Eugene Loves Its Grandstands (But Not Its Grandstanders)

Let’s not consider it a coincidence that Eugene had two venerable, beloved, and fabled grandstands and may soon have none. Civic Stadium needs a stadium. The university has one it now considers surplus. Our town was built on timber. We must find increasingly creative ways to preserve that heritage.

We didn’t always brag about the high-quality stock we’ve come from. Hayward Field became “Historic Hayward Field,” to reinvigorate Eugene’s claim as Track Town USA. As last week’s marathon showed, this logging town’s work product has become a central symbol of recreational Mecca.

We’ve always kept it to ourselves that we kept the best lumber for ourselves. We love a grandstand. We hate to grandstand. Once they come, they discover what we’ve built — not the other way around. We are the sports fans who retain our dreams of field.

I wrote years ago that Civic Stadium was not built with a legacy in mind. It was assembled by local timber barons for the sake of their own children, but maybe not with their children’s children’s children in mind. Nevertheless, I was as devastated as anyone when it was accidentally incinerated by some of those children in 2015.

In the face of that tragedy, the Eugene Civic Alliance could have folded their lack of a tent. They could have been sold to Fred Meyer, as had been originally contemplated. Instead, they steeled —“timbered” — their resolve and raised a wooden boatload of money to rebuild the site from scratch. If there are two things this community knows well, it’s building and scratch.

Architects are hired and plans are underway, but that 10-acre lot between Willamette Street and Amazon Parkway is still vacant. The field and the dream have not yet been joined. Now comes word that the long-awaited renovation of Hayward Field will be nothing of the sort. Maybe it never could have remained what it was and still be what was promised.

The International Association of Athletics Federations set certain requirements for the World Championships to be hosted in Eugene in 2021. Nostalgia was not on the list; an expanded capacity of 30,000 was. Could a talented team of architects with Phil Knight’s money have designed an expanded stadium that preserved Hayward’s trademark triangularities? Perhaps.

Instead, we see plans for what the venerable, historic (if not always beloved) civic architect Otto Poticha describes as “the caterpillar that ate Agate Street.” He faults the majestic, curvaceous design for being out of scale for the cramped space where Hayward Field sits.

Lane County History Museum Executive Director Bob Hart and others have suggested Hayward’s historic east grandstand could be cut up and moved to the Civic Stadium site. Eugene City Councilor Alan Zelenka has been told: “it would fit perfectly.” The fabled grandstand has been moved 12 yards (minus 2.5 inches) east in 1987 to accommodate a metric track. International standards have butted up against local traditions before.

Moving the grandstand was sold to Bill Bowerman and others as the “100-year solution” for Hayward’s preservation. Moving the stands 20 blocks to the Civic site would be a logistical feat, but just the sort of undertaking we know how to encourage and celebrate.

Streets would be closed. Traffic would be redirected. Police would earn overtime. Fans would come out to watch. They’d make signs and cheer when it passed each critical corner. In other words, it would be just like last Sunday morning, when the Eugene Marathon fills those same streets.

Poticha’s complaint suggests a different solution — a more modest proposal. Don’t move anything. Don’t demolish anything. Build that gleaming caterpillar on that vacant lot. Extend the University of Oregon’s footprint to the old Civic Stadium site. Leave Hayward Field untouched, controlled by the Eugene Civic Alliance.

Everybody gets what they originally wanted. The university gets an Olympic quality stadium. The community gets an outdoor recreation and summer entertainment venue. Let Bev Smith lead an effort to rehab MacArthur Court for the Kidsports fieldhouse.

What won’t change in this scenario is what we’re made of. Visitors may love what gleams, but we know that our mettle isn’t in our metal.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.