Del Allen stood watching softball from the shaded, dusty seats of the Greenman Field grandstands in Vernonia on Saturday.
Tents and campers lined the odd-shaped track surrounding the field, part of the tiny Oregon town’s annual Friendship Jamboree and Logging Show. The slow-pitch tournament has been part of the weekend for decades, much like the blue bleachers from where Allen watched.
This moment almost didn’t happen. The Greenman Field grandstands had been scheduled for demolition a little over a year ago.
“It’s been a battle,” Allen said, “but it feels great to see [the grandstands] still standing.”
A cracked beam made one side of the roof droop to the point where some people feared collapse. With new athletic facilities coming to the new school in Vernonia, some questioned whether it was worth the effort to keep the old bleachers around.
But Allen and a group of community members didn’t want to see one of the last vestiges of Vernonia’s logging history go down in a pile of rubble. Volunteers built the grandstands out of old-growth Douglas fir in 1960 and donated them to the school.
“We didn’t want to be Hayward,” Allen said, referring to the University of Oregon’s historic track and field stadium, which was demolished last summer.
Activists steered the city away from demolition and in January of this year secured scaffolding to support the sagging roof. Signs around town shout, “SAVE THE GRANDSTANDS! HISTORY MATTERS!”
The Intercultural Society of Vernonia took over the lease for the grandstands while Allen, now a city councilor, and others are helping lead an effort to repair and renovate the historic structure. Allen said the group needs to raise between $7,000 and $8,000 for the repair work.
Allen and his wife, Juli, along with fellow grandstands supporter Pat Patrick sat about 50 yards from the old bleachers Saturday. Patrick, who moved to Vernonia just a couple years ago, looked at the old bleachers baking in the sun.
“At this point, we’ve got a good, solid hope going,” Patrick said. “… I look at old buildings and I see a vision of what can happen.”
Patrick and other supporters think the grandstands are headed for a much brighter future.
Families crowded the booths at Greenman Field as the three-day Friendship Jamboree neared its midpoint. Many stopped to talk to Allen, take a look at architectural drawings for the proposed repairs, and stuff a few bucks into the donation jar. Some offered their skills to help with the repairs.
Allen said the grandstands supporters have accomplished their first goal of keeping the bleachers standing, but much more work lies ahead.
“The politics are done,” he said. “Time to grab your hammers.”