By Greg Giesy, Friendly Area Neighbors former Board member and longtime Friendly resident.
Originally printed in the Summer 2011 edition of the Friendly Area Neighborhood Newsletter.
Several neighborhood people were asked by Andrew, our newsletter editor, to write an article about Willamette Street both looking at the past and hopes for the future. Because I am a long-time resident and grew up in the Friendly neighborhood, he asked me in particular to talk on the past of Willamette Street.
My earliest memory of anything on Willamette Street was at about four years old going to the grocery store that is now Capella with my father (Willamette Street between 24th and 25th Avenues). He soon switched to the Big Y Market on 6th Avenue and then to the Little Y on 19th and Jefferson, which was a full service grocery store in those days, with even a butcher. There was a gasoline service station across the street from the Little Y so I didn’t see Willamette again until grade school.
I attended Francis Willard Grade School, and occasionally after school I was allowed to go to a friend's house on Pearl south of 29th. We would walk by the Eugene Drive-In Theater's sheet metal walls and past the drive-in's screen to a grocery store on the northwest corner of 29th and Willamette. The store had packages of flat gum with three baseball or football cards for two or three cents. The gum as I recall was terrible but we were after the trading cards.
The drive-in theater took up most of what is Woodfield Station today. The screen faced into the hillside, and home owners above could pay the drive-in a monthly fee to have a speaker (that you normally hooked to your car window) wired in their living rooms, so they could watch the movies with sound out their picture window.
Summers were partly taken up with swimming lessons at Amazon Pool. Willamette was the biggest street I needed to cross on my way to the pool because there was no Amazon Parkway at the time.
By Greg Giesy, Friendly Area Neighbors former Board member and longtime Friendly resident.
Originally printed in the Summer 2011 edition of the Friendly Area Neighborhood Newsletter
Willamette up to my teenage years was mostly vague memories but the lure of the automobile, girls, and "The Gut" was to become some of my fondest memories. For those of you that don't know, Willamette Street was called "The Gut". And "The Gut" held the imagination of Lane County teenagers with cars from the 1950's into the 1980's, and I was there for its heyday in the 1960's and saw the start of its slow death in the beginning of the 1970's.
The original Gut started in downtown Eugene at 6th & Willamette and went to the A&W Root Beer Drive-in Restaurant on the southeast corner of 29th & Willamette, then back down Willamette to 20th, with the turn over to Oak, and on down to 6th to start the track again back up Willamette. Why? The car was freedom, fun, and adventure. You could escape your problems, worries, and especially your parents with your friends, and luckily gas was cheap.
The Gut was originally broken up in sections, with the important ones being downtown, because there was a traffic light at each block so you could talk to the car next to you on a one-way street at each light, 13th to 18th for a not-so-serious drag race, 24th to 29th to yell at people going by, and driving through the parking lot at A&W to see who was there.
The Eugene Downtown Mall closing Willamette from 6th to 11th was to make "The Gut" smaller and more problematic as it eventually became just 24th to 29th with more teenagers in cars coming from Pleasant Hill, Creswell, and Cottage Grove. Friday and Saturday was even more crowded than the other days of the week, with bumper-to-bumper traffic from late afternoon into the early morning. Kids tried to park with the cramped conditions and higher gas prices, while merchants got tired of the nonsense with no trespassing signs and the police.
"The Gut" faded away by the 1990's to the relief of merchants, the police, and the City in general. Kids found other things to do with their time, and some of us went on with our lives, having memories of a different time without expensive gas, concerns of pollution, and global warming.
Willamette Street hasn't changed much from the 1960's, with destination merchants still relying on the car to bring most if not all of their business. My hope for the future is that we house enough people around the south Willamette area with denser housing and change the road to three car lanes and bike lanes so that more people will use Willamette as a place to enjoy in a different way without the car that has been so important to Willamette Street's history.
Do you have any old family albums with photographs that pertain to the Friendly Neighborhood? Volunteers are working on articles of history in the FAN, but some of the subjects are a bit sparse in material. If you are willing to share your pictures, we will scan them and incorporate them into our posts. Not to mention, give you and your family a by-line in the article.
Things we are most on the look out for:
If you have anything about the subjects listed above, or any other material of history in the FAN, please contact us and we will get back to you. The Friendly is an interesting place, please help us all share in the stories.
