Friendly Neighborhood in the 1950’s

  I live in the house at 2155 Monroe Street that my parents built and I grew up in during the 1950’s. My dad was born in Eugene and bought the double-lot before WWII. At that time Monroe St. was gravel and our land was orchards of filberts and walnuts. After the war ended and my mom came to Eugene as a war bride, they lived with my grandmother in a small house on 3rd and High while they built the original house on our land:  three rooms (living room/kitchen, one bedroom and bathroom). They lived in this house with my baby brother and my Welsh grandmother who visited for 6 months, while adding on the rest of the house, so today our house has two parts:  the original house, which we call the “garage house” and use for storage, and the main house where we live. My parents weren’t builders but they did as much of the work themselves as they could, with help from friends, using contracted builders when needed:  to lay the hydronic radiant floor heating system, to build the chimney, etc. According to my dad, at that time there was an unwritten agreement that everyone would build on two lots, as this was supposed to be a nice neighborhood down from College Hill. In the end, only our house and the house next door were built on double-lots.

  This house was a wonderful one to grow up in during the 1950’s. We had four walnut trees and at least ten filbert trees on the property, plus three apple trees, one cherry tree and one plum tree that my parents planted, and I loved climbing all of them. Monroe was paved by then and I spent many hours roller-skating in the street and around our circular driveway.  There were many vacant lots in the neighborhood, and we children played in all of them: the NW corner of 21st and Monroe, the NW corner of 22nd and Monroe, the large very lot on the NW corner of 23rd and Monroe (old apple orchard), and the whole SE corner of 22nd and Monroe (including what is now Madison Meadow). There were still filbert and walnut orchards in the whole area north of 2081 Monroe down to 20th Avenue, which was a gravel road. I believe all these orchards were once part of the Masterson Farm. 22nd Avenue was not yet paved; I believe it was paved about the time I started school at Adams Elementary.

In my earliest memories of Adams Elementary, the whole field area south of the school was wetlands: we would catch tadpoles, and pick quinces from the large tree at the bottom of the gravel road off Adams Street.  Walking to school down 22nd Avenue, in back of the house at 2202 Friendly was a large barn that all the kids knew was haunted: only the “big” boys would dare to go inside!  On the SE corner of 22nd and Adams was an old apple orchard.  Some of the playground equipment at Adams remains from my childhood, although it has been moved from its original location:  most of the bars on the west side of the playground, including the 4-sided crossbars, in one corner of which was a swing that, when you got good enough, you could jump out of and grab the bars!  All the kids were excited when the submarine was added to the playground in the late 1950’s.

Adams Elementary was grades I-6 in the 1950’s, with three classes at each grade level.  Kindergarten was PTA-sponsored, not part of the Eugene 4J School District, and my kindergarten class met at the Friendly Street Church of God. At the end of my kindergarten year, my teacher was leaving, and the principal at Adams, Harry Rice, asked my mother if she would like to be the new kindergarten teacher (she had been a high school biology teacher in England before meeting and marrying my dad, and since she was unable to teach in the public schools once she arrived here, she had done some substitute-teaching for my kindergarten teacher).  My mother said, “I have no experience teaching young children!” but Mr. Rice replied, “You have two children of your own, I’m sure you can do it,” so that’s how my mother became the kindergarten teacher at Adams.  She taught two sessions of kindergarten for six years, in the small portable classroom at the west end of the school. At that time there was no roof to connect that classroom to the school, and it had its own heating system (an oil stove that the custodian lit every morning), no sink or running water, and no restroom --- she had to take all the children inside Adams to the restroom at the same time!  For water to use for hand-washing and art projects, she had two buckets of water carried to the classroom before school each day by the “water boy” or “water girl” --- I had that distinction when I was in 6th grade!

There were lots of things for kids to do in the Friendly Neighborhood in the 1950’s. We could go down to the “Little Big Y” at 19th and Jefferson to buy a popsicle for a nickel, or to the gas station across the street from the store to fill up our bike tires or old truck inner tubes with air --- my family owned 7 of these, and they were great to bounce on, roll inside of, or create towers to climb. We would play at Washington Park which at that time had swings, a tall slide, a merry-go-round, monkey bars, and the wading pool --- the only piece of equipment that remains from that time is the “cheese.” In the afternoons we would watch the Little League baseball games. We would go down to the fairgrounds to see the horses in their stalls and in the outdoor arena, and of course in the summer we always went to the Lane County Fair, usually every day. We would go up to the College Hill Reservoir to roller skate, and to Jefferson Pool to swim in the summer.  The whole area west of Van Buren Street was houses under construction, and beyond them were pastures with horses --- great areas to explore. In the evenings, we would go with our families to the drive-in movies at 29th and Lincoln Street.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in the Friendly Neighborhood since the 1950’s. If you have any questions or if you have memories from that time, too, I’d love to hear from you!

-Nancy Bray
braynj@gmail.com