The Big O:*. Prominent at 20′ x 30′ in size, the big “O” has been the target of “kidnappings,” fires, and numerous dynamite attacks, many of which, were Beaver-based. In fact, its construction of thick, plate-steel, embedded in reinforced concrete, was chosen to minimize collateral damage after clandestine dynamite attacks (not kidding.) It has been painted other hideous colors, then subsequently repainted yellow, too many times to count, having over 200 layers of paint. Painting wasn’t always done by brush, either, but often by the bottoms of underclassmen, and an occasional hapless Beaver or two.
Here is an incomplete but true timeline of the “O”:
1908 The first “O” is built on Skinner’s Butte, at the same location as the current “O.” Giant hillside letters were a trend amongst colleges in the Western States, and over 400 letters exist in America, but the “O” is the best. The “O” was inaugurated on Junior’s Weekend, and designed to eliminate violent inter-class rivalries. The first “O” was made of concrete, a material that fares poorly when subjected to dynamite.
1910 Cal’s baseball team change the “O” to a “C”
1912 Painting of the “O” by paint brushes abandoned in favor of the pant seats’ of underclassmen.
1922 Painting of the “O” reserved for frosh lettermen.
1929 Dynamite causes a 25 pound chunk of concrete to fly from the “O”, damaging a nearby house.
1937 After a gnarly Civil-war game, invading Beavers were removed from campus and forced to serve as human paintbrushes to repaint the “O” yellow again.
1941-45 During World War II the job of painting the “O” shifted to women.
1942 Unknown assailants explode a corner of the “O.”
1952 The “O” was detonated again, panicking citizens that Eugene was under attack by air raid (not kidding).
1953 The “O” was transformed into an upside down “U” by yet another explosion.
1953 The “O” was moved 50′ and rebuilt of wood. Splinters became a problem for those painting with their pants, and wood, ultimately discovered to be flammable, proved to be a poor building material. Five years later the “O” was replaced by inflammable and splinter-less steel.
1955 Bothered only by an occasional burning in the previous couple of years, dynamite was again employed as an agent of attempted destruction.
1957 Around the Civil War Football Game, all but a few boards of the “O” were carted off to Corvallis by Beavers, who of course love wood. It was held hostage for a month, and even though eventually returned, it had to be burned by U of O students, who thought it was “too contaminated” by OSU possession.
1958 Fifth generation “O” built on the original 1908 site. The U of O had 6,000 students in 1958, and has over 20,000 now, for reference.
1962-65 Another kidnapping of the “O,” by Beavers wielding blow-torches. It was eventually returned in pieces.
1965 Repair of the “O” results in 9 welded seams instead of the original 4.
1969 Another dynamite attack, with only minor damage to one corner occurring.
1970’s Painting the big “O” remains a homecoming tradition for students.
1980’s Rotary takes over the traditional painting of the “O,” presumably using paintbrushes.
2009 One of the more recent mysterious color changes to orange, followed quickly by a reversion to yellow.
* The big “E” is now obscured by vegetation, and is impossible to see from downtown, aligning north-south with approximately Olive Street. The 15′ x 40′ giant “E” lays flush with the ground, and like the big “O” is covered with many coats of different colored paint–other marauding college sports teams would often paint both letters, while they were at it. The “E” is about the same elevation above the valley floor as the “O,” and is about 300′ west of the summit parking lot.
Built in 1915, the “E” is symbolic of Eugene High School, back when we had only one high school. Eugene High School ultimately became South Eugene High School, when rival North Eugene H.S. was opened in 1957 *. When you talk to those who attended E.H.S. in the 1950’s, think of the t.v. show “Happy Days,” * and you’ll get the idea. The maintenance of giant school letters, has diminished in popularity, at least for high schools that don’t exist per se., and the big “E” is now mostly a memory; cutting down a bunch of trees so it’s once again visible seems unlikely in Eugene, a city with ordinances discouraging tree-cutting.