A group of dog lovers have stepped up to volunteer and care for Wayne Morse Dog Park (595 Crest Dr, Eugene, OR 97405), a lovely off-leash dog park with meadows, hills, trees, trails, and happy dogs and their owners. The group works with the City of Eugene, neighborhood associations, and other groups to hold work parties to maintain the park. This group is open to all park users.
On a rainy day in February, two volunteers and two staff from the City of Eugene Parks and Open Space braved the weather to plant two giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) saplings. The group's supervisor, an expert on digging holes, provided direction and guidance. Photos from the planting event are below.
These two trees will count toward the "2,021 in 2021" project. In 2021, Eugene will welcome the IAAF World Track and Field Championships and thousands of visitors from across the globe. To help offset the carbon footprint associated with such a large event, Parks has launched an initiative to plant 2,021 giant sequoia trees by 2021. An article in the Register Guard has more information.
The group is planning another Dog Park Work Party on a Saturday morning on either June 15, 22, or 29. The work party could take care of the following:
Spread the word with your friends, family, and neighbors. If you are unable to perform hard manual labor, the group also needs help recruiting participants or preparing snacks and beverages for the volunteers. Most importantly the group has fun and builds community. Join the Google Group to receive about once monthly updates.
Public process for planning traffic calming on Jefferson to start in 2019
The City of Eugene Public Works Department has started work on repaving West 19th and 20th Avenues in the Friendly. This work comes after months of construction in the area by Northwest Natural Gas to put their gas lines deeper underground to prevent them from being damaged during the roads reconstruction.
These streets have deteriorated pavement due to age and traffic loading and need to be repaved. Work will also include reconstructing sidewalk access ramps in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This project is primarily intended to repair the street pavement, but additional storm sewer work will be done to improve drainage.
ADA ramps are expected to be completed by mid-May. Concrete work will be done from May to June. 19th Avenue preparation and paving is planned for mid-June. The project overall is expected to be completed in early July. An exact timeline is not set in stone and could possibly change.
What's Happening at 19th and Jefferson?
Originally concrete curb bump outs were planned for 19th and Jefferson to reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians, constrict the traffic lane to reduce vehicle speeds, and make pedestrians more visible to drivers. However due to both the need for delivery trucks and buses to navigate the intersection and to accommodate the potential for separated bike lanes on Jefferson Street in the near future, temporary bump outs will be installed instead. This is a less expensive option that can demonstrate the effectiveness of its design. An example of this treatment is located at the intersection of Oak Street and South Park Avenue in Downtown Eugene.
Pan and zoom the Google Street View from May 2018.
Photos from May 2019.
Although the details are yet to be worked out, treatments could include marked crosswalks, street painting, planter boxes, reflective flap posts, and signage. The City will collaborate with FAN residents and businesses on the design, installation, and maintenance of fixtures or paint.
Additionally City staff have committed to launching a public process in 2019 that will look at constructing traffic calming on Jefferson Street in 2020. As part of that public process, the City will consider installing bike lanes on Jefferson. See details at the end of this article for how to stay informed and participate.
The City of Eugene Public Works Department provided the following in its Project Information Sheet for West 19th Avenue Pavement Preservation.
Work will occur on:
The major source of funding is the 2012 Street Preservation Bond.
For More Information
Project Manager: Ryan Essler, phone 541-520-9893, email@example.com
Online road reports: www.eugene-or.gov/traffic
On Twitter: twitter.com/EugenePW
Sign Up to Participate
The FAN Transportation Team will coordinate and publicize the progress of this project through the Friendly Newsletter, Friendly Flyer, Google Group, and Facebook and Twitter feeds. Sign up or follow us to participate and stay informed.
FAN Transportation Team Meetings
First Monday of the month, except January and September.
7:00 - 9:00 PM
Billy Mac's Bar & Grill
605 W 19th Ave
Eugene, OR 97402
Map and Directions
The Transportation team meetings are open to the public.
by Gary Arnold
Sampson Hirem Freundlich was born in New York City December 16, 1840. As a young man, he made his way to the west coast in 1863 and eventually to Eugene in 1865. Although full of energy, he was empty of financial resource. Penniless, he found work at Goldsmith and Blanding's General Store where he worked for four years. Turning some of that energy into hard work he opened his own store around 1869.
