The term “the ‘Sixties” conjures up many images in American history, but for Eugene Recreation the 1960s began a period of unmatched growth; and it started with a no vote. In May of that year, voters turned down a measure that would have provided $150,000 annually for 10 years to buy or improve a lineup of neighborhood, community and regional parks Eugene Planning. Commissioner Betty Niven, who chaired the Parks and Recreation Committee, would not accept the defeat.
Niven lobbied the City Council to appoint a Parks Study Group, which she chaired. In addition to the mayor and other powerful people, this task force included ordinary voters. The Parks Study group worked hard to find out what Eugeneans wanted and would support. Following an exhaustive series of meetings and surveys, the group re-crafted the levy. And the Better Eugene Committee campaigned for the measure with radio spots (on which Niven and others sang to guitar accompaniment) and papered the city with colorful signs saying, “Parks are for people, people are for parks.”
On May 11, 1961, Eugeneans went to the polls in record numbers. The voters agreed to a $2.4 million bond measure to construct a new City Hall. And they approved the parks levy with a 60 percent majority. This was the first of two levies that decade that would shape the Parks and Recreation scene in Eugene for many years. Betty Niven was a driving force on the Planning Commission for 14 of those years. A small South Eugene street is named for her.
Read parts I & II of Eugene Recreation's history, below:
Part II: Recreation and Parks Were Always Popular in Eugene
It probably comes as no surprise that historically, the Eugene community has stepped up time and time again to preserve land for parks, playing fields, and recreation facilities, starting with a donation of land in 1846 from Eugene Skinner, himself.
Today we know that property as the Park Blocks that draws crowds for Saturday Market, concerts and public business at the County Courthouse.
After adopting a charter permitting it to purchase, hold and receive land for parks in 1905, the City accepted Thomas Hendricks’s donation of 47 acres in the southwest hills and purchased 31 more acres the next year. In 1908, voters approved a bond measure to purchase Skinner Butte and the park was dedicated in 1915.
In 1927, voters approved the Public Recreation and Playground Fund, which created recreation programs for community youth during the summer. Later the UO Law School’s dean, a fellow by the name of Wayne Morse, led residents to save Spencer Butte from the loggers’ axe. More than a thousand people donated money to buy the butte and then voters approved a tax levy in 1938 to finance the balance of the purchase price.
Part II: Civic Stadium, Macaroni Beads & Orange Crates
In 1938 voters also approved the purchase of 17 swampy acres near Willamette Street that City leaders envisioned as a site for an Amazon Park, with a community center and athletic grounds. Pushed by the Eugene Chamber of Commerce, the Eugene City Council agreed in principle to sell the Willamette Street parcel to the school district for the price of one dollar. The district built the sports venue – Civic Stadium – in time for the football season, but the planned swimming pool, tennis courts, running track and other recreation facilities were never built on the Civic property.
In 1944 the newly formed Eugene Recreation Commission found parks and recreation facilities woefully inadequate for the community’s 22,000 residents. And in 1945, the Council hired Deane Seeger away from the Boeing aircraft company as Eugene’s first city manager. Though the City Council’s wish list included investments in pool and park facilities, nothing substantial could be accomplished until the war was over.
Without any levy money for playgrounds, volunteers went to work, adopting the slogan, “Anything for the kids.” Student leaders spearheaded the fundraising campaign by going directly into the neighborhoods. And on June 18, the City’s playground program opened at six elementary schools with 1,500 children in attendance. 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.