Eugene’s City Hall, shuttered since August 2012 due to the loss of steam heat and earthquake concerns, is up for a new historic designation that could help protect it. On Dec. 22, Otto Poticha, a local architect and leader in the fight to save the building, submitted an application to give the building a City of Eugene Historic Property Designation.
City Council voted in January 2013 to rebuild the award-winning 1964 City Hall block in a way that preserves the council chamber, public art and as much parking as possible. Poticha says that so much flexibility is written into the council’s direction that too much of the building could be torn down. “This is not to be contradictory to what the council selected,” he says. “It’s just to make sure the building gets the credentials that it should have.”
Even buildings on the National Historic Registry, such as Civic Stadium, can be torn down. “It doesn’t do anything except put a star next to it so people have to deal with it very, very carefully,” Poticha says.
The democratic ideals embodied in the current City Hall, like easy access to local government, are part of what Poticha likes about it, in addition to the integration of public art that was planned from the very beginning of the design process. He says the new building made a huge impression on him when he moved to Eugene as a young architect. “I was blown away by how this really represented democracy, the openness of city government itself,” he says.
While Poticha acknowledges that many people don’t like mid-century modern architecture, he says that design is unique. “There isn’t a person, a city, a place in the world that would build a one-story concrete building on legs covering a whole city block,” he says. “You couldn’t make that pencil out.”
Even though a new building in that style isn’t an economical option, he says, “The framework of that building is such that it can be anything it wants to be. It’s very flexible functionally.” Poticha participated in the study of the tear-down and rebuild options for City Hall, and he says that while many systems of the building have to go, it’s structurally sound and can be rebuilt efficiently. “When we had these two studies done, you got two to three times the bang for the buck by the rebuild,” Poticha says.
The city manager’s office did not respond to an inquiry before press time.