This is a story repeated thousand of times in America. Going west to find a better life. Why should anyone in the Friendly Area Neighbors find this story of more than passing interest? Somewhere in his youth, Sampson Freundlich shortened his first name to Sam and "Americanized" his last name from German to English. He became Sam Friendly. Eventually his adopted city of Eugene would name a street and neighborhood after him—our very own Friendly neighborhood.
His dry goods store at 884 Willamette (west side of the street, just south of where the mid-block crosswalk is located) gradually transformed into an upscale mercantile which imported fabrics and patterns of the latest big-city fashions (you sewed your own clothes back then).
Sam didn't live in the Friendly neighborhood. Back then, what would become FAN was well outside the city. His home at 10th and Willamette was close to the store and close enough to some of his favorite recreations. Sam and his neighbor, George Dorris (both future mayors of Eugene) were known for being extremely hospitable to visitors and University students. The house was gone by the early 20th century. The Schaefer Building now stands at that location (southeast corner of 10th and Willamette).
Sam married a Salem girl, Mathilda Adler, on Nov 16, 1873. They had three daughters, Carrie, Theresa, and Rosalie.
Sam started to make a name for himself by becoming an active booster for bringing the railroad to Eugene (which happened in 1871). He also was elected president of the Eugene Board of Trade in 1888. He was described as a small, quick-stepping man who always had time for the University and its students. He is rumored to have never missed a U of O football game (first game 1894). His interest in the U of O led him to sit on the board of Regents for the University 22 years (1895-1915).
A statewide ballot measure in 1907 considered whether the state should continue funding the university. A "no" vote would have brought the school to ruin. Sam worked tirelessly in support of continued funding, and when the measure passed in the June election, a huge victory rally was held at the old Kincaid Field (located on Memorial Quad between Chapman and Condon Halls). The students demanded a speech from Sam, bodily lifting him from the muddy field and placing him onstage. Although he had no speech prepared, he met with resounding applause from the assembled crowd.
Sam served two terms on the city council and was elected mayor of Eugene from 1893-1895. During this time, in appreciation of his work with the university board of regents, the new university dormitory built in 1893 was named Friendly Hall.
Sam lived out his days in Eugene. He died on August 13, 1915 at the age of 75. His obituary in the paper ran a full page. He is buried in the mausoleum building at the Eugene Masonic Cemetery, not too far from Friendly Hall, Friendly Street, and the Friendly neighborhood.
Photos courtesy of Ed Barthelemy
Barthelemy Family at the southwestcorner of their home. The exact date is unknown. Possibly the late 1920's. We are looking to the east, with College Hill rising off the right side of the image. Although obscured by the grassy slope in this image, Washington Street lies behind the people in the photograph but before the homes in the background.
Photos and descriptions courtesy of Wes Nelson
Life on Washington Street, Jefferson Street, Lawrence Street, and 22nd Avenue in the 1920's and 1930's
by Ed Barthelemy
Our home at 2162 Washington Street was the last house on the west side of the street, and there was only one on the east side between 19th and 22nd directly across the street from us. As I recall we paid $2,000 for the house in 1923. I was 4 years old.
The street itself was never paved from 19th south, until after I left home in 1940. It ended at 22nd with a pair of ruts continuing on to the only house above 22nd on the east. From there south, from Jefferson to Lawrence, was vacant to 29th. Though at that time it wasn't called 29th; it was the Lorane Highway.
The folks that graded 22nd Avenue at Lawrence Street apparently used the same transit at Washington. It was paved to the east side of Washington with a three-foot bank running north and south, leaving one lane on the north side of 22nd from which to turn right onto Washington. 22nd did not continue on to Jefferson and was absolutely impassible in the Winter.
A very substantial ditch ran down the east side from 22nd to 19th. With no storm drains it was quite a waterway in a heavy rain. At all other times it presented a real driving hazard, summer or winter. Once in, there was no getting out on your own. While I suppose there were towing companies, I don't ever remember seeing one. You simply called a friend, and he hooked on and snaked you out.
