One of Springfield’s prominent buildings on Main Street is going back to the future when it’s revitalized to its original 1950s design.
When Springfield-based architect Jenna Fribley of Campfire Collaborative dug into the history of the building that once housed the Spring Garden Chinese restaurant, she says she discovered that underneath its current facade is midcentury modern architecture, of which there aren’t many examples of in town.
Fribley says she’s working with the owner of the property and its incoming tenant, locally owned Lee’s Mongolian Grill, which is moving from its Olympic Street location to Main Street, to revitalize the building and highlight its 1950s design.
Spring Garden closed around the beginning of the pandemic. Before renovation of the building began in 2022, it had been in poor shape, Fribley says. “It’s such a visible spot,” she says about the building. “It’s the first thing you see when you’re coming down Main Street from Pioneer Parkway and the second thing you see coming from Eugene.”
While researching the building, she says, she found that it was once a drive-in called Timber Topper, which opened in 1957. “It actually had style,” she adds. The building had a horizontal roof, exposed beams and fins on each end carrying the business name, she says. “It had character.”
Midcentury modern, which arose after WWII, is known for its clean lines, large windows and connection to the world around it. According to a July 1, 1957, article in The Eugene Guard, Frank Bonson designed the Timber Topper.
Over the years, the building lost many of those 1950s design attributes as materials were added, including an extra attic, she says. “We were excited to purge that superfluous stuff off and bring it back to its original character,” she adds.
Fribley also serves as a member of Springfield’s Historic Commission, whose mission is to advance the identification, protection, preservation, education and interpretation of Springfield’s cultural heritage and history.
She says most of Sprignfield’s Main Street has buildings that were built around 1910. But the city doesn’t have many buildings still standing from the ’50s. “It is a historically recognized style,” she adds. “It’s not just a new, boring, nicely built thing.”
According to Lane County property records, the building is owned by 215 Main Street LLC. Holly Graham and Jacob Graham of Eugene are listed as the owners of the organization, according to a filing with the Oregon Secretary of State office.
Although the new tenant of the building will be a Mongolian grill restaurant and not a carhop drive-in like Timber Topper, Fribley says the firm is working on having the building show off its midcentury architecture and fit the needs of the business.
The 1950s is a time that some political figures are reminiscing upon — such as former President Donald Trump. But she says that doesn’t mean that everything that happened during that decade was something worth celebrating.
“We’re excited about this midcentury building, but it doesn’t mean that the 1950s were the most amazing time in the world for everyone,” she says. “The assets that we have that are historic are at least worthy of keeping.”