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.