A couple of things that Washington Street meant to me were really not limited to that street. The first was the Newman Fish Truck, operated by the original Mr. Newman. It was a black Model-T, rigged up with what today would be called a canopy and a hanging scale. He would drop the tailgate and slice off whatever you wanted. It sounds pretty grim, but he had the fish on ice, which he shared with us little kids. I don't really know why he came only on Friday, but I suspect he had a list of good Catholics.
The other was a traveling grocery store, that came—I don't remember the frequency—probably a couple times a week. It looked somewhat like an old school bus, but no windows. It was all shelves inside. I'm not sure, but I think it had solid rubber tires too. I vaguely remember him pulling up in front of the house (he always honked) and throwing one of us a block of wood to put behind the rear wheel to keep it from rolling backwards. As little kids we used to watch for him and see who got to put the block of wood he carried under the back wheel. I guess it was heavy, that just putting it in gear wouldn't hold. I guess we never wondered about the brake or the hazard involved in accomplishing that manly task. I don't know how it worked, but he had a small freezer that held a few quarts or probably pints of ice cream. But most important of all, he introduced us to frozen Milky Way bars. I even remember him inferring that they would keep us cool. Or maybe that was our own conclusion. Naturally, things were a little more expensive, but the convenience was hard to beat. It had an extremely limited selection of canned and packaged food, but it was convenient. As I think more about it, it was probably the forerunner of the 7/11.
We got a sidewalk somewhere in that period around 1930, but it ended at the south side of our lot and did not run across 21st or 20th. The latter wasn't too bad, but 21st fell victim to the demon transit that was used on 22nd. With a little hand digging and laying of some planks, it was passable, though hazardous when wet. The closest bus was at 19th and Washington and ran east. Seldom used though, because it cost 5¢.
When I was a kid growing up at 2162 Washington Street here in Eugene, that number (22nd) had a meaning far more meaningful than a number. Actually 22nd meant the street, which at that time ran from Washington to Willamette—no further in either east or west, unless you want to be really technical and include the block from Jefferson to Madison. That wasn't really much more than a long driveway to a house on the corner of Madison and what you could call 22nd, although there were no houses on that stretch of 22nd. It wasn't even graveled.
I have no clear recollection of 22nd before it was paved, and even that mostly involved the three blocks east from Washington. In other words up to Charnelton, not because we were restricted to that area, but rather it was because so much of our free time was spent "above 22nd". Charnelton ended at 24th and dropped off into a ravine. As hard as it is for some folks to believe, it was the city dump, but that's another story. [Editor's note: That is very near where the city drinking water reservoir is today.]
The intersection of 22nd and Washington, as I look back on it, was something to behold. Washington for all intents as a street ended there. A one-lane gravel driveway ran about a half-block to the lone house on the east side. To the west towards Jefferson street, there was absolutely nothing to indicate vehicular passage. Washington was blacktopped, but not the way it is done today: no curbs or gutters, and just a center stripe. Actually it was probably just oiled, with a rather deep ditch on the east side. This brings us back to 22nd.
It would be interesting to study the engineering that went into the paving, not so much the pouring as the grading. The problem started at Charnelton, and the cut was so deep that it left high banks—probably ten feet—on the uphill (south) side, most noticeably between Lawrence and Washington. I'll get back to that Lawrence Street bank.
At Washington the pavement ended at the original street right-of-way, which is normal, but the problem was that the grade was about five feet below the street. In other words as one would come down (westward) on 22nd, he encountered a dirt bank. As a solution the north half of 22nd was opened up by lowering the bank so one could get onto Washington. The other half remained blocked for a number of years, as I recall, probably until Washington was paved.
As I mentioned above, the cut prior to paving seemed quite excessive and unnecessarily deep. Bear in mind that this was done in the Depression years, so anything that would create work was acceptable. The actual digging was done mostly with what was called a Fresno. There may have been minor variations of this device, which had other names, but basically it was a horse drawn scoop operated by a man guiding direction and depth by means of two handles. It was something like a plow, but with a scoop. This was then loaded into horse-drawn wagons that opened on the bottom, like the bomb-bay doors on a bomber. If this sounds slow, it was, and while manpower was the least of the problems, getting rid of all that dirt took some head scratching.
