UO wants to redevelop historic “Googie” building and Romania lot

The Lew Williams / Joe Romania car dealership on Franklin at Walnut was the Jock Box of its day – but with tail fins:

I’m not sure how UO ended up owning this priceless architectural treasure, but we’ve certainly let things slide:

Photos and much more in the National Park Service report granting the building historic landmark status here.

My first experience with this exemplar of Googie architecture was in 1995, when as a newly hired assistant professor I was shown my office in PLC. I asked if it might be possible for me to have a desk and a chair. The department manager told me to go down to the “Old Romania Lot” and pick out whatever I wanted from the surplus pile in the back. I’m still using that desk.

UO would like to generate some money from this property. Would that we could do the same with Knight Arena. Last year we got city permission to use it for Matt Court parking, but lets face it – nobody wants to watch Dana Altman coach basketball.

So now they’ve got an RFQ out, looking for qualified developers:

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4 Responses to UO wants to redevelop historic “Googie” building and Romania lot

  1. Peter Keyes says:

    The Romania property came on the market back around 2005, and John Moseley, in his real estate baron phase, thought that the UO might need it for expansion at some point, and wanted to buy it. But the Foundation didn’t have the cash available to pick it up – having just forked out for the Williams Bakery site where the Arena was to be built – so Moseley went looking for cash elsewhere. It was decided that the Westmoreland student housing complex, with over 400 (mainly two-bedroom) units, was an “underperforming asset”, and so it was to be sold to pay for the more strategic Romania property.

    The UO Senate unanimously opposed the sale, citing many likely negative consequences, and the argument raged on for a year, culminating in a second Senate vote against the project in May, 2006. But in the end Westmoreland was sold for around $20 million, and the proceeds paid for Romania. Product Design students were housed there for a while, and various low-level maintenance operations, but it was clearly always just waiting for redevelopment.

    That is, until the Campus Framework Vision plan of a few years ago determined that, even if the university grew to 35,000 students, this property still wouldn’t be needed. (The big change in how this growth was to be accommodated was that the new plan for the Knight Campus and other science buildings placed more growth north of Franklin than had previously been envisioned).

    So now the term “underperforming asset” can be applied again, and people are looking at options for this property. I had always assumed it would be mixed-use, with commercial tenants and parking on the ground level and student housing above, and it may indeed turn out that way. But with its commitment to the Knight Campus and other large projects, the university doesn’t have the cash (nor probably the bonding capacity) to develop this, and the RFQ is a way to solicit ideas on how to use the property to generate income, while still hoping to hold on to the land to hedge our bets.

    The wildcard of course is the fabulous showroom – historically and stylistically important, and probably re-usable for something like a cool restaurant, but placed where it renders a lot of the site around it hard to use. Some of my students looked at it as the centerpiece of the Walnut Street Node 13 years ago, and showed that preserving the showroom may require designs that may be unconventional, but aren’t impossible.

    I think we should just sell off all the old desks, and see if we can swap the property back for the Westmoreland project – we could probably use another 400 units of affordable student housing.

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  2. awesome0 says:

    Why doesn’t it just become a showroom for the many exotic sports cars some of our students seem to be driving?

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    • uomatters says:

      Comment of the week for that “seem to be” driving bit.

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  3. Mike Russo says:

    I have always been amazed at what little respect Eugene has for its historic buildings. Disregard for the past probably pre-dates the 1950s and 1960s, but during this period one beautiful building after another was torn down in downtown. Sadly, the buildings that replaced them are stark, ugly, and uninviting. This is an unappreciated reason for the decline of downtown.

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