Historic downtown Salem building transformed into food hall wins award for historic preservation

Le Gray Belle has been a series of restaurants over the past century. Owner Charles Weathers said learning about the building’s history by renovating it to create Fork Forty was like peeling the layers from an onion.

The Gray Belle building that houses Fork Forty at 440 State Street won an award for historic preservation. (Courtesy / Fork Forty)

When Charles Weathers examined the vacant 440 State Street building four years ago, he saw potential.

He did not know at the time that the building had received a state grant “Diamond in the Rough” to improve the facade years before, but that is exactly how he would have described the building.

Now this vacant building is the site of a food hall, called Fork Forty, carrying on a tradition of dining in the space that spans more than a century.

Weathers’ use of space, which includes apartments, an escape room, and a room where you can smash things, earned the project a DeMuro Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation, the highest honor from the State for the preservation, reuse and revitalization of architectural elements and cultural places.

Longtime Salem resident Weathers said he still enjoys eating at every new restaurant in town, unofficially reviewing them with Conrad Venti from Venti’s Café.

He wanted to have his own dining hall, similar to Pine Street Market in Portland, because it was more interesting and varied than a single restaurant.

He said he liked restaurants that serve a few things and do them very well.

“Specify and specialize in something and be known for it,” he said.

Weathers said he personally recruited most of the Fork Forty restaurants.

One of the restaurants, Chubby Panda, was once a food truck in Beehive Station in southern Salem.

Weathers said he was intrigued by the bao they serve and asked if they wanted to be part of the food hall and grow into something bigger. He said he contacted the owner of the food basket and they left on good terms.

“In some ways I felt a little despicable, because I was looking for heads,” he said.

At least one of the restaurants contacted him.

He said a representative for food distributor Sysco said they had a friend from Wisconsin who made amazing pizzas and wanted a seat in the food hall.

The weather conditions were okay, and now diners can get pies from La Lucciola in space.

About a month ago, Weathers added a vending machine near the ice cream shop, called Slick Licks, which sells unusual items.

“It’s kind of a joke, but it speaks to the quirkiness of my personality,” he said.

Weathers said he could put an old movie, birthday decorations, or other “weird, quirky type stuff.”

His son sells his Pokémon cards in the machine, which sells for more than other items, Weathers said.

The food hall opened from the start of the pandemic, and Weathers said Covid had caused difficulties for restaurants that were just starting or growing from a food truck.

But there was a Friday night in the summer when the Covid restrictions were relaxed.

“The music was on, people were cooking, people were laughing and I finally saw the vision come true,” he said.

When he heard about the Restore Oregon award, he thought he won because it was a slow year and no one was making plans because of Covid.

But the association told him it was their most competitive year yet.

He said they looked at how historic places are safeguarded and what that means for the community.

“This is how they measure the value of rewards,” he said. “It’s a nice validation that this crazy idea was a good idea. “

THE STORY

A photo of Gray Belle from a 1934 Statesman Journal article.

The first construction company would have been a Chinese laundry when the area was part of Salem’s Chinatown, Weathers said. In 1907 it was a candy store and he said, “Since then it’s really been a food business.

According to a 1976 newspaper clipping, the building was the Gray Belle confectionery and restaurant until 1934.

It was Quelle until 1946. A menu at Quelle Café features specialties including pork or veal chops, pork and beans, Italian spaghetti, homemade chili, cream waffles with bacon or hot ham and tamales, all for less than 35 cents each. plate.

Then it became Nohlgren’s restaurant, a 99-cent buffet that had vines painted along the building with different types of food growing on it, like a whole turkey, a slice of pie, or a crab.

Monk’s Restaurant opened in 1959 and the owners added a lounge, according to the article.

Weathers said the son of Monk’s former owner contacted him and had stories about a bank robber who had been hiding inside Monk. Police found him and there was a shooting inside the restaurant, he said.

He said the son told him that his father was worried that no one would want to come to the restaurant after this. But people flocked to see the bullet holes, he told Weather.

Then there was the Golden Mushroom Restaurant and the 70s Toad Stool Lounge.

It has grown into a Chinese restaurant chain over the past 30 years and finally went dormant in 2015.

Weathers described the finds inside the building as peeling layers from an onion.

He said the stairs were taken down in the 1950s and no one had lived on the second floor for decades.

When he got to the second floor, where there are now five studios, he found a full kitchen, old mail, ointments and ointments.

Weathers said he reused the sink and installed it near the bathrooms inside Fork Forty, near exhibited artifacts that were found during an archaeological dig.

There were also lights which he had renovated and installed the hallway of the apartment.

He said one of them looked opaque, it was so dark and dull, but later found it was covered in tobacco residue.

Weathers said it’s nice these days that when life turns upside down there is a place that always has something good to eat.

“I like now to be another point on the timeline, to be a part of this story,” he said.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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