Now bear in mind that 2162 Washington (our house) was the last house on the west side. I mentioned the one house above 22nd on the east side in an earlier paragraph. There was much vacant property between us and the Lorane Highway, but for some reason, probably because it was city-owned, they decided to dump all that dirt on the lot adjoining our property on the south (between us and 22nd). It was piled up six or eight feet. There was no attempt made to flatten it either. It was all long humps just as dumped from the "bomb-bay doors", and so it remained all through my childhood. I have no recollection whatever of seeing any machinery such as a bulldozer that might have been used for grading. WPA [Editor's Note: Work Project Administration-A depression era program that aimed to put the unemployed back to work] were very common and that might possibly have been one. Otherwise it was Fresnos, horses and wagons, and men and shovels.
Let's go back to Lawrence street. It ended at 22nd and while it probably deserves separate acknowledgment, I must expound on a couple of characteristics that reflected on 22nd. From 22nd to 24th was a dirt road that ran up along the west side of the reservoir without a hint of gravel. In the winter one could drive down, but not up. The reservoir also deserves a separate recognition, but for now visualize it as an open concrete box with a spiked fence around it. When constructed the excavation dirt was dropped off and more or less aligned with Lawrence. Needless to say love and feminine challenges demanded risking prized possession by driving off this cliff. I must add that access to the plateau was gained by one of three upward ramps on the east side, which got progressively steep from the southernmost to the north.
All of these activities presented no problem until 22nd was put in leaving the high bank referred to earlier. More than one brave, inebriated, or femininely challenged lothario plummeted off the cliff, down Lawrence, and probably with brakes mashed to the floor found himself (too late) staring at 22nd ten feet or so below. There was not a car built that could withstand the result. Although as I recall, the young bodies did. After a couple of these incidents, a fence was constructed, but it served as nothing more than a preliminary indication of what was to come. I think the bank was eventually bladed down to offer a more gradual descent to 22nd. Naturally, the obvious hazards had the risks compounded when accomplished at night.
That particular street (22nd) held no significance until I reached high school. This was in the middle 1930's, when as designed by nature it became one criterion by which we judged cars. This takes us all the way over the hill to Willamette. We found that it took a really good car to go over the top in high gear. That sounds rather simple until one bears in mind that we had to turn the corner prior to starting the ascent. As best I recall, anything less than 35 miles per hour didn't cut it. Today it is relatively easy, but one must remember that the best of those cars had 85 horse power.
Lawrence Street in retrospect had some interesting sociological ramifications, especially the part from 13th south. This was not a street which I as a kid would walk alone from school at 11th and Lincoln. I could name names, but prefer not to, of the tough kids that lived on that street all the way up to 20th. I'm sure some are still alive.
Eugene High was at 17th and Lincoln. Their football field ran from 19th to 20th and Lawrence to Washington. At one time it had high board tight-spaced fence all around, presumably to keep out spies from University High or Springfield High. 20th did not run through from Lawrence (nor did 21st) but some optimistic contractor dug four or five holes on the south side of 20th, which were to be basements of homes, but remained for years as just water filled holes.
The soil in that area is just about the best example of gray clay to be found in the valley. Naturally the best WPA wisdom running south from 20th was selected as a terracing project for what eventually became Washington Park (Lawrence to Washington). Now if I were to leave it at that, one would have visions of earth-movers, D-8s and huge dump trucks, with much noise and smoke. But not so. Not a sound. Every bit of that work was done with hand shovels and wheelbarrows. And don't forget the sticky clay. Each shovel full had to be scraped off into the wheelbarrow. What today would have been done in an afternoon actually took months and at least part of it in the rainy season. Maybe longer.
To close the Lawrence Street saga, loosely speaking it ran up along the west side of the reservoir. It was more like a trail until at about 24th, it dead-ended at the north boundary of the Eugene Country Club.
Back to the tough kid on Lawrence. For some strange reason it was like an island. Lincoln, Charnelton, Olive, no problem. Ditto for Washington, which was a "newer" street and was about three notches up the social ladder from any of the others. This applied mainly to the strip from 19th north, all the way to at least 8th. Much nicer houses, many professional people. Jefferson Street slid back down the social ladder. I'm not sure why, though the street car (trolley) did run on Jefferson. I can't recall where it entered north of 19th, but it did run from there (19th) to about 24th or 25th, where it turned west down to Friendly, south to 29th, east to Willamette, north to town, and so on.
