has 43 acres, California, 40; Kansas, 20; Kentucky 30; Louisiana 27, Maine, 34; Oklahoma, 77; Pennsylvania, 42; South Dakota, 21; Texas, 25; Utah, 36; Washington, 48; West Virginia, 20; Little Delaware has 27 acres; Iowa has 93; and North Dakota, 160 acres.

Oregon’s Old Site

Oregon’s capitol site consists of a piece of ground 331 feet by 660 feet, containing about 5 acres. I hardly need mention to the members of this legislature, although many persons do not seem to know, that the state does not own Willson Park, which adjoins the old capitol site and lies west of Summer street. You will be pleased to know, however, that the city of Salem has generously offered to donate Willson Park to the state, subject to the rights of the Willson heirs. Whether or not the Willson heirs would consent to the erection of a state capitol building on any portion of Willson Park, or whether the erection of such a building would cause the park to revert to the Willson heirs, I am not in a position to advise. I might mention here that the city has also agreed to vacate Waverly street, which separates the old capitol site from the supreme court and state office buildings.

An article in the “Weekly Mercury” (Official Paper of the State of Oregon) Salem, Oregon—May 30, 1873, is most enlightening. Even when the old capitol site was determined on, there were misgivings as to the sufficiency of land. I quote:

“The grounds are well situated, and considering the amount of open ground immediately adjacent, and which will always be open, are ample and sightly. There is a tract of ground immediately in the rear of this site of about five acres lately belonging to the Waldo estate which could be had at a reasonable figure for a future botanical garden, connected with the public grounds if desired.”

A Skyscraper Capitol?

At my request Mr. F.G. Hutchinson, an outstanding architect and draftsman of many years experience, of the State Highway Department, has made a drawing of a capitol building located on the original site. Copies of this drawing will be made available to the members. This drawing supports the view of all of the experts—engineers, architects and economists with whom I have consulted, namely, that were the capitol to be constructed on the old site a building of at least 25 stories would be required. Not only would such a building be completely out of keeping with the architecture and building lines of the city of Salem and of the supreme court and state office building, but it would be a very expensive type of building to erect and maintain, justified only in metropolitan centers where land is exceedingly costly.

I am informed by architects that the cost of such a skyscraper capitol would be not less than $4,500,000. Architects advise me also that even a skyscraper needs a large architectural base, not only for good appearance, but to house various departments, such as legislative halls, which should be near the ground. The old site, with a skyscraper on it, would allow no opportunity for future expansion, It will be noted that in the Hutchinson drawing the building covers practically all of the site and goes to the very property line of Willson Park. And, even if we should decide to build a skyscraper capitol, we should provide a site large enough to let the whole beauty of it be seen. The taller the building the longer the view required, as shown by the Louisiana, the Nebraska, and the North Dakota capitols.

Furthermore, if a capitol building were erected on the old site, or in Willson Park, it would mean a virtually complete destruction of the beautiful and costly trees assembled there from all parts of the world. A description of these trees is given on pages 146 and 147 of the current issue of the state Blue Book. It will be noted that the park is the result of 46 years of devoted effort, study and care, a large part of which would be lost if a capitol were erected on the old site or in Willson Park.

To sum up, for these and various other reasons I am unalterably opposed to the erection of a capitol on the old, narrow and inadequate site.

Need Adequate Site

Many other states have been confronted, at some time in their history, by the same problem facing Oregon today. Wherever a narrow, parsimonious decision was made it was later condemned. From the mass of evidence I will cite one case, that of Kentucky. When a new capitol was decided upon, there was discussion of larger grounds, but through sentimentality and a niggardly idea of economy the old cramped site, on which the capitol had stood for a century, was adopted. Architectural planning showed that a proper development was impossible. A special session of the legislature had to be called, to purchase more land. The new site contains 40 acres. Some states, having made the same mistake, have never succeeded in rectifying it; others have done so, more or less satisfactorily, but at a very high price. All this evidence shows that with plenty of land there is everything to gain and nothing to lose.

