View of Hayward Field's east grandstand (at left) from outside the Powell Plaza entry (my photo)
Construction of the project (rumored budget: $200 million) will begin this summer. Beyond meeting the requirements of a host facility for the IAAF championships (which include accommodating 30,000 spectators), the design objectives include creating a “theater” for viewing track & field events, within an open and airy wood and glass structure set atop a stone base symbolizing Oregon’s natural features. Among the significant upgrades are state-of-the-art locker rooms, an indoor practice arena (featuring dedicated space for throwers and jumpers, as well as a 140-meter track with a curve), spacious spectator seating, private donor suites, classroom and lab space for the Department of Human Physiology and the Bowerman Sports Science Clinic, and of course fully accessible restrooms and expanded concessions. Most conspicuous will be a 165-foot tall tower to be named in honor of Bill Bowerman and situated at the new stadium’s northeast corner within a rebuilt Powell Plaza.
Bird's-eye view of the new Hayward Field (all renderings furnished by the University of Oregon)
As a dedicated follower of the Oregon Ducks, I’ve mostly welcomed the vast upgrade in facilities now enjoyed by a majority of the Department of Athletics programs.(1) Likewise, as a resident of “Track Town USA,” I’ve enjoyed Eugene’s preeminence within the world of track & field competition at all levels. That renown is in no small part attributable to historic Hayward Field itself. It is the nation’s most storied ground for track & field competition, having hosted seven USATF championships, six Olympic trials, numerous NCAA championships, the 2014 World Junior Championships, and the annual Nike Prefontaine Classic. The century-old timber structure of Hayward Field’s east grandstand is inextricably tied to that history. The roars of passionate fans that lifted legendary athletes like Steve Prefontaine along the track’s backstretch still echo there. The old structure is a track & field icon, instantly recognized by fans of the sport.
15th Avenue view (the street will be closed to vehicular traffic to allow for the larger Hayward complex and to create a new park-like entry plaza)
It comes as no surprise more than a few of those fans object to the proposed design. Several have penned passionate pleas to preserve the east grandstand. Others simply have lamented its pending demise, acknowledging that its time has passed, and change is due. Among the more eloquent have been Zach Silva, writing for the Cottage Grove Sentinel, and Bob Penny in a guest viewpoint piece for the Register-Guard.
For Zach, Hayward Field was “perfect . . . because it was ours.” Stepping into the historic site was “less like walking into a sporting event and more like walking into grandma’s house. There is a comforting smell that greets you at the door; it’s a place filled with memories of your own and from those before you; you know each and every corner of it. It’s a place you revere and under no circumstances [can] be replicated.”
Like me, Bob attended the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts (now the College of Design). In his piece, he asserts “Preserving historic meaning is inseparable from preserving the built environment. Removing all traces of the past and erecting an alternative structure would sever the continuity of the site’s historic legacy. Instead, preserving the building where history was made, and kept, is the real way to bring history into the future. It isn’t about a fear of letting go of our past. It’s about a community’s resolve to care about people who will come after us.”
Another commentator worth mentioning is Otto Poticha, FAIA. In an April 21 letter to the RG, he leveled his criticism at the project’s scale rather than its proposed razing of the old grandstand. Never one to mince words, Otto railed against SRG’s design, characterizing it as the “caterpillar that ate Agate Street” while ironically stamping it as a “great design” and a “brilliant idea” at the same time. Surprisingly, I agree with Otto. The project may indeed prove to be out of scale with its surroundings, and the Bowerman Tower an overly boastful monument for an understated man.
View from inside the renovated Hayward Field. The nine-story tall Bowerman Tower looms over the northeast corner of the stadium.
I do question whether the new stadium’s capacity will be excessive, even in its base configuration (which will incorporate fewer seats than will be the case in its IAAF World Championships form but more than Hayward Field presently contains). Part of Hayward Field’s current appeal stems from its atmosphere on the day of a meet, the stands filled with knowledgeable, cheering spectators within an intimate setting. What will it look and feel like during a more routine dual-meet against a Pac-12 foe? It’s hard to tell from SRG’s renderings exactly how the stadium’s bowl will be arrayed with fewer seats, especially given the large disparity between the projected standard capacity of 12,900 spectators and the 30,000-seat IAAF arrangement.
The question of historical continuity is more challenging for me to address. The loss of Eugene’s old Civic Stadium still stings for many, but in my opinion that pain has much less to do with that old wooden structure’s architectural merit (which, aside from its provenance, was nonexistent) as it did the memories of many generations who attended events there. Eugene’s late, great City Hall was an outstanding example of mid-century modern design that over time revealed the shortcomings of its pedestrian-unfriendly and energy-profligate configuration. I suspect we’ll soon hear McArthur Court is destined for the wrecking ball, but there’s no debate about the superiority of its replacement—Matthew Knight Arena—as a modern venue for sporting and entertainment events. Eugene’s record when it comes to preserving its architectural heritage has been far from stellar but has offered us lessons to learn from.
Hayward Field’s east grandstand isn’t particularly noteworthy, architecturally speaking. Like Civic Stadium, it was constructed plainly from materials readily at hand in timber-rich western Oregon. Were it not for its fabled past, I might likewise describe the current Hayward Field as lacking architectural distinction, devoid as it is of pretense. On the other hand, its history makes it hallowed ground and the first place that comes to mind for most people when they think of Eugene as a mecca for runners and the sport of track & field.
Two views of SRG's earlier proposal for a renovated Hayward Field. Note the preserved East Grandstand and Powell Plaza in the lower image.
I’m not entirely sure why Phil Knight and other supporters chose to abandon an earlier (2015) proposal for the project, also designed by SRG. That scheme would have retained and improved the east grandstand while knocking down the west side of the stadium and replacing it with a swooping, ultra-modern structure, which presumably would have contained most of the same program elements found in the newly debuted design. I found the 2015 plan more than sufficiently impressive. One of its strengths would have been the powerful contrast between the new and the old, in shorthand form speaking at once to the remarkable legacy of Hayward Field as well as its forward-thinking and continued evolution. I also believe that design would have better connected with and have been more sympathetic to the adjacent campus, preserving the existing field’s relationships to its immediate context.
Time will tell whether the new Hayward Field will prove itself worthy of the historic bequest it inherits. My hope is it will do so. If it does, Eugene’s Track Town USA identity and sense of place will be assured.
(1) Among these are PK Park, the Jon Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes, Matthew Knight Arena, the Hatfield-Dowlin Football Operations Center, and Jane Sanders Stadium.