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Eugene Needs a Downtown Light Show

December 17th, 2018 by dk

Eugene should use the Parisian strategy for welcoming strangers. It requires height and light.

When Eiffel’s Tower was erected in 1889, most Parisians hated it. History confirms the structure’s lack of stature because it was known simply by its architect’s name. Gustave Eiffel’s design was chosen from over 100 entrants to mark the opening of the World’s Fair and the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The original plan was to disassemble it after 20 years.

The year 1909 couldn’t come soon enough for hundreds of prominent Parisian artists and intellectuals. They took out an ad in the Le Temps newspaper on Valentine’s Day to deride the “gigantic black factory chimney.” Legend has it that novelist Guy de Maupassant hated the tower so much that he often ate lunch in its restaurant. He wanted the best view of his beloved city — from only vantage point that completely avoided Eiffel’s creation.

Electricity saved the tower. As World War I loomed, city officials repurposed it as a radio transmission tower. The public learned to love the structure only after it was festooned with electric lights for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. It became a billboard for French automaker Citroen from 1925 until 1936. Its 250,000 colored bulbs could be seen for 20 miles in three directions.

The Eiffel Tower’s current light show delights tourists for a few minutes every hour after dusk. Residents liked the temporary light show celebrating the new millennium so much that city officials rewired the structure to make it permanent in 2003. Eiffel’s ancestors can be glad for two things. Nothing about the monument is any longer considered temporary, and it’s too late to change its name.

Eugene is preparing for its own moment on the world stage. The World Championships in 2021 has everybody buzzing. We have murals going up all over town. The new Hayward Field will be one of several projects on campus that must be completed before 30,000 athletes and fans converge here. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio is demanding assurances that federally funded road projects will be completed in time.

But, as far as I know, nobody has given sufficient thought to a light show that will entertain visitors after dark. We won’t be commissioning any new towers, excepting the faux Olympic torch that will be erected (pun intended) in Hayward Field’s northeast corner.

What can we do that will direct people’s eyes upward, and tell visitors that Eugene’s aspirations extend far beyond being Tracktown USA? I have a suggestion. Let’s work with Ya-Po-Ah Terrace to make its holiday PEACE ON EARTH rooftop display a permanent feature of Eugene’s skyline year-round.

We already have the world’s only public park display celebrating every recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. We can heighten (again, pun intended) attention to our sign and its sentiment by following the Eiffel model. Add a glittery light display for a few minutes each hour.

Wishing for peace on earth deserves more than a month each year. The rooftop display endears Eugene’s tallest tower to its residents. It should also tell visitors that we’re not afraid of big dreams here.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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