Column closed

Workers at the Astoria Column have faced anger over the closure of the tower because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A $5 fee will buy you parking for a calendar year at the Astoria Column on top of Coxcomb Hill.

But park employees are encountering the anger of some visitors upset by the closure of the Column, which likely won’t reopen until Clatsop County’s risk from the coronavirus becomes minimal.

The Friends of the Astoria Column, the group that oversees the park for the city, closed the tower more than a year ago because of the inherent difficulty in keeping people socially distanced and surfaces sanitized in the narrow spiral staircase leading up to the wraparound viewing deck.

Matteo Luccio, a Portland resident who has been visiting the Column for the past 25 years, recently sent a letter to the city, Friends group and The Astorian accusing the park of false advertising and endangerment of a minor. He demanded a refund of his parking fee, new signage and a written apology, threatening litigation if the actions were not taken.

Luccio complained that the Friends group was putting a 16-year-old employee he encountered at danger after hearing she had been harassed by visitors angry the Column is closed. Her father had joined her at the park the day Luccio had visited.

The family lives next door to Willis Van Dusen, a former mayor and board member for the Friends group. Van Dusen said the father talked to him about his daughter’s treatment, after which the Friends group produced an outdoor sign and flyers to better inform visitors of the Column’s closure.

Fred Pynes, the caretaker at the Column, said the Friends group spoke with the county Public Health Department about what it would take to reopen. The Column falls under health guidelines for indoor entertainment, with 25% capacity at the county’s high risk level. Pynes guessed that the Column is crowded with 20 people at a time when open.

“We don’t know what the occupancy is, and we’d have to have somebody man the door to count four people in and four people out,” Pynes said.

The Column likely won’t reopen until the county reaches the lowest level of risk from the coronavirus, Pynes said. In the meantime, Van Dusen encouraged people to come enjoy the view.

“A lot of my friends just drive up to the Column and buy their annual … pass for $5, and they’ll sit up there in their car and eat lunch,” he said. “It’s a beautiful view, and I’m hoping that this slight controversy will get more people to go up there and take a look at the park.”

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.