THE ASTORIA COLUMN

by Jackie Meredith

The Astoria Column is the last of a series of 12 historical markers erected in the early 1900’s between St. Paul, Minnesota and Astoria, Oregon. These markers were the pet project of Ralph Budd, president of the Midwest-based Great Northern Railroad. In 1925, he announced that he and other businessmen and scholars wanted to “properly salute Astoria’s explorers and early settlers for their critical role in the United States’ stretch to the Pacific Coast.”

 

LOCATION

Towering above Astoria, the column on Coxcomb Hill offers a panoramic view of the ocean, rivers, and mountains.

 

MAIN CHARACTERS

 

Great Northern Railroad and philanthropist, Vincent Astor, great-grandson of John Jacob Astor for whom Astoria is named, funded the cost of the Column and the site’s 30 acres atop Coxcomb Hill. The City of Astoria prepared the land and access road. The architect was a New Yorker, Electus Litchfield, who patterned it after the Trajan Column in Rome, Italy. The construction contract was awarded to AB Guthrie and Co., of Portland. The group retained an Italian immigrant artist, Attilo Pusterla to create a bas-relief technique Italian Renaissance art form called sgraffito combining paint and plaster carvings to decorate the exterior with a frieze of 14 significant events that occurred in the region.

 

 

THE DREAM UNFOLDS INTO REALITY

 

Construction began in March 1926 atop an elevation of Coxcomb Hill’s 600-feet offering its expansive views surrounding Astoria, the Columbia River, Pacific Ocean, and coastal area. By May, exterior decoration began. Whereupon only three of the bands were completed by dedication day on July 22, Pusterla and his assistants finished their work on October 29, 1926.

 

Constructed of concrete with a foundation of 12 feet deep, the height is 125 feet with an interior 164 steps on a circular staircase surrounded by 500 feet of banded murals leading to a viewing platform. Oregon’s state seal is displayed at top. The column was dedicated July 22, 1926 and original costs were $27,133.96.

 

The Astoria Column was originally designed to replicate the 100-foot-tall marble Trajan Column erected in Rome around 114 A.D. by Emperor Trajan. The Roman column is covered by a continuous low-relief sculpture depicting Trajan's Dacian campaigns. The University of Kentucky King Library Press Website (2007) offers more detailed information:

          "... Trajan's Column was erected 106-113 C.E. in Trajan's Forum in Rome to commemorate his victories           over Dacia. The 100 foot tall column is made of marble quarried near Cararra and is covered by a    continuous low-relief sculpture depicting Trajan's Dacian campaigns. The column and capital were           constructed from 20 separate blocks of marble and the column contains a spiral stair leading to an     observation platform at the top. The pedestal supporting the column is about 25 feet tall and served as Trajan's tomb after his death in 117. Originally the column was topped by a bronze eagle, but that was   replaced by a statue of Trajan after his death. The statue of Trajan, now lost, was replaced by a statue      of Saint Peter in 1588. The inscription over the door in the pedestal has long been regarded as one of          the finest examples of Roman letter forms and has been the basis for many type faces. ..."

 

The Astoria Column is an artful summary of the triumphs, conflicts, and turning points of the frontier – pieces of American Indian, U.S. and Oregon history.

 

Descriptions of the scenes are listed in reverse order, as they appear on the column from top to bottom. (The Tonquin is a ship.)

14) Coming of the white settler and the railroad.
13) Fort Astoria returned to the United States, 1818.
12) Fort Astoria sold to the British and renamed Fort George, 1815.
11) The Tonquin, the Pacific Fur Company ship, blown up at Vancouver Island, 1811.
10) Pacific Fur Company Overland Party arrives at Astoria, 1812.
9) The Tonquin arrives at Astoria, 1811. Building of Fort Astoria.
8) The Tonquin, the ship belonging to John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company, sails from New York, 1810.

7) Lewis & Clark Expedition builds Fort Clatsop.
6) Lewis & Clark Expedition spends the winter of 1805-1806 on the Lewis & Clark River near Astoria.
5) Lewis & Clark Expedition boiling sea water to make salt.
4) Lewis & Clark Expedition, first to cross the continent, arrives at Astoria, 1805.
3) Native American village on land now known as Astoria.
2) Discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray in the ship Columbia, 1792.
1) Native Wilderness.

 

Within three years after completion, the coast’s weather had already taken a toll on the mural. While Pusterla’s technique fared well in Mediterranean climates, the Pacific Northwest storms ravaged and threatened the carvings and pigments, and the salty winds off the Pacific Ocean began dimming and threatening the carvings.

 

The arrival of the Great Depression in October 1929 crushed fund-raising efforts. Once again, the Astor family contributed the majority of the $5,000 cost needed to stabilize the mural, and in 1936, Pusterla returned to Astoria to make repairs and waterproof the mural.

 

During World War II, the site was closed and a blimp squadron for coastal reconnaissance moved onto Coxcomb Hill. In 1947, the Column reopened to the public.

 

THE COLUMN TODAY

 

In 1974, the Column was listed in the National Register for Historic Places. In 1995, the Column underwent a $1 million painstaking restoration, and in 2004, received a new granite plaza and ADA accessible walkway for an additional restoration cost of $1.7/1.5 million. More than 300,000/400,000 visitors annually visit the site. Stop by the parking lot’s gift shop and join in the tradition of purchasing a balsawood plane, climb to the top, and launching them in the air.

 

Open year-round from dawn until dusk, a $1.00 charge for parking is based on the honor system and visitors pay the fee at the gift shop. The gift shop is open from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm Monday through Friday and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on weekends. During the summer, hours are 9:00 am – 6:00 pm daily.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

 

Friends of Astoria Column, Inc.

PO Box 717

Astoria, Oregon 97103

503.325.2963

 

REFERENCE LISTINGS

Friends of Astoria Column, Inc. 2003 brochure

BUSINESS WIRE, June 10, 2004

http://www.oregoncoast.com/Astorcol/Astorcol.htm

http://www.infinityinternet.com/~englishriver/LewisClarkColumbiaRiver/Regions/Places/astoria_column.html

http://www.oregon.com/rips/Astoria_column.cfm

 

DRIVING DIRECTIONS

 

Follow Highway 30 heading east, turn south on 16th Street and follow the signs up to the Column.