Save (the memory of) Civic Stadium

I love Civic Stadium, but I have mixed feelings about its future. Next time you’re downtown, consider this. Eugene’s downtown post office and Civic Stadium both were built in 1938. Only one had an eye on the future. Civic Stadium was built on a wing and a prayer, which has a certain charm. The rag tag workers and the donated lumber have served us better than anyone could have expected. It’s been a good run. But any healthy city must constantly reinvent itself, and Civic Stadium is not exempt.

I’m not anti-nostalgia. I’m pro-ambition. I believe that Eugene’s best days are ahead. So I’m glad Eugene has two ambitious proposals to consider for redeveloping the Civic Stadium site.

Here I must distinguish between ambition and wishful thinking. I have nothing personally against the people behind Save Civic Stadium. I know and respect many of them. But I wish somebody would tell them you don’t go into extra innings unless the score is tied. Theirs scored lowest of the three proposals received.

If they would acknowledge that fact, they might be reaching out to the others who bettered their score, instead of insisting that somebody (the city) make the winners come to them to work out a compromise.

Or, they could take their passion for a bygone Eugene and apply it to the Civic Stadium site differently.

Everybody understands that whatever happens in the future at 20th and Willamette will be no more than an echo of what we all remember. The Em’s won’t be returning. It could be soccer or Babe Ruth baseball or a Kidsports hub, but anything that happens there will be different from what once was. The heritage of the site will always rely on our imaginations. Luckily, imagination is never in short supply in Eugene.

I propose a swapping of nostalgias, using creative site development to spur the return of Eugene’s trolley, which left town Oct. 15, 1927, more than a decade before Civic Stadium was built.

The successful developer would be required to leave a small area of the site available for a Civic Stadium transit station, designed to keep some portion of the beloved structure as intact as possible. While riders waited for the next trolley, they could sit on an original bleacher and read interpretive signage about Civic Stadium’s history and significance.

The trolley itself would run a quick ten-block loop, back and forth to LTD’s central Eugene Station, linking riders to the entire regional transit system. If the Y’s proposal prevails, the trolley will ferry downtowners to their new fitness center and students housed on the site to LCC’s Downtown Campus. If Steve Master wins the right to build a mixed-use housing and retail center, the trolley will connect parkers, shoppers and downtown workers.

Portland’s trolley is well-loved. Ours will be too. Eugene residents will insist it be expanded in ten-block increments along Willamette Street, first north to the Amtrak station, then south to Woodfield Station.

The Amtrak trolley station — part of the beautifully restored depot (1908) — would remind us all of the beginnings of the railroad coming through this little village (1871) and what a difference it made to the future. The post office building is just a block away, and some hope it will become Eugene’s historical museum. The Carl Morris murals (1942) inside honor the area’s economic roots in agriculture and lumber.

The Southtowne trolley station would relive the days when College Hill was more than a neighborhood name, but the place where university instruction in Eugene began with Columbia College (1856), ensuring Eugene’s stature in the state and across the nation.

That’s a lot of nostalgia, but also a useful transit tool. It would highlight the central spine of the city as our founders first envisioned it, oriented between two hallowed buttes.

The trolley itself, running two miles north and south, could be named “The Gut,” to recall the days when “dragging the gut” was how teenagers passed the weekend evenings, back and forth, all night long. The Civic Stadium station would be near the center of that perpetual Memory Lane.

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