Until a 36-year old former county sheriff from Illinois named Eugene Franklin Skinner built a cabin on a hill west of the Willamette River in 1846 the only people to live here were the Kalapuya Indians. Skinner’s claim of 640 acres wasn’t prime farming land but it did include a ferry crossing and suitable land to establish a townsite. So Skinner set about starting a ferry service and platting land for building sites. He was the first mayor, the postmaster and when the Oregon Territorial government established Lane County, the settlement was named for Skinner and made the county seat. Eugene City was incorporated in 1862, two years before the founder passed away after the lingering ill effects of attempting to save cattle during a flood.
The 1870s saw the arrival of the railroads and the beginnings of the University of Oregon. Wheat had been the first cash crop in the Willamette Valley but it was soon joined by fruit orchards and lumbering as the population grew steadily and the boundaries of the city expanded. Eugene became a city of homes with long avenues of shade tree-bordered thoroughfares. Still, by the 1930s the population was less than 20,000.
In the 75 years since Eugene grew to over 150,000 residents, climbing to the status of second city of Oregon. City planners responded with modernization plans that had little use for the structures of the past. Today there is scant evidence of the pioneering days of Eugene but we will seek them out on our walking tour of the town and we’ll start at one of those 100-year old buildings, a place that was the traditional gateway to the town...
Southern Pacific Passenger Depot
433 Willamette Street
The first train pulled into Eugene late in the afternoon of October 8, 1871 with a good many townsfolk turning out to witness the belching steam and regal arrival of the Oregon & California Railroad engine. A small wooden depot was soon constructed on the north end of Willamette Street in the shadow of Skinner’s Butte. By 1887 the Southern Pacific Railroad had taken over the line and Eugene was established as a major shipping and distribution point between Portland and California. This Arts and Crafts/Craftsman depot, accompanied by an office and bunkhouse, was constructed in 1908 as the third railroad station on this site. The Eugene depot was fashioned of brick and is one of five such masonry depots still standing along the original Southern Pacific West Coast tracks. The price tag for the brick building, shared by the City and the railroad, was $40,000. The Southern Pacific ended passenger service to Eugene in the 1950s but a half-century later a $1.3 million dollar restoration got the depot back in use as an Amtrak train station.
FACING THE DEPOT, TURN LEFT AND WALK TO THE END OF THE BUILDING. LOOK ACROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS TO SEE...
Shelton McMurphey Johnson House/Castle on the Hill
303 Willamette Street
Across the railroad tracks is Skinner’s Butte, the town’s defining geographic and historic feature, the place where Eugene Skinner carved a homestead out of the wilderness. Nestled on its south side is a Queen Anne mansion erected in 1888 and today carrying the name of its three primary owners before becoming a house museum. The builder was Missouri-born Thomas Winthrop Shelton who set up a medical practice and apothecary in Eugene in 1873. He hired Salem’s leading Victorian architect, Walter D. Pugh, to design his multi-faced wooden frame residence with a corner tower and expansive porch. Shelton died of leukemia and pneumonia in 1893 at the age of 49 and his daughter Alberta and her husband Robert McMurphy, a railroad man, took over the property. The house was finally sold out of the Shelton family in 1951.
TURN AROUND. IN THE CENTER OF THE TRAFFIC CIRCLE IN FRONT OF THE STATION IS...
Marker of Origin
Southern Pacific Passenger Depot
With programs like the city’s “1% For Art,” a levy instituted in 1981 on major construction projects, Eugene has almost 200 pieces of public art. This 30-foot high sculpture, installed in 2009, is the work of Eugene artists Betsy Wolfston and David Thompson. Around the base are dates and facts, some significant and some whimsical, from Eugene’s heritage.
LEAVE THE TRAIN STATION BY STARTING UP WILLAMETTE STREET.
Oregon Electric Railway Passenger Station
27 East 5th Street at northeast corner of Willamette Street
The Oregon Electric Railway initiated rail service between Portland and Salem in 1907 and then built along the east side of the Willamette River to reach Eugene in 1912. A crowd of 25,000 (nearly three times the population of the town) was said to turn out to greet the first arrivingtrain from up north. This station for the electric line was finished in 1914 on plans drawn by Albert Ernest Doyle, Portland’s leading architect. Doyle tapped the Georgian Revival style for the brick passenger station with three over-sized Palladian windows and a hipped roof. Passenger service in the Willamette Valley on the light rail was suspended in 1933 but freight trains rolled into the 1990s. By that time this space, which had done duty as offices and storage and a science museum, was converted into a restaurant.
