I am disappointed to hear the possibility of MURA's back-tracking over the restoration of the Greyhound arch as a part of park blocks in The Commons.
I can appreciate the concern about costs and agree that $50,000 seems like a lot of money, even within the cost of parks. It also sounds like a nice round number that was offered by somebody looking to scuttle this feature as too expensive. It sounds high to me but, for the moment, let's assume it's an accurate figure. MURA and Lithia Motors should still keep the Greyhound Bus Depot portal as an element in The Commons blocks.
Cities have a choice to rush toward the mundane or to be creative and visionary where they can. While I appreciate the effort that MURA and Lithia are putting into The Commons parks, the fact of the matter is that brand-new designs, smack dab in the midst of a historic downtown, no matter how well-conceived, have a strong tendency toward sterility.
Hardscape parks, by their very nature, can be especially sterile as concerns about durability and low maintenance tend to trump the very things that make a park space beloved. Saving the arch is an opportunity to avoid that killer sterility and humanize the park.
OK, we can disagree on the aesthetic value of the arch, but there is no denying that it is weird, edgy and notable. It's already attracting attention and the restoration of it hasn't even started. And while it may currently appear "blah" and concrete, the ceramic tiles that cover the arch are actually a cool mottled green that will give the arch that much more visual character when they are cleaned. The "Greyhound" letters that originally capped the portal, in some form, can be returned and it will just exude 1950s postwar "cool."
Yes, it's a remnant, an isolated bit, of the building that once stood here. That's the point. The restored arch will attract interest, provoke questions and thought. Most importantly it will help define the space as having a connection to what it replaced, far more than any fountain or statue or whatever other "safe" choice that would provide a much needed vertical element in the park. And even at $50,000, restoring the existing arch will almost certainly cost less than commissioning any new work.
The Greyhound arch was designed by Robert Keeney (Frank Clark's partner) in 1949 and is a part of Medford's history, a connection to the transportation industry that once dominated the entire area now known as The Commons (Riverside was known as "Auto Row"). Saving it will give Medford, and Lithia Motors, a chance to put The Commons in context.
Context is important. It documents the passage of time, helps put things in perspective and reminds anyone with an open mind that Medford, Lithia Motors and Southern Oregon have a history worth celebrating. Sometimes we need a physical reminder of that. The arch, for all its weirdness, is a reminder.
I was the consultant behind the design of the Holly Theatre, and of the renovation of the Carnegie Library, and am the "whom" the MT editorial alludes to that first suggested the Greyhound portal be retained and restored. I stand firm in that conviction.
The thing about preservation, particularly issues like this, is that most everyone thinks you're crazy when you bring them up. I'm used to that. When the doubting Thomases lose, and the preservation happens, it is rarely seen as a mistake.
I hope Medford doesn't make an avoidable mistake here. I strongly encourage the MURA board to have a little faith and some vision. Retain the arch that has been an element of The Commons design from the start. Downtown Medford will be the better for it, and so will The Commons.
George Kramer works throughout Oregon as a historic preservation consultant. He has been the primary designer for the MURA Facade Improvement Grant program since its inception and, in 1997, wrote the nomination forms that resulted in the Downtown Medford Historic District.