In 1997, Uriah Hulsey and Jeanine Fairchild purchased the 72-year-old Riviera Building, one of the first movie houses built after a devastating fire destroyed much of Astoria in 1922.
Over the years, the building has become a hub downtown with the Columbian Theater, Voodoo Room and Columbian Cafe.
And with an infusion of grant money from the Oregon Heritage Commission, the building is being restored to its historic glory.
Fairchild and Hulsey first became tenants of former Riviera owner Ron Brott in 1980, when Hulsey took over operation of the Columbian Cafe. In 1997, the building went up for sale.
“I didn’t want to move, so we formed a little LLC and bought the building,” Hulsey said.
They operated the Columbian Theater and turned a smaller screening room in front into the eclectic Voodoo Room. Over the years, they had largely done patchwork on the building, until being approached recently by Sarah Lu Heath, director of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association, with an opportunity to do something bigger.
“It’s a great landmark building, with owners that were operating really good businesses,” Heath said of the Riviera. “The building just needed some help.”
In 2015, the state Legislature created the Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant Program for projects that encourage economic revitalization. Heath secured two of the initial 27 grants for Astoria, including $100,000 to help turn the former Waldorf Hotel building into workforce housing, and $53,000 to restore the stucco facade, shingles and roof of the Riviera Building. Fairchild and Hulsey are matching nearly $23,000 on the project.
On June 2, 1925, the Riviera Theater opened at the corner of 11th Street and Marine Drive. The building was a Mediterranean Revival style, designed by architect Charles T. Diamond, who also worked on the Odd Fellows and Carruthers buildings, as well as the Doughboy Monument in Uniontown.
Local historian John Goodenberger, who is advising on the renovation project, said the Riviera Theater continued into the 1950s, later becoming the Lewis and Clark Theater and eventually the Columbian Theater when Brott acquired the building in the 1980s.
Hulsey said the cafe has been in the building since it opened, while Metal Head was a former barbershop until the 1980s. The front of the Riviera, formerly an ice cream parlor and other businesses, was eventually boarded over and turned into a smaller theater by the former owners, he said. Hulsey and Fairchild transformed the former theater into the Voodoo Room.
Katie Rathmell, owner of Pacific Window Restoration, has been working her way along the storefronts of the Riviera restoring windows and repairing weather damage. Soon she will install new plate glass storefront windows in front of the Voodoo Room, which Fairchild said will keep its darker ambiance by using thick curtains. On 11th Street, Rathmell is restoring two large, 40-pane arched windows on the ground floor, along with other double-sash windows upstairs.
“I’m really excited to be a part of it,” Rathmell said. “It’s really cool to be able to bring the old look to it, as much as we can.”
Steve Stewart of Left Shore Construction has been sanding down the existing stucco surface of the Riviera and applying a new layer of sand, cement and lime — known as a dash stucco finish. Afterwards, he said, Hulsey will paint over the finish with an elastomeric paint designed to waterproof cement and masonry. Stewart specializes in historic buildings and has worked on several lighthouses in the region.
The color of the original Riviera Building is hard to ascertain. The few early photos are black and white. Fairchild said the building will be painted a dark red to match the Wet Dog Cafe next door, along with the dark green trim of the shingles and a blue-and-gold Riviera Building nameplate on Marine Drive.
“We really wanted to do this for many, many years, but the cost is just too daunting,” Fairchild said of the restoration. “Nobody would give us a loan for that kind of thing.”
The Columbian Theater had raised more than $50,000 from the community in 2013 for a new digital projector and sound system, and Fairchild said she and Hulsey didn’t want to ask the public to foot the bill for another project.
Heath said the downtown association is hoping to work with more property owners to garner grant support to restore historical buildings and protect them from weather damage. “Coming from Restore Oregon, I have a lot of interest in using the building stock that we already have,” she said.