Hidden among the debris of the famous grandstands, which on six separate occasions bore witness to the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials, lies a nearly century-old legacy that came to embody the tradition of running at the University of Oregon and the surrounding community of Eugene.
Hayward Field lent credence to Eugene’s claim as “Tracktown USA.” The venue’s name derives from Bill Hayward, whose near mythic status as a UO track coach from 1904 to 1948 led him to be referred to as the “grandfather of UO track and field.”
So the track and field community was divided after UO announced that the historic grandstands would be demolished and the field would be renovated in preparation for the 2021 IAAF World Track and Field Championships. Locals roared in protest against the decision, while the university trudged on in pursuit of a world-class stadium. Questions of whether the demolition and ensuing construction was handled correctly, or even needed at all, began to surface.
For many, the decision to tear down the historic East Grandstand felt poorly planned and lacked the type of thoughtful execution it deserved. Others are looking to the future, hoping to start the construction as soon as possible in order to have a working stadium in time for the upcoming championships in 2021.
Michael Carrigan is an organizer for the Community Alliance of Lane County, a nonprofit that, according to its website, aims to “create a more just and peaceful community.” Carrigan was heavily involved in the myriad of protests that occured since the April 17 announcement of the demolition.
“Hayward Field is a special, publicly-owned facility that belongs to all of us, and not just Phil Knight,” Carrigan said.
Carrigan, like many other Lane County-natives, has long-standing ties to the historic Hayward Field. He remembers one event in particular.
“Hayward is where I and many others watched Mary Decker and Bill McChesney run, and where we watched one of the greatest Hayward races of all time — the 800-meter Oregon sweep at the 2008 Olympic Trials,” Carrigan said. “It has provided wonderful memories for many and has great energy that students, fans like me and track athletes of all levels loved.”
Of course, not everyone is upset about the new stadium, which will increase the seating capacity from 10,500 to 12,900 and can be expanded to accommodate 30,000 people when necessary. Larger crowds and state of the art amenities are some of the reasons athletes and coaches frequently cited as reasons they are excited about the renovation. UO track and field head coach Robert Johnson is happy to finally have a stadium that matches the excellence of the athletes he oversees.
“The University of Oregon track and field program is one steeped in a tradition of excellence,” Johnson said. “The new Hayward Field stadium and facilities will now be a fitting reflection of that tradition.”
Raevyn Rogers, who won the 800-meter race at the 2015 NCAA Division 1 championship in Eugene as a freshman, believes that to be successful over time, you have to adjust and evolve.
“When you think about historical groups that were successful, they were successful through evolution,” Rogers said. “A new facility will add to the mystique, the motivation for what’s next for the university and the program.”
Originally built in 1919 to house football games, it wasn’t until 1921 that the field expanded to begin featuring track and field events. Since then, the field and the surrounding grandstands have been renovated numerous times, with the last significant renovation taking place in 1988, when the East Grandstand was moved 11 meters east and completely reconditioned.
Jonathan Stafford, one of the architects who helped facilitate the moving of the East Grandstand in the ’80s, said that preservation of historical sites isn’t always possible due to outdated functionality or lack of economical use; however, he believes that the East Grandstand he helped renovate could have been saved.
“In addition to being a sophisticated design, the east stands were right on the track, both horizontally and vertically,” Stafford said. “Allowing the fan to get close to the athletes.”
Previously, The Oregonian reported that the University had officially accepted a redesign of Hayward Field submitted by former UO architecture student Tinker Hatfield, who currently sits as the vice president of design and special projects for Nike. Hatfield was instrumental in the creation of Nike’s iconic shoe, the Air Jordan.
His design would have kept the 99-year-old East Grandstand intact while still updating Hayward Field to meet the necessary requirements to stage the scheduled 2021 Track and Field Championships. But UO later decided to withdraw their acceptance of the design in favor of another rendering.
“I would have preferred Hatfield’s scheme that kept the grandstand, but money talks,” Stafford said. “The demolition train has already left the building.”
One of the large investors in the project is Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Knight told the Register Guard that he thinks the new stadium will help UO continue its pursuit of excellence in track and field, and that even legendary Oregon track and field coach Bill Bowerman would have wanted a state-of-the-art training facility for his team.
But Knight seemed to understand how unpopular this renovation would be, saying in an interview that he was sure to be the most reviled man in Eugene when the demolition on the East Grandstand officially started.
And he wasn’t altogether wrong. The public outcry following the initial unveiling of demolition plans this past April was swift. A number of community driven groups, such as Save Hayward Magic and East Grandstand Supporters, objected to the removal of structures and trees on the Hayward site. A vigil was held on June 19 to protest the eventual demise of the East Grandstand.
Bob Hart, executive director of the Lane County History Museum, believes in the importance of historical preservation as a tool to help those in the present be reminded of their not so distant past.
“It makes one aware that people in the past approached similar problems, but with different technologies, and different mindsets,” Hart said. “It has the potential to lift us out of our frequent preoccupation with ourselves and the present moment and the doldrums that frequently are a result of such narrowly focused attention.”
According to Hart, Eugene has a long and uneasy relationship with historic preservation. The 1898 leveling of the first Lane courthouse, built in 1855, is a prime example of this hasty nature to build new.
“It is interesting to note that we are the only sizeable community in the valley that has this reputation,” Hart said. “And it’s not always cheaper to build new. Environmentalists argue that the energy costs for new construction far outweigh the costs of rehabilitation of older buildings and that a true bottom line needs to take this into consideration.”
Liz Carter, who obtained a master’s degree in historical preservation at UO and later went on to teach in that same program for over a decade, disagrees with the demolition and the way it was planned.
“Given the high-profile and international recognition of this publicly owned property, the public certainly should have been included in the discussion,” Carter said. “They did not endeavor to preserve anything in a way that will allow the public to recall with any accuracy the ambiance, energy and overall feeling of the Hayward Field that has been the home of track and field in Eugene for nearly a century.”
Carter, among many others, says that the university missed an opportunity to preserve the stands that witnessed history and united a community for nearly a century.
“With the destruction of the East Grandstand and Hayward Field, the tangible thread that tied us to the people and events that brought us to where we are today are lost,” Carter said. “The opportunity to add to that long line of generations who contributed to that heritage has been taken.”
Do you appreciate independent student journalism? Emerald Media Group is a non-profit organization. Please consider a donation to support our mission.