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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 9.24.09




Enough Already

The Ems have left Civic Stadium. Let’s look ahead.

By Steven A. Sylwester

Four years ago, Eugene Weekly published a long letter I wrote titled “A Good Idea: Locating the new Triad/McKenzie-Willamette Hospital on Eugene’s Field of Dreams.” That letter can be read at: www.eugeneweekly.com/2005/09/01/views.html

McKenzie-Willamette Hospital is now owned by Community Health Systems (CHS), but everything else in my September 2005 letter still rings true — and still describes “A Good Idea.” Unfortunately, my letter sparked the formation of the “Save Civic Stadium” campaign, and our community has had to endure the ongoing noise coming from that sincere effort ever since. I say, “Enough already!” The game is over: the Eugene Emeralds have left Civic Stadium.

A document titled "June 2003 Eugene Modernism 1935-65: Education" describes the history of Civic Stadium as follows:

In 1937, as turf installation at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field made the field unusable, Eugene High and University High teams faced the possibility of canceling all home games. As the district was experiencing financial difficulties, the community rallied behind a property tax to purchase a 17-acre tract on South Willamette between 20th and 22nd Streets. Construction of the field and grandstand was a cooperative project among School District No. 4, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Eugene High School student body donated funds to purchase and install lights at the new Civic Stadium for evening games.

FACT: Civic Stadium was built primarily to serve as a football stadium. Before Civic Stadium was built, Eugene public high school football games were played at Hayward Field on the UO campus. Why? Because of the covered grandstands — it rains in Oregon during the football season! Springfield High School’s Silke Field — complete with covered grandstands — was built in 1942. The football fields at many other public high schools in the valleys of the Pacific Northwest and along the Pacific Coast have covered grandstands — again, because it rains here, and football is played in any and all weather conditions. By comparison, baseball games are either postponed or canceled when it rains. Howe Field on the UO campus has never had covered grandstands during its entire history, including from 1936 to 1981 when men’s baseball was played there. 

Eugene High School was located where The Lighthouse International Church now stands between Charnelton Street and Lincoln Street between West 17th Avenue and West 18th Avenue. University High School was located on what is now the UO campus in the old Education Department building on the east side of the 1500s block of Alder Street and at the Kincaid Street dead-end south of East 15th Avenue. Those were the only public high schools in all of Eugene in 1937.

In 1937, the Eugene Airport was located where Bi-Mart now stands on West 18th Avenue east of Chambers Street. At the time, Chambers Street was the west city limits of Eugene. Most of the population in Eugene in 1937 could walk to Civic Stadium from their homes within 15 minutes, especially the wealthy elite who lived on College Hill and in the University Street district between East 18th Avenue and East 24th Avenue. The Guistina family home was located at 20 West 20th Avenue, literally just across Willamette Street from Civic Stadium.

The point being this: 2009 Eugene bears no resemblance at all to 1937 Eugene. 

FALSEHOOD: The Save Civic Stadium committee states on the “Stadium History” page of its website: During the period of significance (1938 - 1955), Eugene Civic Stadium was primarily home to high school football, baseball and soccer games. See http://savecivicstadium.org/history.html

I graduated from Churchill High School in Eugene in June 1971. At that time, boys’ soccer was played at the junior high school level in Eugene (then 7th through 9th grade), but it was not played at the senior high school level at all. Furthermore, there was no organized girls’ soccer being played at any level. 

When I was in high school, some of us tried mightily during the 1970-71 school year to establish soccer as a high school team sport, but we were expressly forbidden to use the high school name, the high school playing fields, and the high school locker rooms. Those of us who wanted to play soccer then had no recourse but to meet on the junior high school soccer fields for pick-up games with no referees and no coaches, and we did so, including interscholastic play on Saturday mornings. 

A bunch of us were once playing a full-teams pick-up soccer game after school on an unused playing field behind Churchill High School when the football coaches ordered the whole football team to purposely run through our field for no reason other than to completely disrupt our game. The high school football coaches in Eugene in 1970 were adamantly opposed to allowing soccer as a high school team sport, because they knew team soccer would certainly rob their football programs of some of the best athletes. 

In the years following my high school graduation, soccer eventually achieved club sport status in some of the local high schools, and then finally became an official districtwide high school team sport for interscholastic athletics around 1978. It is an absolute certainty that soccer was NEVER played in Civic Stadium at anytime from 1938 to 1955!

