They sit amongst us, quiet guideposts to Salem’s past. Some of their stories are well-documented; others remain mysterious.
They are Salem’s abandoned places — buildings or structures that once held great importance but now exist in various states of decay as the natural elements work to reclaim them into the landscape.
Not all of them are in plain sight, but even those that are right in front of us often get overlooked as we bustle about, focusing on newer, better things. Our city holds many of these abandoned places — we chose to highlight a few.
Photos by Diane Stevenson. Text by Sarah Evans and Chris Hagan.
Rusted Car in Minto Brown Island Park
Hikers and cyclists who head south along the slough in Minto Brown Island Park frequently stop to gaze at one unnatural part of the landscape: the rusted remains of a car just off the path.
The former car, its axles torn out and leaning against a nearby tree, is now just a frame — its engine, trunk lid, hood, dials and gauges, windows, steering wheel and seats are long gone. Also gone is all identifying info, meaning that its origin remains a mystery.
John Kleeman, supervisor for South Salem’s city parks, said no one in his department knows the origin of the car, which they estimate to be a 1940 Plymouth. But they recognize that it’s a must-see for many park visitors.
“I can’t imagine the city removing it, because it’s cool. … It’s picturesque in its state of decay,” he said.
Another parks employee who’s been in Salem for decades told Kleeman the car has been sitting there since at least 1967. Kleeman theorized: “It might have been left there by one of the homeowners who were out there before the city purchased the land in the 1970s.”
Tucked among the football and softball fields of South Salem High School is another athletics venue, but one crowds no longer visit.
The Leslie Pool — Leslie Middle School was located on Howard Street SE from 1927 to 1997 — closed in 1989 when Salem-Keizer School District no longer could afford repairs on the site. A study in 1992 estimated costs to repair the pool at anywhere from $300,000-$700,000.
The pool has sat idle since closing, its most useful service supplying parts for other Salem-Keizer pools through the years. Fences surround the spot while grass fills the lanes and the walls are left open to the chalk of softball players.
About 10 years ago, South Central Association of Neighbors attempted to raise funds to complete repairs, but they were unsuccessful. Jay Remy, spokesman for Salem-Keizer School District, said the district still controls the property but has no plans for it in the near future.
D.A. White & Sons Building
With its unassuming shape and boarded-over windows, this red brick building downtown on Front Street often goes unnoticed, particularly since the eight-story Rivers Condominiums were erected next door a few years ago, so close the two almost touch.
The structure wouldn’t draw much attention if it weren’t for the faded lettering across the front: “D.A. White & Sons, Grain Rolling, Seed Cleaning.” The words are a clue to the building’s past as part of one of Salem’s most successful businesses.
It once was home to a warehouse owned by D.A. White, who came to Salem in 1890 and quickly started a long-running, thriving family business dealing in hay, grain and seed. A 1922 biographical sketch of White, published in “History of Oregon Illustrated, Volume II,” called him “an energetic, farsighted and progressive business man.”
According to Salem Heritage Network, the White family owned the building until the mid-1980s, long after they ceased using it as a warehouse. But the prominent white letters continue on as a reminder of the business’s heyday.
Paulus Cannery Building
The largest forgotten structure on this list, the former Paulus Cannery Building on Oxford Street SE, is a 400,000-square-foot building sitting on a 28-acre site.
In 1927, brothers George and Robert Paulus joined together to start Paulus Bros. Packing Co. They focused mainly on fruit packing and canning but were also the first vegetable canners in Salem.
Paulus Bros. was one of three Salem companies picked to supply the military during World War II. That success allowed the brothers to expand from the original High Street location to Oxford Street in 1946.
In 1955, Dole Hawaiian Pineapple Co. bought the business. Thirty years later, canning operations ended for good at the site, though it was used for distribution for a time after closing.
The cannery isn’t quite abandoned. The building still gets occasional use, including the Buckaroo Ball — a Western-themed fundraiser for local nonprofits — in October.
According to Marion County property records, the space, now owned by Watamull Properties Corp. of Honolulu, has an assessed real market value of about $9 million.