Astoria’s Allure

The riverside city evolves into a modern-day destination

By: Marty Wentzel

Before visiting Astoria, Ore., I asked a former resident what I should do there. “Catch up on your reading,” he said. Obviously he’s out of touch with his Northwest Oregon roots, because during my visit, I never so much as opened a book.

Where tourism is concerned, Astoria has hit its stride. Long known for its proximity to Fort Clatsop, the early 19th-century Lewis and Clark outpost, the city by the Columbia River has evolved into a marketable destination with modern-day allure. The area’s visitor industry and community groups have collaborated to create a getaway that’s small enough to enjoy in a few days but big on selling points for clients.

Turning the Town Around

Among those who have helped turn the town around is Astoria native Chester Trabucco, who recently restored the fading 1924 Hotel Elliott as well as the rundown 1925 Liberty Theater just down the block. In the same neighborhood, the once-decrepit Bank of Astoria building has evolved into the classy Columbia River Day Spa, and a 1920s watering hole called the Schooner has found new life as a cozy, contemporary restaurant.

“Five years ago, the downtown was tougher, with very little appeal to tourists, but our residents have worked together to make it more attractive,” said Hotel Elliott manager Michael Willock. “Now, travelers are starting to look at Astoria as its own destination.”

The Hotel Elliott served as an ideal home base for my historic explorations of Astoria, the oldest settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Surrounding the hotel, neighborhoods of century-old Victorians recall tales of the region’s earliest residents. Most notable of these is the stately Flavel House, an immaculately preserved showpiece of Queen Anne architecture built in 1885.

The Heritage Museum, housed in a 1904 building once used as City Hall, presents exhibits about the birth and growth of the town, including thousands of historic photos. Rising above the city atop 500-foot Coxcomb Hill, the 125-foot Astoria Column provides a 360-degree overview of the area, and murals on its exterior paint a local history lesson.

Down by the River

Astoria’s riverside perch has long defined its character, and innovators are opening up lodgings and attractions that honor that relationship. Take Robert “Jake” Jacob, son of a former salmon cannery worker, and owner and architect of the new Cannery Pier Hotel. Jacob placed the hotel on a dramatic perch, jutting 600 feet into the river.

“Astoria is so unique because of its proximity to the big ships that run up and down the Columbia,” said Donna Quinn, the hotel sales director at Cannery Pier. “We want to give all of our guests the experience of watching those giant vessels gliding by, as they have for decades, which explains why each of our accommodations has a river view.”

From the Cannery Pier Hotel, I learned more about the Columbia by strolling along the Astoria River Trail, a five-mile boardwalk and footpath hugging the water. Specific viewing locations line the route, like the 14th Street ferry dock, where a radio speaker broadcasts live conversations of pilots, boaters and the Coast Guard. The 40-passenger 1914 Astoria Riverfront Trolley, operated by community volunteers, offers a fun and less strenuous way to see the sights along the shore. For a deeper immersion into Astoria’s relationship to the water, clients can browse the clever interactive exhibits of the 38,000-square-foot Columbia River Maritime Museum, fresh from a $6 million expansion.

Resident Revival

Another Astoria resident that’s making a difference is Steve Nurding, who bought a 1905 Colonial Revival building called the Officer’s Inn Bed and Breakfast, 10 miles west of downtown. Situated next to the former U.S. military outpost of Fort Stevens, the mansion once housed top-ranking members of the Army and their families. An enthusiastic supporter of historic restoration, Nurding has carefully preserved the pressed tin ceilings, wrap-around porches, inset cupboards, elaborate fireplaces, French doors and ornate staircases of the home, which is listed on the National Register.

“This is a great place for people who want to step back in time,” said Nurding. “Along with independent travelers and history buffs, we’re encouraging all kinds of groups to consider the inn as a setting for a meaningful gathering.”

I used the Officer’s Inn as a stepping stone to sites of interest outside of downtown Astoria, including Fort Stevens State Park, with its thoughtful museum and preserved gun batteries; the dramatic wreck of the three-masted ship Peter Iredale, rusting on Clatsop Beach since 1906; and Fort Clatsop National Memorial, where the Lewis and Clark expedition endured the cold, wet winter of 1805-1806.

Driving 20 minutes south from Astoria, clients can stroll the streets, shops and boardwalk of Seaside. Twelve miles further awaits quaint Cannon Beach, home of Ecola State Park and its jaw-dropping ocean views.

Before I left Astoria, I stopped by the town’s new Tapiola Park Playground, where kids play on miniature versions of Fort Clatsop, the Astoria Column, Flavel House and other attractions I had just visited. Built and paid for entirely through community efforts, the park epitomizes the collaborative spirit of a city with a healthy perspective on the past and good intentions for the future.

WHERE TO STAY

Cannery Pier Hotel
No. 10 Basin St.
Astoria, OR 97103
888-325-4996
www.cannerypierhotel.com

Launched in late 2005, the 46-unit boutique hotel offers river views and fireplaces in every room. By summer, it’s opening an adjacent freestanding restaurant, banquet facility, wine-tasting area, brewpub, art gallery, ice cream parlor and crafts demonstration deck. Expect 24 more hotel rooms within three years.
Nightly rates, which come with continental breakfast and afternoon wine and snacks, range $149-$325. The Pilot House, with a full kitchen, is $525.

Hotel Elliott
357 12th St.
Astoria, OR 97103
877-378-1924
www.hotelelliott.com

This 1924 downtown landmark reopened in 2003 after a $5 million renovation. Each of its 32 rooms and suites boasts heated bathroom floors, cedar-lined closets and jetted tubs. The basement, currently home to a wine bar and cigar room, will add a fine-dining restaurant this summer.
Through May 16, nightly room rates range from $89-$250 per double, including breakfast and late-afternoon wine. The four-room Presidential Suite goes for $550.

Officer’s Inn
540 Russell Place
Hammond, OR 97121
888-861-2524
www.officersinn.com

Once housing Army officers and their families, the 1905 Colonial Revival building reopened in February as a bed and breakfast. Meticulously renovated, its double rooms and multi-bedroom suites appeal to couples as well as groups. For clients who crave modern facilities, the basement will eventually include a fitness room and a billiards/big-screen TV room.
Through April 15, nightly rates range from $75-$115 per double, with a full breakfast.

CONTACT

Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce
111 W. Marine Dr.
Astoria, OR 97103
800-875-6807
www.oldoregon.com
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