Astoria: A story of Rebirth.
by Erica Rodman
Astoria is an intriguing 200 year old town with breathtaking coastline and an art-deco urban core that is experiencing a rebirth. The expanse of the Columbia River as it feeds its last fresh currents into the Pacific Ocean is such a spectacular view that it has earned the land the title of “the sunset empire.”
The classic aesthetic of this “Little San Francisco” is met with an uncanny vibe that distinguishes it from the coastal tourist towns and villages that stretch along the coast. But, to me, the relentless torrent of the river ebbing into the ocean below the four mile long Astoria Bridge has provided a life of spectacular scenes and proclivities to the inhabitants.
Yes, there is something different about Astoria. Being the first US settlement on the Pacific Coast, it claims a certain responsibility in terms of manifest destiny. Just like the eldest child of a large family, Astoria takes it place at the helm in an understated fashion, forging ahead with little thought to the pressures on its shoulders. It carries on finding its way in the world with an amazing sense of responsibility.
Very few cities and towns live so close to both the past and the present as Astoria. Being on both the River’s edge and the ocean at the same time has produced a natural fishing and processing industry. Coupled with vast evergreen forests it served as a portal for shipping timber as well as seafood products. A major hub on the Pacific Rim for two centuries led to other lands having a powerful influence on population and culture.
Astoria has a working-class, blue-collar heritage town that encouraged the sweat and satisfaction of good-ol fashioned labor as an unspoken code. The over-all effect of two hundred years of labor leaves Oregon with town of citizens who enjoy working hard with their hands while appreciating an intoxicating influence of art and culture.
This open environment has led to an influx of artists choosing to take residence in Astoria. This is not a town to hide-out in, it is becoming the Greenwich Village of the Northwest. Everyone knows each other and superb artistry is so abundant that it is almost taken for granted by its citizens. It’s the artistic hang-out with a conscience. It is the catch-basin for people seeking an even greater sense of community, a constant inspiring landscape filled with a people that are intellectually stimulated both by the arts and commerce.
There is a certain skeptic mysticism that pervades Astoria. The area not long ago suffered a devastating economic blow with changes in fishing and logging practices concurrently befalling the fading frontier economy. Consequently a monumental loss of jobs was the fall-out in the shifting times.
I’ve been frequenting Astoria with regularity for a little over ten years. At the onset of my visits the city’s depressed state was readily apparent- but all the while its artistic leanings continued to grow. The Fisherpoet’s festival drew national attention, and galleries blossomed in the downtown district where rent was cheap. I continued my visits on day trips hitting up my favorite haunts and eateries.
Throughout this decade I saw the subtle transformation of a washed-up logging/fishing town that calmly and fiercely resisted the notion of being “finished”. Instead of rolling over, they took out their lion heart put it on their sleeve and started looking at their assets and capitalized on them, they were restoring their Victorians and sprucing up major buildings like the Elliott Hotel, old US bank and Liberty Theatre.
Unlike many other cities that collapsed into a depressed state during economic downturns- Astorians never sold their souls. Astoria currently is a spruced-up version of itself- but not a compromised one. The feeling and delivery of this town is pure Astorian. John Jacob Astor would be proud. The downtown core is beautifully intact and enhanced with recent renovations, such as the Commodore Hotel as well as new developments along the waterfront such as Pier 39 and the Cannery Hotel have added luster to the town. New additions were made on the food front with the Blue Scorcher, Astoria Coffee House and Bistro along with mainstays like the Columbian Café, RiverSea Gallery and the Wet Dog Cafe holding on to their rightful place as pioneers and visionaries of the new Astoria.
Astoria almost unconsciously has become an artist haven-harboring people with a taste for the creative. To anchor yourself in this community means a life of slower pace with a high quality of life quotient. The spirits of sailors and pioneers who made Astoria their home centuries ago are still very much evident, as the town continues to spread its artistic wings. And from what I can tell, Astorians simply wouldn’t have it any other way.
Copyright © 2011 by CSP Inc.