South Willamette's "Gut" Exposed - Eugene, OR
By Greg Giesy, Friendly Area Neighbors Board member and longtime Friendly Resident.
Originally printed in the Summer 2011 edition of the Friendly Area Neighborhood Newsletter
Several neighborhood people were asked by Andrew, our newsletter editor, to write an article about Willamette Street both looking at the past and hopes for the future. Because I am a long time resident and grew up in the Friendly Area Neighborhood he asked me in particular to talk on the past of Willamette Street.

My earliest memory of anything on Willamette Street was at about four years old going to the grocery store that is now Capella with my father. He soon switched to the “Big Y” Market on 6th Avenue and then to the “Little Y” on 19th Avenue which was a full service grocery store in those days with even a butcher. There was a service station across the street from the “Little Y” so I didn’t see Willamette again until grade school.

I attended Francis Willard Grade School and occasionally after school I was allowed to go to a friend’s house on Pearl south of 29th. We would walk by the Eugene Drive-In Theater’s sheet metal walls and past the drive-in’s screen to a grocery store on the northwest corner of 29th and Willamette. The store had packages of flat gum with three baseball or football cards for two or three cents. The gum as I recall was terrible but we were after the trading cards.

The drive-in theater took up most of what is Woodfield Station today. The screen faced into the hillside and home owners above could pay the drive-in a monthly fee to have a speaker (that you normally hooked to your car window) wired in their living rooms so they could watch the movies with sound out their picture window.

Summers were partly taken up with swimming lessons at Amazon Pool. Willamette was the biggest street I needed to cross on my way to the pool because there was no Amazon Parkway at the time.

Willamette up to my teenage years was mostly vague memories but the lure of the automobile, girls, and “The Gut” was to become some of my fondest memories. For those of you that don’t know Willamette Street was called “The Gut”. And “The Gut” held the imagination of Lane County teenagers with cars from the 1950s into the 1980s and I was there for its heyday the 1960s and saw the start of its slow death in the beginning of the 1970s.

The original Gut started in downtown Eugene at 6th & Willamette and went to A & W Root Beer Drive-in Restaurant on the southeast corner of 29th & Willamette, then back down Willamette to 20th with the turn over to Oak and on down to 6th to start the track again back up Willamette. Why? The car was freedom, fun, and adventure. You could escape your problems, worries, and especially your parents with your friends and luckily gas was cheap.

The Gut was originally broken up in sections with the important ones being downtown because there was a traffic light at each block so you could talk to the car next to you on a one-way street at each light, 13th to 18th for a not-so-serious drag race, 24th to 29th to yell at people going by, and driving through the parking lot at A & W to see who was there.

The Eugene Downtown Mall closing Willamette from 6th to 11th was to make “The Gut” smaller and more problematic as it eventually became just 24th to 29th with more teenagers in cars coming from Pleasant Hill, Creswell, and Cottage Grove. Friday and Saturday was even more crowded than the other days of the week with bumper to bumper traffic from late afternoon into the early morning. Kids tried to park with the cramped conditions and higher gas prices while merchants got tired of the nonsense with no trespassing signs and the police.

“The Gut” faded away by the 1990s to the relief of merchants, the police, and the City in general. Kids found other things to do with their time and some of us went on with our lives having memories of a different time without expensive gas, concerns of pollution, and global warming.

Willamette Street hasn’t changed much from the 1960s with destination merchants still relying on the car to bring most if not all of their business. My hope for the future is that we house enough people around the south Willamette area with denser housing and change the road to three car lanes and bike lanes so that more people will use Willamette as a place to enjoy in a different way without the car that has been so important to Willamette Street’s history.