Welcome to Whiteaker
Cheering Eugene’s oldest neighborhood Saturday
by Vanessa Salvia
Oregon’s first governor, John Whiteaker, would likely be proud of the plucky neighborhood that today bears his name. Whiteaker, a Democrat and farmer, held office from July 8, 1858 to Sept. 10, 1862. He once owned much of the land that is now known as Whiteaker — land which was once part of founder Eugene Skinner’s land claim. The fact that Whiteaker supported slavery makes no one proud, but he was forward-thinking in one respect: He did seem to favor the micro-economics of what we might term craft industries today — sustainable industries reliant upon the ingenuity of Oregonians.
Walking down Van Buren Street or Blair Boulevard (which was part of the Willamette Valley’s first north-south highway and a principal entrance to the city) Whiteaker would today witness Ninkasi Brewing Company’s meteoric expansion (272 Van Buren St.), and shops like olive juice (543 Blair Blvd.) and Redoux Parlour (780 Blair Blvd.) that provide locally made goods — feather boas, upcycled products, retro and redesigned clothing. The neighborhood’s blacksmith shops gave way to gas stations and mechanic shops, of which Sam Bond’s Garage (407 Blair Blvd.) is a popular relic of the era.
Of course, the first inhabitants of the area were the Kalapuya tribe, who utilized the region’s resources in their own way. It could be argued that this region has always engendered a think-for-yourself mentality. Walking along the streets of Eugene’s oldest neighborhood, you might find a doll shrine (292 Jackson), a curbside garden sprouting zucchini and bowling balls (1023 W. 3rd) or an installation of Jell-O molds along a fence (1082 W. 2nd Ave.). Life is a little different here.
An article in the 1999 L.A. Times referred to Eugene as “a test kitchen for the principles of anarchy.” Acts of vandalism in Whiteaker in the late 1990s castigated “yuppie gentrifying scum,” which was seen as threatening the area’s traditionally low rents. Today, rents are a little bit higher, but there’s a core of successful, locally owned small businesses, shared resources and a real sense of neighbors looking out for neighbors. There’s even a Whiteaker Community Truck that you can request (call 541-232-2324) when you need a flatbed and an engine with horsepower. Kari Johnson, chair of the Whiteaker neighborhood association and a resident of the neighborhood since 1991, feels that the ravages of a poor national economy have spared neighborhoods such as Whiteaker because the small businesses are more homegrown. “There’s a lot of small businesses in Whiteaker and I think that is part of why it’s so vibrant,” she says. “Small businesses have always done fairly well here.”
That’s no secret to the people who live there, but the organizers of the Whiteaker Block Party would like everyone else in town to know how hot things are in the ’hood these days. The block party’s website says that the event, now in its fourth year, celebrates “the unique spirit of the Whiteaker” and showcases the area’s local businesses, neighbors, artists and musicians.
The block party is set up along 3rd between Blair and Adams. Six different stages host local music of all genres from 1 pm to 10:30 pm on Saturday. Well-known establishments Territorial Vineyards, Ninkasi and the Whiteaker Hostel each have their own stage, while the remainder are scattered down little meandering footpaths through side yards and on street corners. Everyone in the family will find something to enjoy: local food booths, impromptu street performances, games. There’s even a fashion show at 9 pm and fire dancing when the sun sets. Last year, many of the kids sought respite in a makeshift water park (aka a front yard with play equipment and a kickin’ sprinkler).
It costs nothing to get in, so join in the fun and celebrate along with the residents. Music, outsider art and sustainable industry have long been hallmarks of this neighborhood. But please, while you’re there, be nice to the doll. She looks like she could get mean.
Whiteaker Block Party. 1-11 pm Saturday, Aug. 7. 3rd Avenue between Blair & Adams. whiteakerblockparty.com