The spacious corner suite of the Norblad Building has gone through several iterations since 1923, from a bank branch and a cooperative grocery to a nonprofit thrift store to the site of a proposed cider taproom.
Artists Jen and James Crowe, who moved to the North Coast from Los Angeles earlier this year, recently opened the doors to Vaulted Gallery, their new take on the space and a nod to its financial history.
“We felt like it would honor the space, which was important, because we fell in love with this space when we saw it,” Jen Crowe said.
The corner suite once housed a bank branch. It eventually became the location of the Community Store, an earlier version of the Astoria Co+op. The Deja Vu Thrift Store, a fundraising vehicle for domestic and sexual violence prevention group The Harbor, operated out of the space from 2010 until its closure last year.
Building owner Paul Caruana restored the space, including hardwood floors, marble wall accents and a bright paint scheme. Reveille Ciderworks recently unveiled plans to install a new taproom, with a theater underneath showing classic cinema. But the cidery pulled back on the retail expansion, focusing instead on its brewing capacity and wholesale distribution in a new partnership with Fort George Brewery.
The open, customizable space appealed to James Crowe, who spent 13 years as an editor at the talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” He designed a 3D model of the gallery before putting the finishing touches on the space.
The gallery opened Saturday, filled with his panoramic landscape photos from across the American West, Hawaii and Ireland. It will also showcase the work of Jen Crowe, a jeweler, loom-weaver and painter. The couple also hopes to feature other local artists.
“We don’t see it just being a place to sell flat art and things on walls,” James Crowe said. “One of the things that we both really like about this place is it could be a place to do a whole bunch of interesting things that may not even be for sale — installation art.”
Both Crowes returned to childhood artistic interests as adults, leaving their day jobs to pursue a gallery.
James Crowe, who grew up in Dublin, Ireland, said his father first taught him to use a camera by 4 years old. After college, he moved to Los Angeles to become a cameraman, but found a career in post-production television editing, most recently for the Kimmel show, where he won an Emmy for a 2008 music video starring comedian Sarah Silverman and actor Matt Damon.
“I never lost the itch to shoot,” he said. “And after 20 years of editing, little dark rooms with no windows get old.”
Crowe had ambitions as a wildlife cameraman and rekindled his love of photography several years ago, gathering a portfolio of landscapes from trips throughout the Southwest and back to Ireland.
Jen Crowe, from Wisconsin, said she started working at her parents’ restaurants as a teenager and learned the basics of metalsmithing in an electives course at her middle school. She studied art history in college, worked corporate and small retail, spent a year at the John Paul Getty Villa in Los Angeles and dreamed of one day owning her own gallery.
The couple met 14 years ago and dated for two years from a distance before Jen Crowe relocated to Los Angeles. They started holding pop-up shows together over the past several years before selling their house, moving into an RV and motoring north in search of a new home and a gallery. They arrived on the North Coast in March, falling for Astoria’s preponderance of local artists and galleries.
“Astoria felt like we could have a little more freedom with what we wanted to do creatively,” Jen Crowe said. “ ... We knew that there was something here that we could kind of become a part of.”
The opening of Vaulted Gallery mostly fills the retail spaces underneath the Norblad Hotel, where Caruana recently expanded the number of rooms. Next to the gallery, Caruana built out a space for the offices of Lower Columbia Hispanic Council. On the far west of the building, Churchill Mortgage is building out a new office.
The former Malama Day Spa on the corner of 14th and Exchange streets became Blessed Beauty Bar. Next door is the mental health clinic Lagom Center for Being.