I am a born-and-raised Astorian, 32 years old, living there as recently as August. I just moved to Wyoming to attend graduate school for the next two years, studying historic preservation and sense of place. I would like to move back to an Astoria that values historic buildings, fosters sustainable development, provides low-income housing and encourages community trust. These ideals were loosely in place as I came of age in the 1990s. After the recent demolition of the historic Darigold building at Ninth and Duane streets, to make way for an expanded parking lot hole, I have begun to lose trust in Astoria’s leaders.
Now they want to demolish the historic Merwyn Hotel (aka Waldorf Hotel) in order to expand the public library. The proposed demolition of this historic, soundly built structure runs counter to every popular movement in Main Street USA. Demolishing historic buildings erases a collective memory — erases it for all eternity. Adaptive reuse is smarter and greener, but takes more thought, more dreaming. Buoy Beer Company is one recent example of Astorians daring to dream.
Right now, the city leaders seem to value turning Astoria into some overpriced community for retirees. I’ve witnessed these same values turn Ashland, into a country club for the rich. This does not bode well for the future of Astoria. Young professionals will lose their sense of place in the city and look elsewhere for progressive small towns that value cultural heritage and social diversity over real-estate profits. Yes, the Merwyn sits empty. As does the haunted Flavel house on 15th and Franklin. What these vacant properties give Astorians is an imagination to dream. To ponder the “what ifs. …” A demolished building is nothing to dream about.