Save Civic Stadium
(Coming soon, an update on BCS with details of what’s coming in 2014 and a chance for you to join our team and be acknowledged in our book. But for now, a brief West Coast detour).
In September I spent a week in Eugene, Oregon, my first visit there. One day, while driving down Willamette St., I passed an old, wooden, apparently abandoned baseball stadium and I did an instant double take: Whoa, what is that? It was Civic Stadium, I learned, former home of the minor league baseball team, the Eugene Emeralds.
Later in the week I met Jim Watson and his wife, Beth. A retired educator, Jim is helping lead an effort to save Civic Stadium. He offered us a tour of the stadium and we couldn’t resist.
Civic Stadium opened in 1938, built with funds from the Works Project Administration. It is made of fir from local forests. The stadium’s roof is supported by solid one-foot-by-one-foot timbers that are sixty feet long. Where else can you go and see fir 1x1x60’s? I wonder how much each of those marvels weighs.
The Single-A Emeralds played their last game in Civic Stadium in 2009. Since then the stadium has sat silent. The grounds are maintained by Rob Ellis, who lives in a camper inside the gates with his dog, Trippy. A dog has never had a more fun playground to call home.
Civic Stadium is one of only twelves surviving wooden stadiums in the country and one of only five built with WPA funds. Walking around and underneath the stadium three weeks ago, dipping under cross-beams, was an experience to behold. The cliche “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” isn’t one in this case. Jim and Rob pointed out the high quality of the craftsmanship involved in the stadium’s design and construction. Simple and sturdy. Solid fir everywhere. The concrete on which the wood rests seems not to have sunk into the ground at all, leaving the wood dry and sturdy, which is remarkable given the amount of rain in Eugene.
Left to the elements, this human-made structure may outlast the state-of-the-art facilities across town at the University of Oregon. Left to humans, Civic Stadium may get razed. The grocery store conglomerate, Fred Meyer, has offered millions for the stadium site, which is owned by the local public school district. It’s easy to imagine that ultimately the power of Fred Meyer’s money will win out.
But not if Jim Watson and the Save Civic Stadium group can help it. They’ve got good alternative ideas to preserve the integrity of the original wood structure and maintain its use as a sports facility, most likely for soccer. Perhaps there are other ideas, too.
Three weeks later, during a federal government shut-down, I remain haunted by the thought of public money once being used for construction projects like Civic Stadium, and the impossibility of that premise today.
I’m also left grateful that the city of Durham, the Bulls, and Capitol Broadcasting have maintained the old Durham Athletic Park in such pristine condition. When future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones was here for his Bulls’ jersey retirement in August, we were told that he asked his driver to take him by the old ballpark, where he played. Hopefully, former Eugene Emerald third baseman, Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt, will be able to visit one site of his development, Civic Stadium, for many years to come.