In time the land between Skinner Butte and the Willamette River came under the authority of the Eugene Water Board. In 1908, a bond measure enabled the city to acquire it for use as parkland and Skinner Butte Park was dedicated in 1914. The city continued to add more riverfront purchases to what now has become Eugene’s primary recreational gathering spot, the Willamette River park system.
In 1944 the newly formed Eugene Recreation Commission was tasked with assessing the shortcomings in recreation services. It found plenty. Parks were minimally developed and the city, with a 1943 population of about 22,000, had no municipal playgrounds or pool. Youth recreation programs were held only in summer and the budget for playgrounds and parks was woefully inadequate to address the needs. The Commission recommended construction of a swimming pool, acquisition of five neighborhood parks and raising money through a levy to address long term needs.
The City Council hired Deane Seeger away from the Boeing aircraft company as Eugene’s first city manager in 1945 and the City’s playground program opened on June 18 at River Road, Whiteaker, Lincoln, Frances Willard, Washington, Condon, Edison and Magladry elementary schools. City Recreation Director Harry Davis reported attendance of 1,500 children in the first week. The Register-Guard wrote that kids were playing dodge ball, making beads from macaroni, forming rhythm bands and constructing birdhouses and boats from orange crates and scrap lumber, and that the city was organizing softball programs for both girls and boys.
Around this time Citizen leaders had also established the Century Progress Fund, for the purpose of raising money for park purchases. In May of 1945, the Century Progress Fund designated contributions received during the month for the playground program. Other groups also made contributions for summer activities: the Eugene Gleemen raised $600 at their spring concert and St. Mary’s Mothers Club donated $50.
Possible sources of funds discussed included another levy, an amusement tax for recreation, and pay-to-play strategies such as coin-operated light controls for tennis courts. The minutes from the meeting captured one commissioner’s objection, “It isn’t the purpose of parks to charge for admission. Some of the people we want to visit our parks may not be able to pay.”
In 1946 the City consolidated the recreation and park programs into the new Department (or Bureau) of Parks and Recreation, with offices in City Hall and named Don January full-time superintendent. In addition, voters passed the Eugene Recreation Commission’s recommended levy and money became available for recreation and parks projects.
To be continued: Read the History of Eugene Recreation Services, part III: the hay day of Eugene Parks and Recreation. (To read part I, leave this story and scroll down)