I recently visited Cottage Grove, OR. It’s about 20 miles south of Eugene on I5. I came with only one thing in mind: The Cottage Grove Armory. I had seen it a few months before on the Oregon Historical Sites Database. It was, to my knowledge, one of the finest examples of Art Deco in my immediate vicinity: asymmetric floor plan, concrete paint, angular capped columns, terra cotta chevron friezes, ivy relief details, and geometric iron window grilles.
I wanted very badly to see it in person. It was the first week of the year and the southern Willamette Valley had just been hit with a rare ice-storm. It was a bitter cold, grey day. I was driving around Main Street looking for any other interesting buildings, and without realizing where it was stumbled right onto the Armory. I parked across the street and walked to be catercorner the tower entry way and flag pole. Even though it was only two stories, the building domineered over the block. The vertical lines and sharp angles and the sheer breadth of the building made it feel huge.
It’s in bad shape, though, the exterior at least. One can see the paint is badly damaged and much of the exposed wood is rotting away. It’s use by the National Guard as an Armory was decommissioned in 2009. Despite being unoccupied for nearly a decade, no windows were boarded, and none were broken. It felt untouched, ghostly. I was able to walk around the full length of the building and peer into every window. In the auditorium there was a great gossamer tent hung up, perhaps a wedding was held there recently. To add to the ghostly quality, a draft somewhere was causing these great white tentacles to pulsate within the empty chamber. In the basement there were tools and boards: it seems that renovation has already begun.
The Armory was built in 1931 after the first World War to house the local National Guard. Despite the depression the City gave $15,000 towards the construction of the building. The city had relative prosperity before the war, and the people recognized the need for a community gathering place. The building was designed by Eugene architect John Hunzicker to serve as an Armory as well as community center, gathering place, and event hall. By all accounts the design was a success, Guardsmen felt a sense of honor in occupying such a triumphant space and generations of people in Cottage Grove.
The main draw was the gymnasium and dance hall.
There was a small stage at one end of the hall, and on the second floor a large balcony. The room worked equally well for drills as it did for balls.
Architecturally, the diagonal entryway is the most dramatic. On the inside this hosted a modest lobby on the main floor and the captains office on the top floor.
I am glad to have visited the sleeping giant of the Art Deco age. It was strange to see it in its abandoned, yet fully functional state. We can all rest assured that this building will be renovated and returned to regular use as it has been for the past century. Sadly, a modernized military force needs a modernized Armory, and the National Guard has been relocated. Art Deco buildings like this were built in the belief of a prosperous and peaceful future. That they survived to see a new century, should bring us hope for our own future.