clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Oregon Trail, Part II: Snapshots Of Eugene


As a collector of old photos & film, I always love when you can find multiple images of the same location and see how it evolved through the eras. Whilst doing some Oregon-related research I came across this series of photos looking down Willamette Street in our very own Eugene, thought they might be worth sharing.

They picture different intersections so it’s not exactly a time-lapse effect, but it’s the same basic view and gives an idea how things went down in the 20th century.

Eugene 1913
Lane County Historical Museum

1913. Willamette was dominated by two pairs of streetcar tracks, which turned off from the main thoroughfare and served most of the major residential neighborhoods. You can see a few cars in the background. They were just starting to become cheap & widely available, the world’s first moving assembly line began pumping out Model Ts earlier that year.

Ax Billy was a department store, why it was named thus I do not know. The building still stands today, occupied by the Downtown Athletic Club. Apparently there’s a sports bar on the roof still bearing the Ax Billy name.

Eugene 1928

1928. Tracks are still there but the streetcars are gone, cars have taken over for good. On the right is the McMorran & Washburne department store, which also still stands as the Tiffany Building (last I checked, sushi & apartments).

Eugene 1940

December 1940, BACK WHEN THEY STILL SAID MERRY CHRISTMAS. One year before Pearl Harbor. Chain stores & gas stations have started taking over the landscape.

Eugene 1960

1960. Look, it’s raining! Some more holiday décor in the background but Kennedy got rid of Merry Christmas. Lots of signage, and check out all those classic cars.

Eugene 1970

1970, Urban Renewal strikes. With shopping centers & large malls like Valley River opening up outside the downtown retail core and drawing out both shoppers & merchants, the city found itself at a crossroads. How to revitalize the town center?

Flush with some federal $$$ for those purposes, Eugene decided to close off much of Willamette Street & Broadway to car traffic, make it pedestrian-only, and knock down a whole bunch of historic architecture that was replaced by the soulless low-slung buildings that make up a lot of the city today. Everyone was doing it - what could go wrong?

Eugene 1972

1972. Didn’t work out so well.

During my time in Eugene (1996-2000ish) the pedestrian mall was a forlorn & forgotten place inhabited only by a few stalwarts selling crap (Lazar’s, etc) amidst empty storefronts, plus packs of semi-feral teenagers who would aggressively panhandle out front of Cafe Paradiso for latte money. I would literally become sad walking around it, there was a palpable & possibly contagious aura of failure.

As we know, the mall got re-opened to car traffic in 2002, and a renewed focus on the downtown has revitalized it to an extent - lesson learned!

2018...? I looked through my photos hoping to find a recent shot to complete the series, no luck though. Anyone have one to offer?

Also - since the collective ATQ Eugene experience goes back to at least the 1960s, feel free to share your perspectives and/or memories of the town from back in your day...