Welcome Back Broadway – Eugene, Oregon, USA

October 2002 Update
Eugene, Oregon Travel Guide

October, a month that is usually characterized by the approach of dark foreboding clouds and the gradual appearance of umbrellas, was ushered into Eugene with spirit and warmth this year. Eugenians welcomed another wet winter with the grand reopening of Broadway Street, a main thoroughfare in the downtown area.

The street, which had been closed to traffic in the early 1970s, was officially re-opened on September 23, 2002, and celebrated in the community on October 4 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a parade that included cars (of course), and the University of Oregon marching band. In true Eugene fashion, the band was followed by “the ghosts of murdered maples”. Local activists donned dead tree costumes to call attention to the plight of regularly logged forests in the area, an ongoing struggle in a city that is home to environmentalists and loggers alike. The end of the procession was tailed by a Michael Jackson impersonator who spontaneously entered the parade and moonwalked through Broadway Square, exemplifying the spirit, involvement and artistic flare that make Eugene a unique place.

The Eugene government and community members have signified the reopening of the street as a key component in the “Vision for a Greater Downtown Eugene” project. Adopted by city leaders in November 2000, aspects of the project include strengthening the downtown area as a regional center, connecting it to the Willamette River with a riverfront promenade and the building of a new public library, which has been underway since December 2000.

“It will end up being like State Street in Madison, Wisconsin,” said Mayor Jim Torrey, who is in his seventh year as the community leader. For those people who know Wisconsin for its cheese and not much else, Torrey is referring to a popular city street that is packed with specialty stores, art galleries, theaters, museums, gift shops, clothing stores and a variety of eateries and restaurants from sidewalk cafes and fast food, to sit-down restaurants of all ethnic backgrounds.

“I think it will be a place that when people check into hotels and say ‘where should I go’ they will be told ‘you got to go to Broadway,'” Torrey said about the future of tourism in Eugene.

This is the hope of many local business owners like Celeste Hantington, proprietor of Shambala, a local shop that sells crystals and jewelry among other things. “We are moving to Broadway and Olive,” Hantington said about the future of her business with the downtown changes. “I think it is wonderful with the new library opening. It’s good to see it alive again.”

From the looks of the reopening celebration, the vision for a lively downtown is not far in the future. The renewal of the area is a priority in the community and has been strongly supported on ballot measures addressing the idea. Having an area where people can get together and enjoy their city is not far-fetched for a community that has annual celebrations like the Country Fair in July and the Eugene Celebration in September. These festivals are examples of what Lane County is capable of: Packed with music, art, food and other culture, these events attract visitors from all over the country and showcase the uniqueness and diversity that thrives in the Willamette Valley.

Although the recent street reopening gave the project a great boost, the revitalization of the downtown area did not begin with the Broadway changes. New clubs and venues like The Downtown Lounge and The McDonald Theater have nestled themselves in with downtown staples like Café Zenon and Ambrosia, restaurants that have long been community favorites. The streets are speckled with small shops and galleries, and the location of the local transit station in the center of downtown make it accessible from all over Lane County. Local residents who see the potential of a thriving downtown region and want to show off the diversity and distinctiveness of the area have been involved in spirited community building projects all year.

Ducks on Parade
Last spring Eugene began showcasing local artists by placing 6-foot tall fiberglass duck sculptures in and around local businesses in the downtown area. This community art exhibit has been a popular attraction in other American cities. Chicago started the trend with life-size cows; Tucson, Arizona is currently working on ponies, and Washington D.C. decorated their streets in diplomatic fashion with donkeys and elephants. The charity event has even extended across the ocean to Hawaii, where the Maui community has proposed whale sculptures (although they probably aren’t life-size).

Artists who live and work in the community decorated the statues and paired them with a local fund or charity before the birds began landing on the streets last spring. A map of each duck and its location was made available during the summer months so residents and visitors could become familiar with each duck, its creator and the charity it represented. In this way the city was involved in both community giving and the support of local art.

The Eugene artists had a variety of themes for the feathered flock that represented Lane County life and culture. A duck called “Eugene Spirit” was decorated entirely with recycled materials. “Fighting Duck” with a football under its wing and “Slam Duck” raising a basketball into the air represented the University of Oregon spirit that encompasses the entire community. “Dead Duck”, a feathered replica of Jerry Garcia complete with tie-dyed tee and fiberglass guitar, was a local favorite.

The ducks made their homes on the downtown streets during the summer months and added amusement and flare to last month’s Eugene Celebration, before being auctioned off as part of the Broadway reopening day festivities. As the sun crept out from behind a looming cloud spreading its last rays on the vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians merrily testing out the new Broadway street, the fiberglass flock of 24 sat in Broadway Square awaiting their new homes.

Local residents and business owners sipped Willamette Valley wines and locally brewed Wild Duck beers while figuring out which duck would make a good addition to their business, back yard, or child’s playroom.

“My son said to my wife ‘mom, are you going to be the woman known as the crazy lady with the duck in the back yard?” Torrey said before the auction began. “And the answer is ‘probably yes.'”

For the mayor the answer was “yes” as he donated $6,500, the highest bid of the evening, to the Oregon Disaster Medical Team for “One Bright Duck”. The new addition to the mayor’s yard has pink blinking lights on its head and wings, potentially making it a neighborhood eyesore, but alas one for a good cause.

Not all ducks are making their homes in private residences. Many may remain on display by local business owners who purchased a feathery friend at the auction. Lazar’s Bazaar, a downtown business that stays true to its name by selling an eclectic bunch of goods, took home “Psychedelic Duck”. With a photograph of Ken Kesey plastered across its chest, this duck serves as a celebration of the local celebrity’s life and a commemoration of his death last fall. The proceeds from that duck were donated to the Willamette Family Treatment Center.

“All Quacked Up”, a duck breaking out of an eggshell and benefiting Relief Nursery, an organization that works to prevent child abuse, was claimed by the proprietor of local Hoodoo Ski Area and could become a regular addition to the lodge or lift line. There will also be new ducks making their way to the Eugene streets in the future.

“We believe this is the first annual Ducks on Parade,” Jay Moore said about the successful exhibit. Moore helped found and create the Ducks on Parade project and collaborated on the artwork of two statues. “We plan to bring them out earlier next year.”

With these future projects around the corner and attention focused on boosting an already thriving community with the downtown vision well underway, it is easy for Eugenians to welcome the gray skies. Rain is undaunting to a city that doesn’t allow its spirit to be dampened by stormy weather. In Eugene, home of the fighting duck, the community finds innovative ways to challenge the dull days.