When Robert “Jake” Jacob was a kid, he loved the Disney “Davy Crockett” miniseries about the legendary frontiersman and folk hero.
With his friends, he’d put on his own raccoon skin hat, face down the nearest natural barrier and yell at the top of his lungs, “Crockett charge!”
“And they would literally charge into bushes and their goal was to bust right through whether there were stickers or not,” said Greg Jacob, Jacob’s brother, at a celebration of life on Saturday. “That was symbolic of his life.”
Several hundred people gathered at the Astoria Armory to remember the crazy ideas and many accomplishments of the Astoria entrepreneur and architect. They recounted stories and honored a man who never took “no” for an answer and whose constant refrain, right before he roped someone into a new project or scheme, was, “Do you have a minute?”
Jacob, 69, died of natural causes in his Astoria home in September. He is best known for building the Cannery Pier Hotel, a boutique hotel set over the Columbia River, as well as the role he played in securing the Liberty Theatre and aiding in its restoration. He had the idea to start the Astoria Riverfront Trolley on the Astoria Riverwalk and was behind efforts to purchase the Armory. More recently, he helped bring the Tourist No. 2, a ferry that once plied the river, back to Astoria.
City leaders and longtime residents credit Jacob with helping to build the Astoria that exists today. Mayor Arline LaMear announced the city plans to acknowledge his work by proclaiming April 19, Jacob’s birthday, Robert “Jake” Jacob Day.
“Jake was fun. He made Astoria cool before The New York Times and the Portland hipsters discovered it was cool,” said state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who considered Jacob a good friend. “He could harness creativity and imagination and turn a dream into a blueprint and make that blueprint come to life.”
Naysayers, she said, “were the bane of his existence.”
She recalled a time when she was asked to help him work with the Department of State Lands to negotiate a lease so he could build the Cannery Pier Hotel — one of the many hurdles he needed to clear to build the hotel on what had been a broken-down, 100-year-old dock. Later, he took the senator out to see what he planned to do. There was Jacob, “barking like a sea lion about how it’s going to look,” while Johnson stood with him on the rickety dock, eying the water dubiously.
“I looked down at the river and silently cursed Jake,” she said.
The Armory was crowded with longtime friends, family, current and former employees, trolley operators and newer friends and others touched by Jacob’s contributions.
“If you’re thinking, ‘I had a special relationship with Jake that nobody knows about,’ you’re right,” said former Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen, who acted as master of ceremonies. Jacob made friends everywhere he went, Van Dusen said.
But even as speakers honored Jacob’s many gifts and achievements, they also acknowledged his demons. For most of his life, Jacob struggled with alcoholism — something he was candid about in his personal writing. At times he sought treatment and help, with varied success.
His life was a testament to the fact that despite a person’s flaws, “we can still do things,” said Donna Quinn, director of marketing for the Cannery Pier Hotel, who called Jacob her longtime friend.
“So much respect to him for showing us how to be brave and foolish,” she said.
Artist Sarah Goodnough, Jacob’s friend and former partner, said Jacob taught her “what it was to be generous and to be a friend to people.”
“He always took care of his partners, he always took care of his friends,” agreed Terry Rosenau, Jacob’s personal representative as well as a longtime friend and early investor in the Cannery Pier Hotel.
As part of the celebration, the Tourist No. 2 ferry board opened the ferry to the community at Pier 39 on Saturday and Sunday. Jacob’s family has asked people to donate to ferry restoration to honor Jacob’s memory, and the ferry itself offered a final salute.
Right before 5 p.m. on Saturday, the vessel’s horn boomed across the river, reverberating through the decks and joined by a cacophony of car horns, air horns and other boat horns.
It was Jacob’s dream to welcome people onto the ferry for a party. As the restoration work he championed comes to fruition, Johnson said, “You may someday find yourself dancing on the Columbia River. Have fun and drink a toast to Jake.”