29 November 2007

[info_design, street_blades] A Tour Of Salem and Keizer's Street Blades

1158. Latterly, as detailed before in this consciousness stream, we visited Salem to see Fam and overeat generally. Missions both accomplished. But what Yours Truly had in mind was to snap some images of something we don't see often: Salem and Keizer street blades. Lets just cut to the chase, then.

The first of the two cities one comes to is, of course, Keizer. Formed in 1982, mostly to keep Salem out, Keizer is one of the two areas where Salem ever got any sprawl on before urban growth boundaries sprang up around Oregon cities back in the day.

Here's a typical set of blades in a typical Keizer neighborhood. 14th Avenue NE is notable because it is to greater Salem what Peacock Lane is to Portland–it's the street where all the neighbors go all out every holiday season in a Christmas decoration extravaganza:

The block number indexes are notable here. You're looking at the intersection of the 1300 block of Harmony Dr NE and the 5700 block of 14th Av NE–in constrast with Portland, where the block number is placed on the crossing-street blade and omitted from the numbered Ave blade (the block number of the named street being easily deduced from the number of the Avenue). Other notable traits are the blue color of the sign (in constrast to the green background of Salem's (and almost every other city which we've been in) and the standard look of the font.

There is also one rather delightful difference:

Keizer really personalizes its street blades by putting the city symbol on. I really like this and I think it would be quite cool if more cities locally did it. It's visually interesting and leaves you no doubt as to which jurisdiction you're in, contributing to sense-of-place (this is also why, digressing now, Hillsboro standardized addressing and street naming in the Reedsville area where all its recent annexations are being completed).

The banner on the bottom displays the city's motto: Pride, Spirit, & Volunteerism. This was chosen early on over some other motto ideas such as We're not Salem, Dammit, Death to the Salem Overlords, and the recently-floated Those Pedestrian Barriers Aren't What They Look Like, so Stop Saying That, Oh, Hell, We'll Spend More Money to Replace Them.

Casting a glance back at the Harmony Dr sign ...

... we take our leave and wend our way down River Road N into the north end of Salem. Address, wise, Salem is divided into five "quadrants", four east of the river (N, NE, SE, S) and one west (NW). There is no defined SW area of town (there is one that could be west of Eola, but that's getting off the program again). All directional areas are represented in the Salem corporate limits, but North is the smallest–literally just a handful of square blocks. Stark St N (no obvious relation to our Stark St) lies just inside the Salem city limits from Keizer, and the River Road N name continues for a fraction of a mile inside Salem. River Rd N forms the dividing line between N and NE, and all streets on the N side of River Road are in the 100 block:

The Salem street blades are nothing if not readable, and the same stadard font look applies. Presumably Salem, Kezier (and maybe even Marion County) use the same sign shop. What isn't evident from these photos (though perhaps it can be sensed) is how big these newer street signs are. I had to back up a aways to get this shot framed properly.

River Road N does a three way split int Commercial, Liberty, and Front Streets NE about two blocks south of this. We proceeded perforce onto the cardinally-oriented grid of north Salem's streets; in short order, we reached the place where the street pattern doglegs to the canted orientation of the city center which, along Commercial St NE, happen where Commercial, South St NE, and Jefferson Street NE come together. Perforce, photeaux:

If the Stark Street side seemed big, this seems particularly Brobdingnagian.

The Commerical St blade seems a bit off-kilter here–maybe because it's so large? And just to drive home the point as to how big these signs are, consider that I stood at the corner of Commercial and Jefferson, meaning I took this photo from about 100 feet away:

Moving along from here, my Fam lives on the east side of Salem, beyond Lancaster Drive. So, after going through downtown Salem (pictures of that were here) we proceeded out State Street.

State Street, in the geography of Salem, serves the same purpose as East Burnside Street here in Portland; it divides the main north side of the eastside from the main south portion. Therefore, naturally, streets north of State Street are suffixed NE; those south are suffixed SE (Liberty Street on the other side of this pictures intersection would be Liberty Street SE). Uniquely for State Street, however, there is no directional suffix at all. Historically, State Street has only been State Street, not State Street NE or State Street SE–and certainly not State Street E (which would be logical even though people would wonder why there's no State St W–the reason why this is is obvious from looking at the physical and human geography of Salem).

Here's the State Street sign up close:

We note that the generic ST seems to have been applied on a patch. We have a guess as to why that is; that will come a little ways down the road, literally as well as literarily.

We also find that Salem has taken an interesting approach to sign-topping. Informational content is preserved because the block index is on the main blade.

Here's what the Liberty St NE blade looks like up close:

Moving west we find there are no numbered streets until we cross the railroad tracks at 12th and State, then they start increasing as one moves east. At 21st St SE and State (they don't line up, indicating that the north side of State may have been developed at a different time than that south of State), we find a particularly "horsey" example:

This seems overwhelmingly big even without immediate context. But the real howler here? This is on the south side of State Street. That sign should read 21st St SE, not NE (any Salem reader wants to verify this, just go to the US Market & Cigs quick-shop at the corner of 21st and State, and look at the street sign on the corner across 21st (but don't go into the US Market & Cigs, as romantically named as it is–it looks kinda sketchy).

Just down the street we come to State and 24th, and another oddity:

Yes, you read it right. This says "State St SE". Now, it is on the south side of State at 24th, but the preponderance of signs which simple read "State St" (including the newer ones like the photo of 21st St) suggest that this is the out of place example. It was also the only example of State St with a directional we were able to find along State, and we also suspect that the one at State and Liberty, which is approximately the same vintage, was also labeled with a directional–the patch looks about the right size and shape. I did eagle-eye the sign across the street–it did say "State St NE".

And, before we leave this discourse, I did mention above that there are no numbered streets before you cross 12th St going east. this is not strictly true. As Salem grew north, a different (yet still parallel and rectilinear) plat obtained in the north end of town with differently sized–smaller–city blocks. Downtown street names are carried north, but due to a new block size there is an additional north-south street to name between Liberty and Broadway (the extension of High Street NE into north Salem) and Broadway and Church St NE. This problem was solved: the first street is called 4th St NE, and the second one, 5th St NE. They are close enough to being the 400 and 500 blocks that this works logically. The photo details the cross of Jefferson and 4th Streets NE, one block east of the picture location of Jefferson and Commercial.

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Anonymous said...

Very interesting.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Ah ... thanks.

Seriously. We all have our obsessions–this is mine.