Salem Lots

Salem Is- Building Ages of Salem-001

Click the photo to see an interactive map of the age of Salem’s buildings.

Cities are organic creatures. They are born, live and sometimes die. In between they grow up.

We were curious what path Salem took on its journey to the city it is today, so we built a map tracking the age of the buildings in town. Following the patterns hints at when and where Salem added people and businesses over the years.

The map is modeled after a trend that’s popped up this year of maps showing how cities have aged. The movement started in Portland this summer and spread around the world, and now we’re bringing it back to Oregon.

Buildings are colored based on their age, moving from light to dark as the city grows. You can follow as Salem grew out of the downtown core after the turn of the century, expanding south in the 1950s, north later on and finally exploding in West Salem over the past decade.


The map isn’t strictly Salem. We decided to include Keizer, and also unincorporated areas such as Four Corners, which hold a large number of people and recognizable places.

The oldest buildings in Marion and Polk counties date to the late 1830s, but many are located around Willamette Mission State Park north of Keizer, where Salem’s founders originally settled.

Within the Salem-Keizer area, the oldest building tracked by Marion and Polk counties is Boon’s Treasury downtown on Liberty Street NE, listed at 1853. Overall the counties list 133 buildings from the 1800s still standing, less than 1 percent of the more than 61,000 in the database.

Like many parts of the U.S., Salem enjoyed a post-World War II housing and population boom, but the area didn’t really take off until the 1970s.

Nearly 14,000 buildings in our database were constructed in the 1970s, which coincides with a 39 percent increase in population during the decade. Today more than one out of every five buildings was built in the ’70s.

Salem was in another boom until the start of the Great Recession, with the 1990s and 2000s the next most popular decades for current buildings after the 1970s. The interesting part is that most of the new buildings came in West Salem. Of the structures built in Salem from 2000 until now, nearly half are in Polk County.

The current map is a snapshot of Salem as it stands today. It’s hard to tell what this project will look like 50 years from now; if the buildings from the 1970s boom will last or be replaced, and if the rapid rise of West Salem will be seen as a high water mark or the start of something bigger. Either way, the current picture is a reminder that while the city is always changing, each era leaves a mark of its own, shaping how future Salemites will live their lives.

How you can make this better

While we’re proud of the map, we also noticed a number of holes in the data from the counties. Many buildings are missing ages or are tagged incorrectly, a hazard in any set containing the tens of thousands of entries these do.

We want you to help us fix them. If you see a building on our map with missing or incorrect information, click on it and follow a link where you can submit the correct numbers. We’ll update the map and fill in the gaps as we get new data.

UPDATE 12/9/13:

Breakfast on Bikes asked in the comments what the map would look like reversed, with the oldest lots darker and newest ones lighter. Not sure if I’ll have time to make a full map like that, but here’s an image of what a map like that would look like:


Chris Hagan is a co-editor of Salem Is. His house was built in 1925.