Now picking a few random thoughts that may have some bearing on the earlier part of this epistle. The lone house above 22nd on the east side of Washington was originally owned and built by the Miller family. He had what might be loosely referred to as a dairy. I think he owned around five cows with a little barn or shed southwest of the house and up the hill.
It was beyond my comprehension that 22nd would ever be paved from Washington to the west. Even in the Summer a car might break through the clay crust into the mud. We had a cow that we "staked out" in the "pasture" between 22nd all the way to 29th, and between Washington and Jefferson. The chain was about 50 feet long, and as a stake we seemed to always have a car axle which was driven into the ground.
Our mailman was Mr. Taylor. He lived on the southwest corner of 20th and Washington, and he made ninety bucks a month. Hard to imagine how impressed we were. Of course you could buy a brand new Ford for about $450, but the only ones we knew who had a new car were related to the Buick dealer.
23rd and Lincoln brings back a couple of memories, neither of which strikes me as anything short of stupid. Manholes at least in that location had cement covers about 3 inches thick, around 30 inches in diameter, and mighty heavy, but not so heavy that a group of idiots couldn't get it out of its horizontal position and roll it down Lincoln. I'm sure that thing would have gone all the way to the Butte, but it veered left at 22nd, went in one side of a house and out the other, and for whatever reason didn't do a whole lot of damage.
The other incident occurred while I was in high school. My closest friend was one of those referred to earlier whose dad owned a new car, a classy midnight blue '39 Buick with fender mounts. We "parked" on Lincoln north of 23rd facing north with a view of the town. When we were finished doing whatever it was we were doing (not much) my friend released the brake and we proceeded down, picking up more speed than I like to think about. All was fine until we got to about 21st. At that point we collectively discovered that this vehicle had a steering wheel lock that had not been disengaged. It could have ended in a disaster had God not put an old Nash in our way. Now when they say built like a Buick, there can be no other reason for my present existence. Can't say as much for the Nash. His dad didn't even yell at him (my friend's dad).
Earlier I referred to the County Club running south from about 24th. The clubhouse as near as I can picture it was about in back of (west) of Baskin Robbins which now fronts Willamette.
By Gary Arnold
First called the Chambers Street Airport, then the Eugene Airfield/Airport, and finally the Eugene Airpark (some wags even called it cow pasture field) the facility operated until 1955. I prefer using the term "airfield" because the runways were never paved and few site improvements were ever made. Even though pretty primitive by today's standards, and located in a relatively rural part of the state, the Eugene Airfield was site to a surprising number of interesting events.
Mahlon Sweet (yes, the person our current airport is named after) was named to the Eugene Chamber of Commerce Aviation Committee. Under his leadership, the City opened an airfield in 1919 in what is now Westmoreland Park. The Eugene Airfield was the very first municipal and non-military airfield to be built on the entire west coast. Bear in mind, the Wright brothers had just flown in 1903 in a plane that could only hop 120 feet from take-off to touchdown. Only 16 years later the concept of city-to-city flights was becoming a reality. And Eugene wanted to be part of that reality.
With the field in operation, the first Eugene Airshow happened on July 4th, 1919. It seems to have had only one pilot (Lt. James Krull), but he put on an exciting show of aerobatics with the notable "trick" of a high speed "buzzing" low over Willamette Street. For many people this was the first time they had ever seen an airplane.
Although a non-military field, about a year after its opening, the US Army stationed a squadron of flyers in Eugene to fly over the vast forests in the area to spot fires. Back then the Army was responsible for protecting National Parks, and the fledgling National Forests and the involvement of the military in civic matters was not that unusual. An interesting note about the fliers, the commanding officer of the detachment was Maj. H.H. “Hap” Arnold. [Authors Note-I don't believe him to be a relative.] Hap Arnold went on to command the entire Army Air Corp in WWII. He was then named the first commander of the US Air Force, when it became a separate branch of the military. He is the only person to be of 5-Star rank (the highest rank possible in the military) in two services. Near the end of the war, Hap was known to have come back to Eugene and spent a week fishing with Mahlon Sweet up on the McKenzie River.
A 1925 map of the field shows that directly south of the hangers there was a trap shooting club, with three shooting positions. Words fail to express how different an age 1924 was.
Eugene Airfield had encounters with not just one, but two aircraft that are now on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the mall in Washington DC.
