Pearl Street Sand and Gravel

Starting to miss that old City Hall

It’s been five years since the Eugene City Council tore down the Eugene City Hall for no apparent reason.

Heading south on Pearl Street from 7th Avenue, you are treated to one of the ugliest sights in Eugene: one full city block of gravel, surrounded by a chain link fence. From a historic building, and functioning City Hall, to what looks like an open pit gravel mine in the heart of our city. Welcome to Eugene.

It’s like the bad old days of urban renewal, when Eugene took the bait and cut the heart out of Eugene. This time around, the council tore down a piece of Eugene’s history and replaced it with nothing. It makes me mad every time I pass by it. 

When I was a kid, growing up in the San Fernando Valley, empty lots were cool things. They were remnants of farms and orchards that got eaten up by the paving of paradise by land developers. They were great places to play, to ride our bikes, build forts and catch lizards and snakes.

The gravel pit on Pearl is not like that. It’s a chain link fenced wasteland that takes ugly to a new level, and it’s now five years old and counting.

Is there any chance the City Council will get off of the dime and make some decisions on this in my lifetime? I am starting to wonder. Another five years? Another 10 years? The council seems unable to grapple with the complicated scenario they themselves created involving land exchanges and/or purchases, partnerships with other entities and even lawsuits against the descendants of Eugene Skinner.

Since there is not going to be anything permanent there anytime soon, why not do something with the gravel pit in the meantime? And I mean anything. Because anything would be better than what we have now. How about using it as a community garden? Or a home for an expanded farmers’ market? A food cart mall? A city park? Or lease it to a non-profit for a use that would benefit the community? Anything would be better than the gravel pit on Pearl.

I have to admit to being one of those people who did not appreciate the old City Hall. I thought it was ugly and uninviting to the public. I now miss the old City Hall. I have nostalgic memories of the place. I attended dozens of hearings and meetings in the old council chambers, including Jim Weaver’s lively wilderness hearings in the 1970s, with log trucks circling the entire block. I would much prefer log trucks to a chain link fence.

I spent a year working in the 911 Center when it was located there, and spent lunch breaks on that wonderful pedestrian bridge over Pearl Street. Those memories and many more were obliterated by the wrecking ball that replaced a restorable City Hall with a desolate gravel pit.

I don’t necessarily support either of the public auditor measures. But I am not against them. However, if I were an elected auditor advocate, I would think of the gravel pit on Pearl as the poster child for the campaign: If they could screw this up so badly, what else have they swept under the rug? How about the Multi-unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) program? How badly did the country bumpkins get taken by the city slickers from Capstone? 

I always assumed there would be a renovation fix to the appearance and functionality of the old City Hall. There were credible architects in this community who advocated saving it and renovating it with seismic upgrades — all for less money than building a new one. Why were they ignored? Why the rush to tear it down when there was nothing to replace it? The one positive thing I can say about the council’s gravel pit on Pearl is, at least it’s not a hole.

Bob Warren retired in 2012 as the regional business development officer for Business Oregon for Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Benton counties.