Hotel Gross/Palace Hotel
488 Willamette Street at northwest corner of 5th Avenue
The first thing de-boarding train passengers would see leaving the Eugene depot after 1903 was this three-story frame hotel with a column-supported veranda that stretched around three sides of the building. If those visitors were stepping off the train over 100 years later they would still recognize the western-flavored guest house that catered to the traveling class. In that time it has been known as the Hotel Gross, Griggs Hotel, Hotel Lane and, lastly, beginning in 1974, the Palace Hotel.
Eugene Post Office
520 Willamette Street at southwest corner of 5th Avenue
The only public building constructed in Eugene during the Great Depression was the city post office, completed in 1938 on plans drawn by Gilbert Stanley Underwood. Today it is the only Art Deco public building in Eugene and the only one in Oregon that uses multi-colored terra cotta for its facade. Inside are terrazzo floors, marble walls and two murals contributed by Carl Morris, a nationally known Portland artist, that depict the key Oregon industries of farming and logging. The final price tag was $250,000.
Eugene Community Conference Center/Hult Center for the Performing Arts
Willamette Street and 6th Avenue
These blocks were cleared for the Eugene Community Conference Center and the Hult Center for the Performing Arts that were completed in 1982. A design competition attracted 27 entrants and the winners emerged from New York City, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates. The Hult Center houses 2 performance halls, the 2,455-seat Silva Concert Hall and the more intimate Soreng Theater with 498 seats.
TURN LEFT ON 6TH AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON OAK STREET.
Lane County Courthouse
Oak Street between 7th and 8th streets
In the post-war prosperity of the 1950s local construction of I-5 began and the population of Eugene was growing by 40%. Town planners embraced the oncoming of modernism seeking to replace stodgy old buildings with contemporary designs. The Lane County Courthouse opened in 1959 and saw architects Robert Wilmsen and Charles Endicott tossing aside the traditional hallmarks of ponderous houses of justice for lighter geometric forms.
TURN LEFT ON 7TH AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON PEARL STREET.
777 Pearl Street
The civic center complex came about as the result of a design competition in 1960. The winning team of John Stafford, Ken Morin and James Longwood skewed their work away from monumental government buildings to create a less pretentious effect. City Hall opened in 1964 and in 1965 won a national citation for excellence in community architecture from the Southwest Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The building replaced a Victorian pile on the corner of 11th and Willamette that was once the Eugene High School and had served as city hall since 1915.
TURN LEFT ON BROADWAY.
The Eugene Hotel
222 East Broadway at southeast corner of Pearl Street
Bird Rose arrived in Eugene in 1888 when he was 25 years old. He took up farming and ranching, eventually acquiring over 1,000 acres of land. Rose developed a taste for sports, especially University of Oregon football which started in 1894. But he decried the lack of a decent hotel for home gridiron clashes and spearheaded the development of the Eugene Hotel in 1924, convincing ten local moneymen to pony up $10,000 each. Eugene architect John Hunzicker designed the seven-story reinforced concrete building and the grand opening took place on June 15, 1925. The Ducks would not win a football game in Eugene until 1927 but was the hotel was the scene of the celebration in 1939 when the University of Oregon won the first NCAA Basketball Tournament. The hotel remained the stopping place of choice in town until 1983 when it was converted into senior housing.
The John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts
868 High Street at northwest corner of Broadway
This building began life as the First Baptist Church of Eugene which traces its roots back to a log cabin and seven congregants in 1852. The house of worship, with Georgian Revival and Neoclassical influences, was constructed in 1927 at the cost of $175,000. Today it houses the Shedd Institute that was founded in 1991 as a two-day Oregon Festival of American Music. When it became a community-based performing arts center and music school it took the name of John Graves Shedd, the great-grandfather of one of the co-founders. Shedd was the right-hand man of Chicago merchant prince Marshall Field. When Field died in 1906, Shedd, who his boss called “the greatest merchant in the United States,” took over the operation and turned Marshall Field & Company into the largest wholesale and dry goods company in the world.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON BROADWAY, HEADING WEST. CROSS OVER PEARL STREET.
160 East Broadway at southeast corner of Pearl Alley
Jacques Wiley Quackenbush was born in New York state to parents of Dutch extraction in 1852. After farming in Vermont and Nebraska for most of his adult life Quackenbush was ready to abandon agriculture and carefully studied maps and climate data in search of a place to move his family in 1902, He chose western Oregon and purchased this property. He tore down the existing building and replaced it with a utilitarian two-story brick building for a hardware store. Here would operate one of Eugene’s longest-running family businesses even as the surrounding properties grew to eight and nine and ten stories.
Eugene Medical Center.Professional Building
132 East Broadway at southwest corner of Pearl Alley
This eight-story tower was constructed in 1924 as offices for physicians and dentists.
TURN LEFT ON OAK STREET.
975 Oak Street at northeast corner of 10th Avenue
This ten-story Commercial Style office tower was raised in 1975.
TURN RIGHT ON 10TH AVENUE.