I submit this as a business proposition: that it is better to acquire a large piece of land, improve it, and, if found too large, sell part of it at a profit, than to take too small a site and have to buy more land at a high price, due to the improvements already paid for by the citizens.

I agree with the opinion of the State Planning Board that the ground is definitely a part of the whole design—the most important part because it is the foundation. Taking this view, there is no less reason for buying land than for buying buildings. Of the two, land is the better investment because improvements enhance its value, while the very same buildings which improve it start to depreciate from the day they are finished. A present attempt at economy in land might very likely result in gross extravagance over a period of years. Such “economy” is false economy; not wisdom.

Therefore, I make this recommendation: that state funds be appropriated, as may be necessary, for the purchase of an adequate capitol site. I recommend the acquisition of a site not smaller than 25 acres, and larger if possible.

Sites Available

Several sites, which I consider adequate in size, have been proposed and are worthy of consideration. I shall mention them without describing the land in detail or the terms on which they may be acquired.

1. The Willamette University campus added to the present property; the city has generously offered to augment the tract by donating Willson Park, and vacating Waverly street.

2. The “Candalaria Heights” tract of 96 acres. In my extensive travels and views of public buildings throughout the world, this is the most commanding and attractive site for a great capitol that I have ever seen.

3. The “Capitol Hill” tract, which, though not so sightly as Candalaria Heights, has the advantage of closer proximity to the city.

4. The “Bush Pasture” tract. The State Planning Board regards this as an ideal site, but it seems impossible to acquire by reason of its present title.

5. An expansion on the north of the present site. I do not recommend this proposal unless at least six blocks are acquired and the intervening streets vacated.

6. An expansion on the east of the supreme court and state office buildings. This would require the acquisition of nine blocks and the vacation of the intervening streets.

I urge the members to visit personally each of these sites and to give each careful consideration.

The Attorney General’s Opinion

In connection with these various capitol sites I must call to your attention the opinion of our attorney general to the effect that unless the seat of government is changed or enlarged by vote of the people, in the manner provided in Article XIV of the State Constitution, the capitol building must be located within the corporate limits of the city of Salem, as existing on June 6, 1864. The then corporate boundaries were fixed by the legislative act of 1862 incorporating Salem, and can be found on page 3 of the special laws of that year. The opinion, if valid, would exclude from consideration the Bust Pasture tract and the Candalaria Heights tract.

While I have the utmost respect for our able attorney general and the careful opinion which he has prepared, it is only fair to point out to you that his views are not necessarily those of the 2,300 other attorneys in the state. I quote from an opinion given me by some of the most distinguished constitutional lawyers in Oregon, who are recognized leaders of the bar of this state:

“The contention that the legislature is limited to a site within the city limits, as they were originally, assumes that the Constitution required the selection of a particular area of ground (commensurate with the limits of the city or town chosen) as the seat of government, and that pursuant to this requirement the then area of the city of Salem was made the permanent seat of government of the state.

“The opposing view is that the Constitution contemplated not the selection of a particular area of ground but of a city at or in which the buildings necessary for the conduct of the business of the state would be located. This seems to us the natural and reasonable interpretation to be given the language of the constitutional provision.

“If the requirement of the Constitution is thus construed, we think it clear that public buildings could be located outside the city limits, provided always that the site chosen is sufficiently near so that in actual result Salem would continue to be the business headquarters of the state.

“The decision of the Supreme Court in the Klamath County case (Murdoch v. Klamath County Court, 62 Or. 483) supports this view. The court there held that the requirement for the location of a county seat ‘at the town of Linkville’, permitted the construction of the courthouse ‘near or in proximity to that place’.