All of Eugene’s public high schools used Civic Stadium for their home football games from 1938 until District 4J made a deal with the UO that allowed for use of Autzen Stadium for high school football games beginning in 1969. That District 4J partnership with the UO lasted for more than three decades until the decision was made 10 years ago to give each high school its own football stadium. Civic Stadium died when that decision was made to spend an enormous sum of public money to give four high schools each their own football stadium complete with an all-weather track surrounding the football/soccer field, high quality artificial turf on the playing field, new bleachers, permanent on-site concessions stands and bathrooms, an enclosed announcers/press box and field sound system, and stadium lights — and to commit to the upkeep of those facilities for decades thereafter. And now that District 4J has shown the commitment to significantly upgrade athletic fields at Jefferson Middle School, every other public middle school in Eugene is standing in line singing, “Me, too!”

THE-TRUTH-OF-THE-MATTER FACT: The Save Civic Stadium committee states on the “Stadium History” page of its website: “In 1969, Civic Stadium became home to Eugene's own minor league baseball team, the Emeralds. Upgraded to the Class AAA Pacific Coast League, the Eugene Emeralds required a larger facility than they currently had, and sought the assistance of the Eugene School District when plans to build a new stadium were unsuccessful. Baseball had not been played at Civic Stadium in over 20 years, but the team was granted a three-year lease to use and improve the stadium.” See http://savecivicstadium.org/history.html

CLARIFICATION (from Wikipedia): Originally created in 1955 as a charter member of the Northwest League, the Emeralds won the inaugural pennant and remained in the NWL until 1968. During that time, they played in 6,000-seat Bethel Park.

In the 1969 season, the Emeralds were promoted to AAA status, playing in the Pacific Coast League and affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Emeralds returned to the Northwest League and short-season Class A status five years later, when the Phillies moved their AAA farm team to Sacramento for the 1974 season.

With their 1969 promotion to the AAA ranks, the Emeralds moved from Bethel Park to Civic Stadium. The 6,800-seat facility is owned by the Eugene School District and was built in 1938 as a venue for high-school football, which was played there until 1968. Civic Stadium also hosted semi-pro baseball teams, sponsored by local timber companies, until Bethel Park was built in 1950.

Class-level

 * Short-season A (1974-present)

 * AAA (1969-1973), A (1955-1968) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Emeralds

Why would “a historic landmark baseball stadium” be unused as a baseball stadium for “over 20 years” from the mid-1940s until 1969? Answer: Because, again, “Civic Stadium was built primarily to serve as a football stadium.”

I went to a Churchill High School football game at Civic Stadium in 1968 that was played during a heavy rain. The spectators were dry under the covered grandstands, but the playing field was an absolute mud hole. It was impossible to identify either team’s uniforms on the playing field by mid-game, because mud on mud looks like mud from any vantage point. The game I watched was not the last game of the season, so one can only conclude that the Civic Stadium playing field was a chewed up mess at season’s end, and that the damaged field would remain so until at least late spring when efforts could start to repair, reseed, and smooth the ground. 

It does not surprise me at all that time and time again baseball teams tried playing at Civic Stadium for a short while, but then quickly left to play at Bethel Park, which was a dedicated baseball field that did not do double duty as a football field. It was not until 1969 when Eugene’s public high schools started playing their football games at Autzen Stadium that Civic Stadium became “a historic landmark baseball stadium” — a mere 40 years ago! It is an absolute misnomer at best to refer to Civic Stadium as a historic landmark baseball stadium; it is no such thing. Rather, it is an abandoned football stadium that happens to be a beautiful place in which to watch and play baseball.

The greatest sadness of all is that the Save Civic Stadium folks could not see the forest through the trees: the beauty of baseball is in watching the game of baseball being played, and the beauty of the south hills ridgeline and Spencer Butte is in seeing the south hills ridgeline and Spencer Butte — the setting of a baseball game is the baseball diamond itself, the outfield grass, and what is visible beyond center field. Too much love was given to an old building in sad disrepair. My guess is that the UO would not have sacrificed Autzen Stadium’s parking lot for PK Park if there had been freedom to build new at the Civic Stadium site, but that freedom was not granted by the loud public sentiment being voiced by the Save Civic Stadium crowd, and now we will never know — and now it is too late.

Civic Stadium is dead! Cry if you must, and be sad for the rest of your life if you must, but it is over. And to every insistent complaint I answer this: last year, they tore down Yankee Stadium — YANKEE STADIUM! — The House that Ruth built! I must state for the record that it is way cool that Satchel Paige once pitched at Civic Stadium, but that is not nearly enough to stop the inevitable wrecking ball.

I propose a two-step process to put an end to our community struggle over Civic Stadium. 

