(Above: A wall in the new Gordon Hotel shows paintings by Gordon Obie; his son, developer Brian Obie, named the hotel in honor of his father; photos by Andy Nelson, courtesy of Obie Companies)

By Randi Bjornstad

Normally, the opening of a new hotel in downtown Eugene probably would not be the subject of a story on the arts-and-culture Eugene Scene website, but there are two reasons to mark the occasion.

Karin Clarke, left, and her assistant, Jordan Stanaway, who will manage the new Karin Clarke at the Gordon mini-gallery.

One is that — as reported by eugenescene.org in mid-January — gallery owner Karin Clarke is opening a new 300-square-foot “annex” to her longtime Karin Clarke Gallery that will be located in the Market Alley, a collection of small commercial spaces that is part of Obie Companies’ new commercial-residential complex. Her mini-gallery, just a few blocks from the main gallery, will be called Karin Clarke at the Gordon and will feature smaller works.

The other is that Brian Obie, CEO of Obie Companies and the driving force behind the project that includes the Gordon Hotel, chose the name as an homage to his father, Gordon Obie.

As explained by Jenny Ulum, public affairs counsel for the Obie group, in a news release about the opening, “The arts, history and travel were among Gordon Obie’s passions in life. Some of Gordon’s artwork is featured in the hotel.”

The older Obie, who died in 2013 at age 96 after a lifetime in essence devoted to art that ranged from from commercial signs, banners, and posters to paintings that memorialized the ships he helped build in the Vancouver, Wash., shipyards in World War II, followed by scenes and figures from Eugene history and the Arizona and Mexican landscapes he enjoyed during his retirement years.

It was all a far cry from his dad’s hardscrabble north-central Montana beginnings, Brian Obie said.

“He was born on a homestead in Montana in 1917, and he started school in a one-room schoolhouse where most of the other students were his brothers and sisters,” the son recalled from his father’s stories. “His only real exposure to the outside world was the National Geographic magazine, but his teacher there also really piqued his interest in drawing and art.”

Once young Gordon was old enough to go to town to school — when he was 12 or so — he became even more interested in art, and when it came time to attend college in Havre, Mont., he intended to become an architect or draftsman.

A painting of Gordon Obie painting — and a pair of his painting overalls — are part of the display of his work at the Gordon Hotel; photo by Andy Nelson

“He started doing things like signs and posters for plays, and then he realized he could do that as a business,” Brian Obie said. “Then once a circus came to town and asked him to do some circus signs, and when they left again, they asked him to go along and do their painting. He also became a snake charmer.”

More than a snake charmer, obviously, because the young woman who was his girlfriend decided to accompany him. The young couple married, and everywhere they went Gordon found painting jobs and developed his own commercial painting business, all the while continuing his hobby of drawing.

Then World War II came along, and Gordon Obie closed his shop and moved to Vancouver for his wartime stint in the shipyards.

“I was born in 1941, and after the war, we went back to Bozeman, Mont., where my dad built up his sign-painting business again,” Obie said. “That all helped to feed his zest for art, and he began painting as a hobby, things like the ships and the shipyards and other paintings.”

Son and father shared an enthusiasm for art, “and along the way I became a sign painter also,” Brian Obie said. “I appreciated the value of color and layout, and we used to talk about that a lot.”

Eventually, Gordon Obie went into the outdoor advertising business in Eugene and Salem in partnership with his brother-in-law and Brian Obie joined the family venture in 1962. By then approaching retirement age, Gordon Obie began traveling — and painting — interntionally and extensively throughout the American Southwest, including spending time living and painting in Mexico.

For his part, Brian Obie turned his attention to creative, primarily commercial development, including Eugene’s 5th Street Public Market, which he opened in 1976.

The old Lane County Courthouse was the subject of one of Gordon Obie’s historical paintings

When his father was in Eugene, “he spent a lot of time doing paintings of Eugene history,” Obie said. “We have mounted a lot of those on the walls in the Gordon Hotel.”

Gordon Obie is commemorated on the hotel walls also “in a great display of him on a ladder with photos of his signs, and we even have a pair of his paint overalls on display that my wife tucked away and later had framed.”

In addition to paintings by Gordon Obie, “there are 162 works by more than 80 local and regional artists on display throughout the Gordon Hotel, and in fact, the hotel will be publishing an art catalog on all the pieces that are on display,” Ulum said.

“And we also have about 75 works by Obie Companies staff,” she said. “Brian Obie set up a studio and supplied all the painting materials and encouraged staff to use the space — one at a time due to Covid — to paint out their stress or just express themselves.”

Even the huge sign that marks the hotel location is something of a piece of art in itself, Ulum said.

Obie Companies designer Midge Hoffman created the idea, which was fabricated and installed by Eugene Sign & Awning, she said. The aluminum sign and its base weigh four tons, with the sign — 15 feet tall, 20 feet wide, and 10 feet deep — weighing in at 500 pounds of the total. It stands 112 feet above the street, illuminated by 396 LED bulbs.

Literature on the new development describes the 82-room Gordon Hotel is described as a “pet friendly boutique hotel.” Its spaces evoke its namesake’s interests in art, local history, the University of Oregon and civic involvement: the Ragozzino Ballroom recalls longtime actor and director Ed Ragozzinno; the C.B. Mims Sanctuary Room honors one of Eugene’s prominent Black community members; and the Hayward Board Room evokes the UO’s association with historic Hayward Field, named for legendary UO track coach Bill Hayward.

The hotel is part of an overall building project that broke ground on Valentine’s Day 2019. The other components include the Gordon Lofts, consisting of 127 apartments; a new three-story Market Building, of which the top two floors will be “co-working” spaces; plus the 200-foot-long Market Alley devoted to small spaces for artists, food purveyors, and other small businesses.

The hotel also devotes space to rotations of work by area artists. An area dubbed “The Great Wall” spans two floors and offers 667 square feet of display area. It features a display of 21 screens of digital art designed and installed by Harmonic Labs at the University of Oregon. There’s also a “crystal ceiling” crafted from 3,000 recovered Mason jars.

But when it comes right down to it, the purpose of the Gordon Hotel is “to bring people and the arts together,” a mission statement about the new building reads. “Art uplifts and inspires. It can make us think and make us smile. It can start conversations and enrich our lives.”

A scene from the early evening, official lighting on Feb. 8 of the rooftop sign at the new the Gordon Hotel in the Fifth Street Market neighborhood in downtown Eugene. The hotel itself, named in honor of developer Brian Obie’s father, Gordon Obie, officially opens at 3 p.m. on Feb. 9.