Freeway Free in Oregon: Exploring Astoria
[AKA “Travels with a Tiny Teardrop Trailer – Day 4 (cont.)”]
Astoria is way out on the furthest northwestern tip of Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River. It is the oldest city in the state of Oregon, founded in 1811, and named for John Jacob Astor, the New York investor whose American Fur Company founded Fort Astoria at the site. (Yes, the Waldorf-Astoria in New York is also named for him.) In bygone years Astoria was a bustling harbor, with schooner after schooner fighting her way past the dreaded Columbia River bar to pick up timber, fish, and furs, dropping off supplies and merchandise for the well-to-do families of trappers, fishermen, and lumberjacks.
The Victorian heart of the city was demolished by fire in 1922. This happened to coincide with the peak population – above 14,000 – so there were resources and energy to rebuild in the Art Deco style of the 1920’s. Fortunately for architecture buffs, the population began a steady decline shortly after rebuilding, as port activity moved inland to Portland, and northward to Seattle. The last fish cannery closed in 1980, the last lumber mill closed in 1989, and the railroad service was discontinued in 1996. This left Astoria with a population of under 10,000, no funding for demolition/modernization in the town center, and plenty of warehouse space for the brewpubs and artist cooperatives which began to move in.
We stopped for lunch after our museum visit at the Rogue Public House, a brewpub located in a re-purposed fish cannery out on a pier just down from the museum. We enjoyed their boutique beer, plus an excellent pizza and salad. Then we took advantage of a temporary cessation of rainfall to stroll the delightfully un-restored, un-modernized, un-redeveloped downtown.
The downtown is haunted by the ghosts of retailers past: the signs for JC Penney and Sears still deck the storefronts, though the shops underneath are now boutiques such as Garbo’s Vintage Wear, Purple Cow Toys, and Arachne’s Hand-Crafted Yarns. Our favorite was FinnWare, a wonderful collection of Scandinavian design and décor, made even more special by a flotilla of Christmasy items sparkling and spinning on display.
We also stopped in at several of the art galleries which line Commercial Street, just to gawk at the creativity on display and wonder who actually puts these things in their houses. The Riversea Gallery was particularly comprehensively amazing.
At one end of Commercial Street is the wonderful wedding cake-like Liberty Theatre, located, of course, in the Astor Building. (See photo above.) We were visiting in October, so the Box Office was spectrally staffed.
After an hour or two of strolling and shopping we had had enough retail therapy and headed for the beach. The sun was actually shining as we hit the sand at the tip of Oregon. We could see the remains of the Peter Iredale rusting peacefully in the distance, one of the victims of the treacherous Columbia River Bar.
Will the sunshine stay? Will we be able to use the outdoor kitchen on the Titanic ? Or will we head back to that cozy brewpub as refugees? Stay tuned!
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