Step One: As soon as possible, District 4J should poll every high school student in Eugene with a one-question questionnaire that asks: “Did you ever attend a Eugene Emeralds baseball game at Civic Stadium?” If fewer than 10 percent of the students answer “Yes,” call it “Game Over” by proceeding to Step Two and limiting the advisory to only questions #3 and #4. However, if 10 percent or more of the students answer “Yes,” go to Step Two and include all four questions on the advisory.

Step Two: During the next general election opportunity, put the following "Non-Binding Yes-or-No Advisory Questions" on all Eugene address ballots that are within the boundaries of Eugene School District 4J:

1. Should District 4J spend money to improve and upkeep Civic Stadium?

2. Should District 4J obligate itself to sell or lease Civic Stadium to only those who will guarantee that Civic Stadium will be preserved as a historic landmark baseball stadium?

3. Should District 4J sell Civic Stadium for the highest possible price and place all proceeds into the district’s general fund to be used as necessary? 

4. Should District 4J sell Civic Stadium for the highest possible price and obligate itself to place all proceeds into a dedicated "District 4J Student Computer Systems Upgrade Trust Fund" that will keep and invest its principal into perpetuity with a binding pledge to spend its investment returns on a yearly basis solely on student-used school-based computer systems upgrades, including both hardware and software upgrades? 

In late February 2009, I personally gave the following map information to Maurine Cate in the form of several finished maps during a face-to-face meeting. Cate is the CEO of McKenzie-Willamette Hospital. In the end, Cate seemed open to the possibility of seriously considering the Civic Stadium site for a new hospital location if the fight to preserve Civic Stadium ended and if the decision to locate a new hospital at the Civic Stadium site would not be met with endless community protests and Eugene City Council red tape. I do not know what Cate’s thoughts are today more than six months later as she reads the ongoing saga of the Save Civic Stadium campaign in The Register-Guard and Eugene Weekly, but Eugene's citizens should find out, and should do everything possible to erase those two big ifs from her thinking if there is any chance at all that a new McKenzie-Willamette Hospital could be built on the Civic Stadium site.

I offer the following map information here and now because doing so might guarantee a bidding war between PeaceHealth and Community Health Systems regarding the purchase of the Civic Stadium site from District 4J. Without a doubt, it is not in the best interests of PeaceHealth that Community Health Systems would succeed in buying Civic Stadium. In fact, it could be a financial disaster for PeaceHealth if a new McKenzie-Willamette Hospital were ever built on the Civic Stadium site. 

Map Information: On a Eugene-Springfield map, draw the following four lines, and then bisect each line with a perpendicular line drawn across the map. For those with eyes to see, the bisecting perpendiculars will define the customer ownership territories of both PeaceHealth and McKenzie-Willamette based on the simple proposition that most people will naturally go to the hospital that is located nearest to their home.

Line 1 endpoints: Civic Stadium and Sacred Heart Hospital (Hilyard Street)

Line 2 endpoints: Civic Stadium and RiverBend Medical Center

Line 3 endpoints: McKenzie-Willamette Hospital and Sacred Heart Hospital (Hilyard Street)

Line 4 endpoints: McKenzie-Willamette Hospital and RiverBend Medical Center 

For those who are without a compass or who are otherwise challenged to draw bisecting perpendiculars and then make sense of an assortment of intersecting lines, let me make it easy by describing the significant four lines that border the battleground area revealed by the perpendiculars. Draw each line including the points described for that line.

Line 1A: E. 30th Ave & Gonyea (LCC exit) intersection; Prairie Road & Pacific Hwy 99 intersection — the line you have drawn runs tightly parallel to Northwest Expressway

Line 2A: on Franklin Boulevard halfway between Glenwood Boulevard and Henderson; the east end of the Beltline bridge that crosses the Willamette River. If extended, the line you have drawn touches the arc where Hunsaker Lane becomes Beaver Street.

Line 3A: Maxwell Road from Prairie Road to River Road, and then extending to the Willamette River — the line you have drawn roughly connects Line 1A and Line 2A. 

Line 4A: Glenwood Blvd from Franklin Blvd to I-5, and then extending to East 30th Avenue — the line you have drawn connects Line 1A and Line 2A. 

If PeaceHealth maintains both Sacred Heart Hospital (Hilyard Street) and RiverBend Medical Center and if Community Health Systems maintains both the current McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in Springfield and a new McKenzie-Willamette Hospital at the Civic Stadium site, then “the battleground area” defined inside of the four lines just drawn becomes the entire justification for the continued operation of Sacred Heart Hospital on Hilyard Street. The hard reality and plain fact of the matter is that very few people live within “the battleground area” relative to the land mass covered, and that a significant percentage of the residents in “the battleground area” are lower middle class or poorer. 

