Eugene City Hall in 1978 (Photo courtesy Marion Dean Ross/University of Oregon Libraries)

Midlife Crisis: Will Eugene City Hall Survive Beyond 50?

Eugene City Hall, a full-block building at the heart of the city’s downtown, has become the most-recent epicenter of debate about the preservation of Oregon’s Mid-Century Modern architecture. Built in 1964 by the firm Stafford, Morin and Longwood, local leaders for the past several years have discussed options for rehabilitating or replacing the aging building. Today, that discussion is nearing its end.

It’s no secret that City Hall is seismically unsound and in need of an extensive rehabilitation to address accessibility, energy efficiency, and general maintenance needs. It’s also generally accepted that the building is a prime aesthetic representation of its time. According to a recent Register-Guard article, Eugene City Hall is both:

  1. “A giant pancake and horizontal, monotonous building from block-to-block on all four sides”
  2. “A great example of mid-century modern architecture and it needs to be preserved”

In late 2012, the building was vacated to set the stage for its future transformation, be that rehabilitation or replacement. Over the course of the next year, the City assembled a project budget of approximately $15 million to pay for the rebuilding of the 50-year-old building on its current site. A design team was hired in October.

Last week, two very different visions were presented for the future of the site. The city-hired design team released conceptual renderings calling for the complete demolition of the 1964 building and construction of a much smaller City Hall on a portion of the block. Conversely, local architect Otto Poticha announced he would nominate the building to the National Register of Historic Places and advocate for the construction of a new municipal building off-site to make way for the adaptive reuse of the existing building into a museum or other use.

While the State Historic Preservation Office has deemed the building eligible for National Register Listing because of its midcentury design and association with local governmental history, historic designation alone is unlikely to slow or halt the demolition of the building. With City Council working on a tight budget and a timeline that calls for final design to be completed in April, the preservation of City Hall seems unlikely at this phase in the project. However, the debate is far from over and is certain to be an item of conversation at Eugene dinner tables until at least the spring.

For those interested in the project, the public is invited to weigh in at two upcoming events:

Design Concept Open House
February 24, 4:30pm
Bascom/Tykeson Room, Eugene Public Library

Preservation and Reuse Discussion
February 27, 4-6pm
Lawrence Hall Room 206, University of Oregon

Eugene City Hall in 1978 (Photo courtesy Marion Dean Ross/University of Oregon Libraries)

Eugene City Hall in 1978
(Photo courtesy Marion Dean Ross/
University of Oregon Libraries)

Conceptual rendering of a smaller, replacement Eugene City Hall (Rendering courtesy of Rowell Brokaw Architects)

Conceptual rendering of a smaller,
replacement Eugene City Hall
(Rendering courtesy of Rowell Brokaw Architects)

Eugene City Hall in 1978
(Photo courtesy Marion Dean Ross/
University of Oregon Libraries)

City Hall today

Eugene City Hall in February 2014
(Restore Oregon photo)

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