The Hotel Astoria was built in 1921, envisioned as a modern marvel. It was constructed to be the tallest building on the Oregon Coast - a concrete skyscraper rising above Astoria. Over the next eight decades, pummeled by natural and economic disasters, the building struggled to live up to that vision. Today, the Astor Building has been re-vitalized - given a new chance to fulfill its original vision.
At the end of 1921, the Board of Directors of Astoria’s Chamber of Commerce decided to build a new hotel. By early 1922, the plans for a grand, five-story building were drawn by the Portland firm of Tourtellotte and Hummel. Work on the foundation began in 1922, and the project was well underway when, in December of 1922, a fire laid waste to the entire downtown area of Astoria.
After the fire a number of the original investors were no longer in a position to continue the project, so they sold their interests to a local financier, who then leased the ruined structure to an experienced Oregon hotelier. The new development team decided to make the hotel a genuine showpiece - a symbol of Astoria’s pioneer spirit and its commitment to rise from the ashes.
The plans for the new building were re-drawn to create an enlarged "fireproof" building eight stories in height.In February, 1924, the Hotel Astoria opened. There were 150 rooms for guests, plus 10 residential apartments on the top floor. After the grand opening, the hotel became the preferred meeting place for local community groups, the principal gathering place and transfer station for those who traveled by train or boat to Astoria, and was host to many conventions.
Sadly, despite its auspicious opening, the next twenty-five years were not kind to the Hotel Astoria. There was the Great Depression and the Second World War and in late 1951- after suffering numerous financial reverses and changes in ownership - the Hotel Astoria was renamed The John Jacob Astor Hotel.
Unfortunately, re-naming the building did not work any special magic. In 1968, city officials condemned the building, declaring it a public nuisance and a fire hazard. The Clatsop County government took ownership in July, 1978 and sold the building at auction in January, 1979. Still wearing a faded version of the pink paint that it was given in the 1950s, the decaying building that had been the pride of Astoria in the 1920’s and had dominated the downtown skyline for over fifty years had come to be known to local residents as "The Pink Elephant."
Paul Caruana - along with a business partner - purchased the building in 2008, and in 2015 Paul became the sole owner. Since the acquisition, he has managed to revitalize the property with carefully chosen renovations that preserve the building’s integrity without compromising the historical aspects. Updating the building’s aesthetics and restoring its structure proved to be a vital step in changing both local and visitor perceptions of the property.
As perceptions have changed, so has the application of the expansive spaces on the lower floors, which include the many storefronts that were once empty and boarded-up that make up the ground level of the Astor Building. Caruana’s vision - populating these spaces with retail vendors that would draw people in – is now a reality. What used to be a sleepy section at the east end of downtown Astoria is now a bustling, highly-trafficked district, frequented by locals and visitors alike, and the neglected grand lobby of the former Hotel Astoria has been re-purposed as a distinctive, burgeoning venue called The Ruins.
To learn more about the proprietor, Paul Caruana, click here.