“You will note, too, that the 1908 amendment to the Constitution authorizes the location of the ‘public institutions of the state’ anywhere in Marion county. The term ‘public institutions of the state’ may well be interpreted to include the capitol building; and while the 1908 amendment may not authorize the selection of a site so far from Salem that the practical result would be a change in the ‘set of government’, the amendment does evidence an intention to expand the limitations theretofore in effect with respect to the location of public buildings.

“You appreciate, of course, that the Supreme Court of the state has the last word upon this question, and that there is no exact standard applicable by which it can be determined in advance just what the answer will be. We believe, however, that in view of the 1908 amendment and the decision in the Klamath county case, the Supreme Court is likely to take a broad view of the question and to hold that the location of the capitol building upon a site near, but not necessarily within, the city limits, does not involve a change in the seat of government of the state.”

Advantages of Willamette University Site

A capitol site consisting of the Willamette University campus, the present site, and Willson Park would have these advantages:

1. It is of sufficient size.

2. Architectural studies have shown that it lends itself to adequate development in the future

3. The present supreme court and state office buildings would be conveniently accessible. These buildings have a life expectancy of at least 25 years.

4. There would be some practical advantages in its proximity to the business district of Salem.

5. Much of the surrounding property is of good value and it would tend to improve, especially if the Southern Pacific railroad through tracks on 12th street were removed to Front street.

6. The Willamette University campus can be acquired at a price which is reasonable considering all the above advantages.

The Candalaria Heights Site

As an alternate proposal, the Candalaria Heights tract offers rare opportunities. Its size, beauty, magnificent view, and striking appearance provide all that is necessary for perfect architectural development, which would in my opinion befit the great destiny of this state.

Mr. Hutchinson, under the direction of the State Planning Board, has prepared drawings for consideration of this legislature, to show possible developments of these two sites. In studying them it should be remembered that a conventional type of architecture was deliberately shown in both cases because the drawings were primarily intended to suggest developments of the land. Other types of architecture could also be adapted to these properties, but that was considered a problem to be approached later, after acquisition of an adequate site. The architects will be able to design freely if they are allowed suitable land to work on.

Financing Purchase of Site

The total estimated cost of the 18-acre Willamette University campus is approximately $850,000. It is the understanding that $125,000 of this sum is to be paid by the city of Salem, leaving a balance of $75,000. No federal funds will be available for the purchase of either of these sites.

Under the plans previously outlined the state’s share of the cost of the building can be financed out of the general fund and the cost of the site out of the liquor revenues, or the cost of both can be secured from the liquor revenues.

I have gone into this capitol question fully with the desire to call to your attention the salient problems confronting the legislature for decision, and to give to you the benefit of the thought, study and research of the Board of Control, the State Planning Board, and the other officials, who have contributed so generously of their time and efforts in attempting to aid you to find a wise and far-seeing solution.

I sincerely believe that the federal government would not have offered the state of Oregon a gift of over a million and a half dollars for a capitol had it not been for the faith felt by President Roosevelt in Oregon’s citizens—their energy, ambition, and great destiny. Our President believes that this state, the ninth in size and rich in resources, is on the eve of a tremendous development. After he has expressed this faith and unreservedly trusted us to spend the money with broad vision, I can not see another alternative from any viewpoint.

We must do the job and do it right. In doing so we can not be unmindful of the courage and faith of our fathers, who in 1872, when Oregon had a population of only 90,000, undertook to build our old state house at an ultimate total cost, including the cost of the dome and the porticoes, of approximately $600,000. With a million people in Oregon today, we are entitled to demonstrate substantial progress since 1872.

I congratulate you on your opportunity to make a wise and progressive decision and pledge you my loyal and undivided support in your efforts.

In conclusion, may I quote the words of that great architect and builder, Daniel H. Burnham:

“Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood, and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.”

State Archives • 800 Summer St. NE • Salem, OR 97310

Phone: 503-373-0701 • Fax: 503-378-4118 • reference.archives@state.or.us