Douglas World Cruiser
The United States Army wanted to attempt an audacious feat. They placed an order with the Douglas Aircraft Company of Santa Monica, CA, for an aircraft that would be capable of flying around the world. The company built four aircraft which first flew in November of 1923 (just under 20 years after the Wright brothers). The aircraft were named after cities—Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, and Seattle. The planes could be fitted with wheels or floats for water landings. Both would be used on the trip. The long-range flying over large tracts of uninhabited land and open ocean would only be possible with extensive support by the US Military. A huge logistical system of supplies, gasoline, and spare parts provided by the Army and Coast Guard was placed along the route.
The four Cruisers were flown north from the factory to Seattle, the official beginning and end of the around-the-world flight. The planes landed at the Eugene Airfield for a re-fueling stop on their way north. The official attempt began on April 6, 1924 when the four planes left Sand Point Airfield and flew north to Alaska. Within a few weeks, the Seattle crashed and the expedition was down to three planes. The remaining planes made it across Asia and Europe until the Boston landed hard in the Atlantic Ocean near the Faroe Islands and was declared a total loss. Chicago and New Orleans continued west across the Atlantic where they were joined by a new aircraft in Nova Scotia, the Boston II. The threesome then flew across eastern Canada and the United States, landing back in Eugene on September 27, 1924. The official end of the expedition was the next day in Seattle. The "official" route covered 23,942 nm (44,342 km). Time in flight was 371 hours, 11 minutes, and average speed was 70 miles per hour.
Unofficially, note the fact that these planes had already landed in Eugene on their way up to Seattle. It is completely historically true to say the the first around-the-world flight first went from Eugene to Eugene, not from Seattle to Seattle.
Pictured below is a welcoming ceremony for the returning fliers and planes on September 27, 1924. Thousands from Eugene attended. Oregon Governor Walter Pierce was on hand to greet the fliers (I believe he is the man standing at the railing, next to the child). The Cruiser Chicago is currently on display in the Smithsonian.
Ryan Spirit of St. Louis and Charles Lindbergh
Most everyone has heard of Charles Lindbergh. When he completed his solo non-stop crossing of the Atlantic in May of 1927, he became the most famous man in America. The "Lone Eagle" was in great demand for speeches and business opportunities, but Harry Guggenheim was able to entice Lindbergh to embark on a three-month tour of the United States from July through October of 1927. Their mutual goal was to promote aviation to the public. Flying in the Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh landed in 48 states, visited 92 cities, and gave 147 speeches. Although he didn't land, he flew directly over the Eugene Airfield on September 16, 1927. Thousands knew he was coming and turned out to see Lindbergh fly low over the field and perform stunts over downtown Eugene and Willamette Street.
The picture below was taken at the Oakland, California, airport, the day after flying over Eugene. The Spirit of St. Louis is currently displayed in the great entrance hall of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. One of the truly great aircraft in American history.
As time passed, airplanes developed higher performance which required runways that were longer and that were paved. The city grew outward until the Airfield was surrounded on all sides by homes. A petition to close the Airfield, by now called the Eugene Airpark, was circulated in 1954 citing noise and safety concerns. In the city election of November 1954, the measure to close the facility passed, and it closed down for good the the next year. A plaque was put up in 1986 near where the hangers were, but one finds few other physical signs that this urban setting was once the location of an airport.
Descriptions of where the Eugene Airfield was have been universally vague. Although generally right, they were not useful in picturing its exact location. The map at the left furnishes modern-day landmarks placed on an aerial photo from the mid-1930's. The dotted yellow lines are walking and bike paths within Westmoreland Park. The map on the right has these modern-day landmarks removed. Notable is how few of our modern streets existed back then, in fact Chambers Street was the only way to get to the Airfield.
I like to picture a take-off run in an old bi-wing airplane that requires taxiing north from the hangers, through the Bi-Mart store, hanging a right at the south end of the 18th Avenue overpass, and then gunning the engine to try and get to take-off speed (around 80 MPH) before hitting the Kidsport building. Not to mention avoiding the trees and landscaping berms that have been added since 1955. Yet if you stand at the south end of the overpass and look towards Kidsport and squint just right, you can still almost see the runway and maybe even hear the sound of aircraft engines.
Sources and Further Reading