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Eugene Needs the Skyline Icon It Already Has

January 7th, 2019 by dk

Eugene native Quinn Wilhemi Reilly had a vision in October, and anyone in San Francisco after dark on Halloween got to see it. It started as a Facebook post. That spurred an online petition. Eleven thousand signatures later, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” had its biggest hit since Peter Jackson’s films — if not its biggest hit, certainly its tallest.

Before we follow the plot, some atmospherics to set the stage: San Francisco has a new skyscraper. The Salesforce Tower is the city’s tallest building, 61 stories of glass and metal. The top floor observation deck is free and open to the public. The view from the top, thanks to cutting-edge technology, goes both ways. The tower’s top nine stories are outfitted with 11,000 programmable LEDs, projecting a video-screen and light show that can be seen from 20 miles away.

As these ever-changing images were staring down at Reilly and his friends, he suggested online that it would be fun and cool if it displayed the Eye of Sauron, a gaze that it was said few in Tolkien’s Middle Earth could endure. And when better to have this fun than on Halloween?

The resulting petition’s success caught the attention of Jim Campbell. He coordinates the rooftop displays on the edifice. Nothing was confirmed before Halloween night, but parties were planned around viewing what might or might not appear overhead that evening. San Franciscans don’t need much of an excuse to throw a party. The eye appeared, delighting Tolkien fans, partygoers, and especially Reilly.

Will topical light shows endear the Salesforce Tower to its neighbors below? History says yes. Paris hadn’t planned on keeping the Eiffel Tower past its original 20-year lifespan, but electric lights turned the structure into the popular icon it is today.

The Eiffel Tower’s light display became even more popular with LED technology in time for the beginning of this millennium. Again, what had been intended as temporary became permanent, after the city’s residents insisted. The Eiffel Tower is now the most photographed structure in the world.

Those two successes got me thinking about our own not-very-well-loved tower. A light show could makes its presence against the night sky welcome and even emblematic for the city of Eugene.

Ya-Po-Ah Terrace, Eugene’s tallest building, is undergoing a $29 million makeover. The senior housing structure has never been well loved by anyone but its residents. Where it doesn’t obscure the view of Skinner Butte, it defaces it. The Eugene City Council instituted building height limits almost immediately after Ya-Po-Ah opened in 1968.

Half a century later, its height could become an important asset to downtown.

Our tower’s most redeeming feature is on display for only a few weeks every year. “PEACE ON EARTH” is beamed from its roof every December. I propose we remove the holiday garlands and make its message a permanent, year-round feature of our nighttime skyline, along with an hourly LED light show.

Eugene residents will see an iconic, inspirational message — and an excuse to throw a party.


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

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