This Oregon Hotel is Literally A (Nike) Sneaker Museum
Sneaker culture started here!
Step inside the collegiate-themed Graduate Eugene hotel, and you’ll be dwarfed by a colossal wooden pull-toy of a cartoon-ish duck. Standing 12 feet tall and sporting a pine-green jacket and sunshine yellow vest, he’s a stand-in for the lovable University of Oregon mascot known simply as “The Duck.”
(It’s a long story you can look up, but few will complain if you call the mascot “Donald.” Walt is OK with it.)
(NOTE: This post is based on my experiences on a hosted media trip, plus my own additional research.)
Pause for a selfie with The Duck. Then head to the angled reception counter, which is banded by a glass-enclosed display of athletic shoes. Yes, shoes. Stacked four rows high. These are very special shoes. Vintage Nike athletic shoes.
But why? Eugene, Oregon, is the birthplace of Nike, the world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel. That’s no quackers.
Among the 44 pairs on display are racing waffles, sneakers, high tops, track spikes, hiking boots, bowling shoes and even roller skates. The showstopper of them all, encased in its own special kiosk, is an original pair of the 1972 “Moon Shoes,” which hurled Nike into prominence.
The shoes were foraged and curated by longtime sneakerhead Ben Weprin, CEO and founder of Graduate Hotels. Each pair was meticulously restored before being displayed.
The hotel lobby is literally a Nike sneaker museum!
At The Starting Line
Let’s go back a few decades to 1964. That’s when Bill Bowerman, a former Olympian and then UO track and field coach, and his star athlete Phil Knight formed Blue Ribbon Sports. Their intent was to sell Japanese-made running shoes.
The business grew, and after a few years they changed the company name to Nike in honor of the Greek Goddess of Victory. They also decided to manufacture their own brand. One of the earliest designs was the Waffle Racing Flat, named for its waffle-like sole. Indeed, Bowerman came up with the prototype idea by pouring rubber into his wife’s waffle maker.
The duo produced a dozen hand-made pairs of their innovative running shoes. To drum up business, they gave them away free to athletes competing in the 1972 U.S. Olympic track and field trials at UO’s Hayward Field. Runners noticed the prints left by the soles resembled those of Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon. They dubbed them “Moon Shoes,” and the name stuck.
One recipient was David Russell, who finished 55th in the marathon trials that year. He wore the shoes for six months before stashing them away for posterity. That’s the pair in the Graduate Eugene lobby.
Most of the first-generation Moon Shoes are unaccounted for, although a never-worn pair sold for $437,500 in July 2019 at Sotheby’s in New York.
We could talk all day about what makes vintage vintage, but Nike collectors seem to fall into two camps: Those who swear allegiance to the brand after Michael Jordan–then a newcomer to pro basketball courts–signed with Nike in 1984, and those who favor the early years. The shoes on display at Graduate Eugene are pre-Jordans.
The Nike Gallery
The shoe collection is complemented by a massive lounge and art gallery, where 144 framed vintage Nike posters adorn the walls. Who among us is not still mesmerized by Jordan’s 1989 horizontal “Wings” pose? He proved human flight is possible, although highly improbable for anyone who is not “His Airness.”
Other sports greats memorialized in the gallery are Canadian ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky, basketball forward Charles Barkley, tennis champ John McEnroe, and the first American woman to summit Mt. Everest Stacy Allison (in 1988).
The space is otherwise segmented for study and lounging. On one side of the elongated room is a 30-foot wooden library table dotted with brass study lamps. On the other are multiple seating areas swathed in earthy hues, indigenous-inspired textiles, wood and reed side tables, works by local artists and a digital scoreboard. Notice the wall treatment, which evokes waffle soles.
My Guestroom 1024
Graduate Eugene guestrooms exude a retro preppy vibe, decked out in wood-paneled walls and navy-and-kelly green tartan draperies. Plus, a gazillion little design details that reference college life and the Pacific Northwest.
Two queen-size platform beds are dressed in crisp white linens and topped with gray pinstriped throws. The headboards are upholstered in kelly green wide wale corduroy. Chenille varsity letters spell out “Track Town” on grey herringbone pillows.
(Eugene is nicknamed Track Town USA for its many national championships and hosted events, including U.S. Olympic trials for track and field.)
My mountain-view room also was furnished with a workstation and padded chair, credenza with large-screen TV, leather-tufted blanket chest, and a floor lamp fashioned from a sculpture of winged Goddess Nike. A desk lamp was made from a waffle iron–another nod to those waffle-sole shoes.
Other accents include a black rotary-dial telephone, paint-by-number artwork, a framed illustration on how to wrap a toga, and a pendant lamp styled as a pine cone. Room key cards are printed as a student ID, and the Do Not Disturb sign replicates a team pennant.
Just for kicks (get it–kicks?), I translated the Greek letters on the fraternity paddle hung on the wall. They stand for Alpha Phi Sigma, a Criminal Justice Honor Society for criminal justice and law students.
The all-modern bath is decked out with a lighted vanity mirror, oversized shower and a complement of trendy Malin + Goetz toiletries. Look carefully at the wallpaper: At first glance, the pattern appears to be a contemporary graphic of circles and lines. It’s actually an optical illusion of duck heads. Such fun!
Amenities and Extras
The pet-friendly Graduate Eugene treats its guests to a robust amenity package including a 24-hour fitness center and complimentary lime-green bicycle rentals. The Topgolf Swing Suite is a chic lounge space for simulated golf play, table games and large-screen sports viewing.
The Fir bar and restaurant specializes in craft cocktails, Oregon-brewed beers and creative cuisine made from local ingredients. The name references the University of Oregon’s 1939 national basketball champions, the Tall Firs.
Poindexter is a fast-casual hangout serving coffee, smoothies and light bites for breakfast and lunch.
About Graduate Hotels
Headquartered in Chicago, Graduate Hotels is a collection of collegiate-themed boutique hotels in university-anchored cities. Each hotel revels in high-intensity school spirit while playing up the unique heritage and culture of its hometown crowds. Since the brand’s launch in 2014, Graduate Hotels has grown to more than two dozen properties with more in development in the U.S. and United Kingdom.
Graduate Eugene is a former Hilton built in the 1980s. It underwent extensive transformation during the summer of 2019, temporarily named Hotel Eugene, and re-emerged as the 274-room Graduate Eugene.
Follow the yellow web-prints up the asphalt driveway to the front door.
(Many thanks to the Willamette Valley Visitors Association for hosting my trip!)