My guess is that PeaceHealth would eventually close Sacred Heart Hospital on Hilyard Street if a new McKenzie-Willamette Hospital were ever built on the Civic Stadium site, and would thereby forfeit all of Eugene south and west of the Willamette River to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital along with all of Springfield south of Hwy. 126 and east of 19th Avenue. No other possible new hospital location in Eugene would have that outcome. Anyone who knows Eugene’s traffic patterns knows 18th Avenue is the dominant east/west corridor and Willamette Street is the dominant north/south corridor for most residents living in either south or west Eugene, and that Civic Stadium sits at the spot where those two corridors intersect.

Despite all of the noise being made by the Save Civic Stadium campaign, Civic Stadium as a sports venue of any sort will do nothing to revitalize the economy of downtown Eugene — nothing! But an urban hospital located at the Civic Stadium site on a small acreage footprint with a continuous free-fare streetcar looping south on Pearl Street then west on East 20th Avenue then north on Oak Street then east on East 5th Avenue to connect the hospital to the 5th Street Public Market area and everything in between, including downtown Eugene and many existing medical offices — that would certainly revitalize the economy of downtown Eugene!

Ask yourself this: If you could revitalize downtown Eugene and make a thriving three-block-wide economic corridor from 5th Avenue to 29th Avenue between Willamette Street and Pearl Street with a new urban hospital anchoring the middle ground, and remarkably guarantee current computer hardware and software technology for students in all of District 4J’s schools until the end of time in doing so, would you do it? Would you do it even if it meant tearing down Civic Stadium? That is what is at stake here.

Read my “A Good Idea” letter linked above. Then reread this letter. If I were the architect, I would include those magnificent old-growth Civic Stadium support posts in my hospital atrium design, and would designate a Civic Stadium history wall in a public space somewhere inside the hospital to remember The Good Old Days — and I would design the most beautiful building in all of Eugene to stand glorious in one of the most beautiful locations in all of Eugene! And I would be happy about what was, what is, and what is to come.  

FINAL THOUGHTS: Prior to the last election, I told then mayoral candidate Jim Torrey about my ideas regarding McKenzie-Willamette Hospital. He listened to me politely, and then he stunned me with a matter-of-fact revelation that McKenzie-Willamette Hospital would never build a new hospital in Eugene because the wealthy powerful people in Eugene would never allow it. He did not name names or elaborate in any way, but he made his comment plainly as if it were common knowledge.

I know enough about the power elite in Eugene to easily believe Torrey’s revelation. The powerful people in Eugene have enjoyed a long-term relationship with PeaceHealth that has endured on a mutually beneficial basis ever since July 1936 when four of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace arrived here from Bellingham, Wash., to take over the administration of the then new Sacred Heart Hospital. Seventy-three years of true loyalty and faithful service do indeed deserve the reward of continuing support, and so I do not fault those whose intent is good and honorable in choosing to protect the interests of PeaceHealth in our community. Furthermore, Eugene is small enough and PeaceHealth is small enough (operating seven hospitals in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska) that the power elite in Eugene can make a significant contribution to PeaceHealth’s success, and they have done so and continue to do so — and God bless them for it! 

By contrast, Community Health Systems owns, operates, or leases more than 120 hospitals in 29 states, with an aggregate of approximately 18,000 licensed beds. Additionally, the organization provides hospital management, consulting, and advisory services to more than 150 independent community hospitals and health systems throughout the United States from its headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. Plainly, Eugene’s power elite would hold no sway to speak of at CHS headquarters in Nashville, and that would not be a welcome reality for some of them who are used to making a difference. See  www.chs.net/company_overview/index.html

But these are changing times and precarious times, and the undeniable and inescapable truth regarding Catholic hospitals like those owned and operated by PeaceHealth is this: they do not provide all of the medical services for females that are currently legal according to U.S. law. As American citizens, we must each answer for ourselves whether this is acceptable. I personally accept decisions of conscience and religious conviction as being inviolable, and I do so from the standpoint of being a Bible-believing Christian who goes to church every Sunday, who sings in the church choir, and who believes abortions should be legal. Furthermore, I believe abortions should be safe, available, and accessible without the interference of delaying and costly legal procedural requirements and without personal harassments from strangers. My tightrope is my own, even though I am one who believes in absolutes. And, in the struggle to know what is untenable in my own mind, I fully honor that which is sacred to others, even if it is not sacred to me.

Steve Sylwester has lived in Eugene for 43 of his 55 years, and for the past 33 years he has lived within 10 blocks of Civic Stadium.