John Jacob Astor Hotel, Astoria Oregon

Date added: August 29, 2022 Categories: Oregon Hotel

The eight-story John Jacob Astor Hotel is a prominent landmark in Astoria and was, in its hey-day, the hub of social and civic activity in the historic sea port at the mouth of the Columbia River. The reinforced concrete building is believed to be, even today, the tallest commercial structure on the Oregon Coast. Its construction was inspired by increased tourist traffic, and, as was typical of major hotel projects in the early automobile age, it was financed by capital investors assisted by public subscription and bond issue. The plans were drawn by the Portland firm of Tourtellotte and Hummel, which later was responsible for the Lithia Springs (Mark Anthony) Hotel (1925) in Ashland, the Redwoods Hotel (1926) in Grants Pass, and the Hotel Baker in Baker. Each of the vintage Tourtelotte and Hummel hotels was held to be forward-looking in its day, a reinforced concrete skyscraper within some eclectic period ornamentation of cast concrete. Indicative of the importance attached to this, the earliest of the firm's major hotel projects in Oregon, was the fact that the Astoria Chamber of Commerce spear-headed the drive for formation of hotel corporation which initiated the project 1921-1922. The Chamber of Commerce made its headquarters in ground story offices upon the hotel's completion in 1924. The hotel was the meeting place of all the community groups, Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions and others, and it was also the transfer station for those who traveled by train or boat to Astoria and embarked from there by train or carriage to the coastal resort areas of Gearhart and Seaside to the south, and it was host to many conventions from business and trade unions. The basement was bustling with salesmen who used the rooms to display their samples and wares.

In the later months of 1921 a movement was initiated among the local business men to build a new hotel due to the limited accommodations that were available. The lumbering and fishing industries were in full bloom and the local businessmen recognized the need to develop the tourist industry.

This movement was crystallized when the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce met in December of 1921, appointed a committee to devise ways to accomplish the feat. This committee was headed by W.P. O'Brien, then Vice-President of the Chamber, who later became President of the Hotel Corporation. In less than two months the Columbia Hotel Corporation was formed with O'Brien, Tyler, Staples, Hoefler, Nelson, Smith and Danz as the Incorporators. The first capitalization was for $200,000 which was then increased to $300,000. More than 100 of the local business and professional men subscribed ,and within four weeks $250,000 had been subscribed.

Work on the foundation was started in 1922 and was well under way to erect a five story building. Then came the disastrous fire in December of 1922 which laid waste to the entire business area of Astoria. Momentarily, this demoralized the project; however, the conflagration created an even more pressing need for housing and gave the city an opportunity to undertake certain improvements, including a street widening program. This required adjustments in the foundation, and the specifications were overhauled to create an enlarged "fireproof" building eight stories in height. The expansion plans created need for additional funds, and, accordingly, a bond issue was voted to solve the financing matters.

The final contracts were let November 2, 1922, and the winning bidder was Thomas Muir. Plans were drawn by the Portland firm of Tourtellotte and Hummel. Resident architect was C.T. Diamond.

During the sale of the bonds, and while construction was well underway, it became necessary on a number of occasions for the Directors to personally make short term loans of $25,000 or more. In addition, the disastrous after-effects of the fire left a number of the original subscribers unable to fulfill their commitments to the project. In December of 1922, the bond holders sold their interests to Austin Osborn and the hotel was then leased to Bert R. Westbrook, a well known Oregon hotel man.

On January 1, 1924. the hotel was opened on a limited basis, and the formal dedication event, a Washington's Birthday banquet, was set for February 24, 1924. The opening was a grandious affair, starting with a luncheon sponsored by the Astoria Chamber of Commerce in the grand ballroom, followed with dancing in the afternoon, and concluding with the formal banquet and ball in the evening. That a first-class modern hotel should rear its head eight stories above the ruins of the fire-gutted city was a memorable event in the history of Astoria. The citizens were full of excitement and hope. It stood higher than any other building in Oregon outside of Portland. The lobby was brightened with palms, great floral pieces, heavy leather upholstered furnishings, oriental carpets and all the trappings of the fashionable hostelries of the period.

According to the Astoria Budget, in addition to the many local citizens in attendance, a delegation of over sixty members of the Portland Chamber of Commerce arrived in Astoria by train for the occasion. Among the Portland guests who spoke and participated with Mayor George L. Baker and other recognizable "Old Portland and Old Oregon" names such as Sam Kozer, Secretary of State, C.C. Chapman of the Oregon Voter, W.O. Roberts of the Northern Pacific Railroad, Paul McKay of the Spokane Portland & Seattle Railroad, Julius L. Meier (later to become Governor of Oregon), and Good Roads Advocate John P. Yeon. The names go on, many of which are recognizable by businesses still in operation today, such as W.P. Fuller (Paint Manufacturers) and others. Out-of-town guests were transported to the opening by a special fleet of automobiles shuttling between hotel and railroad station.

The heart beat of the Hotel Astor skipped and nearly stopped with the advent of the great Depression; then during World War II it revived, but with a certain notoriety, as it was temporarily held to be some what of a den of iniquity. Recurring attempts to restore its grandeur and elegance failed mainly for two reasons. First, a new shorter highway route directly from Portland to Seaside was created, and Astoria was by-passed by many travelers to the coast resorts. Second, the rail passenger service was stopped to Astoria. Ownership commenced to turn over rapidly after the early 1930s.