Ax Billy Department Store
southeast corner of 10th Avenue & Willamette Street
In the early 20th century five brothers from the Schaefer family of Clermont, Iowa traveled west and settled in Eugene. Four of the brothers - Frank, George, Charles and Albert - went into business together, pooling their resources to start a tiny emporium on Broadway they called the Ax Billy Store. The enterprise was greeted with success and by 1910 the Schaefer Brothers had relocated here and hired local architect W.T. Campbell to design the state’s second largest department store outside of Portland. The new Ax Billy Store boasted cream-colored terra cotta brick, large Chicago-style display windows and Eugene’s first electric sign. The Schaefers sold the store in 1926 as their business interests spread around the city, including to all four corners of 10th and Willamette. The merchandising continued here as part of the J.C. Brill chain but the Great Depression scuttled operations in 1932. After that the building was reconfigured for shops and offices and is now occupied by the Downtown Athletic Club.
1001 Willamette Street at southeast corner of 10th Avenue
The Schaefer brothers hooked up with a national bowling chain that resulted in this building in 1929. The bowling alley was located on the second floor and shops operated on the ground level. The building was designed by Truman Phillips, a recent graduate of the University of Oregon School of Architecture employed in the shop of Hunzicker and Smith. The composition of pressed pale yellow-orange brick decorated in chevrons and vertical elements brought a splash of Art Deco to the Eugene streetscape and is the only example of the Modernistic Style in Eugene and one of the few in Oregon.
1010 Willamette Street at southwest corner of 10th Avenue
The Schaefer brothers and others developed the McDonald Theatre in 1925. Architect Lee Arden Thomas, who did much to sculpt the streetscape of Bend, and Albert Mercier collaborated on the classically-flavored design that is rendered in white terra cotta. The team provided historic theaters to Coos Bay and Portland as well. The McDonald managed to navigate the shoals that wrecked most of America’s downtown movie houses and trundles on today as a theater and music venue.
TURN RIGHT ON WILLAMETTE STREET.
J.J. Newberry Building
999 Willamette Street
John Josiah Newberry jumped into the five-and-dime variety store wars in 1911 in Stroudsburg, a small town in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. Dodging more established nickel-and-dimers like Woolworth’s and S.H. Kress, the family-run Newberry’s concentrated on smaller towns and by the time of the founder’s death in 1954 the chain boasted 475 stores. J.J. Newberry staggered into the 21st century, with the last store closing in 2001. The Eugene store closed in the 1980s and is now part of the Downtown Athletic Club complex. In 2010 the familiar blue neon script marquee sign was relit for the first time in twenty-five years; it was first installed in 1959.
McMorran & Washburne Department Store/Tiffany Building
795 Willamette Street at northeast corner of 8th Avenue
This is one of the few turn-of-the-20th century buildings to survive Eugene’s aggressive urban renewal of the latter part of the 1900s. It was originally raised as a two-story structure in 1902 with an additional two levels coming along in 1913, when Morran & Washburne moved in. George McMorran and Carl Washburne hired the Portland firm of MacNaughton and Raymond for the expansion which created the largest commercial building in downtown Eugene. In 1927 Albert Tiffany purchased the property for his Tiffany-Davis drugstore. The building has weathered numerous makeovers and new tenants and even a fire in subsequent years.
767 Willamette Street
Charles Baker, a local businessman, bankrolled this three-story Italianate-styled hotel in 1884 but before it was completed the following year he sold it to Stephen Smeede for $12,000. Smeede kept the Baker nameplate on the marquee for a few years until he spruced up the place in 1892 and the re-christened Hotel Eugene became the town’s leading luxury hotel as surrounding Willamette Street bustled with the town’s most sophisticated buildings. Most have been demolished but the Smeede, dressed in stucco and long ago converted to commercial use, remains a lonely souvenir of that age.
TURN LEFT ON 7TH AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON OLIVE STREET.
northwest corner of Olive Street at 6th Avenue
After urban renewal fever stripped Eugene of most of its historic buildings a nostalgia for the earlier style began to seep back into developers. The Heron Building from 1990 is a child of that movement with a split facade featuring an Italianate tower and Mission Revival styling.
Lane County Farmers’ Union Cooperative
southwest corner of Olive Street and 5th Avenue
The Lane County Farmers’ Union Cooperative was formed in 1923 to process grain; the facility was built and paid for by the local farmer-members. In 1928 the Pacific Cooperative Poultry Producers Egg-Taking was added (now the Down To Earth Home & Garden store) and additional buildings hewn of timber or brick or metal came on board through the years, including a grain tower. Today the Farmer’s Union Marketplace operates here which is now solar powered.
TURN RIGHT ON 5TH AVENUE. TURN LEFT ON WILLAMETTE STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE EUGENE TRAIN STATION.