The building reached the depth of its fortune in 1968, when the property was condemned for fire safety and all the residents were moved out. It was unoccupied for ten years.

On two occasions the city placed a special tax measure on the ballot before the citizens of Astoria to raise $100,000 to raze the building. Both times the measure went down to defeat. In July of 1978 the property was foreclosed upon for back taxes by Clatsop County and was sold at public auction January 11, 1979. The saga of the building continued as the highest bidder was given until January 31st to produce the amount of his bid. When the bidder failed to show up on the appointed date, bids were re-opened, and the present owners submitted the successful bid. The Hotel Astor is such a prominent building in the community that, almost without exception, when anything has happened to the property it is "front page" news.

The hotel is named for the principal investor in the New York-based Pacific Fur Company which established Astoria as the first permanent Euro-American settlement in the Oregon country in 1811.

Born in East Thompson, Connecticut in 1869, John Everett Tourtellotte left home in 1886 to work in various parts of the country and learn from many contractors. After gathering experience in Chicago, Kansas City, Albuquerque, and Pueblo, Colorado, he settled in Boise, Idaho in 1890 and opened an office there two years later.

Until 1912, his firm was called J.E. Tourtellotte and Company. In 1903 he had begun working with a partner, Charles F. Hummel (1857-1939). They worked together for many years and in 1912, after finishing the Idaho State Capitol in Boise, the firm's name was changed to Tourtellotte and Hummel. During the years in Boise, many buildings were designed throughout Idaho. Among them were the Idaho State Capitol, the administration building at the University of Idaho at Moscow, St. John's Cathedral, Boise, the Boise Hotel and others.

In 1922, J.E. Tourtellotte opened an office in Portland with Frank K. Hummel, a son of Charles Hummel. Mr. Frank K. Hummel worked in that office until it closed about 1934. Hummel returned to Boise and worked in the Boise office until his death in 1961. Tourtellotte remained active in the Portland office until 1930, when he retired, and lived in Portland until his death in 1939. During the Portland years the firm designed the North Bend Hotel; the Lithia Springs Hotel in Ashland; the Redwoods Hotel, Grants Pass; the Baker Hotel; St. Joseph's Hospital in La Grande; and the Douglas County Courthouse in Roseburg. At the time of his death, Tourtellotte was completing the Linn County Courthouse in Albany.

Building Description

The John Jacob Astor Hotel (1922-1924) is situated at the southeast corner of 14th and Commercial Streets in downtown Astoria. L-shaped in plan, the eight-story reinforced concrete building presents its major frontage on 14th Street, where it extends the full length of the block between Commercial and Duane Streets. Each of three street facades is organized into wide bays with tripartite openings in the upper stories and which are separated, vertically, by strip pilasters on piers rising without interruption from ground story to terminate in fanciful coronet-like configurations above the parapet wall, a motif in keeping with the essentially Gothic decorative program applied to the exterior. Retail shops and coffee shop surrounding the central lobby space were initially enclosed by plate glass, and have been revised over the years with attendant alteration of ground story fronts. Openings at the mezzanine level, containing kitchen and dining area/ball-room facilities, are casement windows grouped in three's under "Tudor," or 4-center pointed arches. A fluted frieze with shield motifs trims the mezzanine exterior. Double-hung window sash are used from third through seventh stories, with slender pilasters separating each opening, and are plainly finished on intermediate stories, but are capped by decoration at 7th and 8th levels. Openings in the corner bays of the seventh story are round-arched and gathered under 5-centered, or "basket" arches embellished with elaborate cartouches in cast stone. At this level also, escutcheons are used as decoration on the face of each pier, and the spandrels of 8th story windows are finished with the recurring fluting-and-shields motif. Eighth story openings are fitted with casement windows. The parapet wall, above, is finished with fluted panels in which framing members are surmounted by diamond-shaped finials. There are three bays on either side of a central bay on the 14th Street facade; six and a half bays on Commercial Street; two and a half bays on Duane Street, and the decorative program is carried as a return onto the outside end bay of the east face exposed to view from Duane Street.

The decorative program of the lobby space, which reaches a height of two stories at the core, is classical, with liberal use of colossal columns of the Corinthian Order, engaged columns and pilasters, all decorated with cast plaster ornament and hand-painted. The lobby was illuminated by warmly colored light filtered from skylights through stained glass ceilings. An elegant wrought-iron chandelier with parchment shades over electric candles hung high above the lobby, which was encircled by a wide brass-railed mezzanine lined with bridge tables covered with formal cloths. The chandelier is still on the premises. The lobby contained a huge fireplace, also. The dining and ball room on the mezzanine level is trimmed with cast plaster mouldings in fruit garland motifs. All of the built-in features are intact or are, for the most part, in restorable condition.

Following is the breakdown of interior functions and spaces:

Basement: Primarily used for heating plant, mechanical and storage.

Main Floor: Retail shops and restaurant were arranged around the lobby which opens to the mezzanine (second floor). It is believed the original building contained a restaurant, later a second restaurant and lounge, the "Fur Trader" was added inside the "L."

Third to Eighth Floors: Guest rooms.

The Hotel Astor was not occupied since it was shut down by the Building Official of Astoria in 1968. There is structural damage in roof and upper floors due to leakage from roof drains.