Want a peek of the newly-renovated Astoria City Hall?
Interested in witnessing the groundbreaking of Heritage Square?
Like free food?
Well, you’re in luck. The city of Astoria is hosting “Celebrate Astoria: A friendraising event on the Square” at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The community is welcome to tour City Hall, which has undergone major changes since August. Then the party shifts to Heritage Square for the Garden of Surging Waves groundbreaking, followed by food, music, dancing and an Astoria-style block party.
“There’s going to be music, there’s going to be some fun things for kids, there will be a few surprises,” City Manager Paul Benoit said. “But on that day, in addition to the groundbreaking of the Garden of Surging Waves, it will also be the ribbon-cutting and open house for City Hall. The contractors are done. We’ll have staff present in the building and you’ll be welcome to tour every square inch of the building.”
The Astoria City Council will cut the ribbon at the front door of City Hall at 1 p.m. Saturday – the front door was never before usable when wanting to access council chambers. Now, the front door leads to a stylish customer service counter with an electric garage door to secure the counter at night.
There is now a stairwell and an elevator that is disability-accessible in the front of the building. The side door, which led to a tiny elevator and a steep stairwell before the renovations, will now be accessible to staff only.
The council chambers on the second floor now face the side windows, which the staff lounge had blocked before, to overlook soon-to-be Heritage Square.
The council chambers are also now square, reverting back from the awkward configuration of an L-shape that prevented the audience from seeing the projector screen during prior council presentations.
“It used to be L-shaped so there were parts of the room that you couldn’t see the speakers, you couldn’t see what was going on, depending on where you were sitting,” Benoit said. “And the way you used to have to enter the room – you would have to enter the room before you could even see if there was a space to sit down.
“Now, with the new chambers, we brought it to the front of the building, eliminated the employee lunch room here, squared the room off, so the room has more capacity now. We’re probably able to sit 20 more people. It might be a capacity of 80 people now. The sight line is that now you can see what’s going on from any angle of the room.”
There is also a corridor outside of the council doors where folks can hear through speakers what’s going on inside the room and see it through the door’s windows before choosing to enter or choosing to stay in the hallway.
The City Hall renovations totalled $1.5 million of the $1.2 million budget with a contingency that allows for the additional spending. That does not include the problems workers encountered once in the building, such as the heating system that needed to be replaced. The boiler replacement came from a separate fund – the city’s Capital Improvement Fund.
“As we got into the building, there were issues,” Benoit said. “Outside costs that weren’t included (in the budget) were moving costs, refurbishing the Yacht Club to make it appropriate, which was a good investment. The commitment to the council was that we were going to keep the project on a gross basis under $2 million. And we’re going to be within our budget.”
City Hall was built in the early 1920s as a two-story building for Astoria Savings Bank before the economic collapse of the Great Depression, which left the building empty and the bank essentially bankrupt.
The city took over the building. Leaders added a middle floor in the 1970s.
That second floor is resting on some of the safes from the former bank, Hal Ayotte of Fletcher-Farr-Ayotte, an architectural firm from Portland that designed the renovations, told the council before the renovations began.
“We’re cutting away some of the vault walls and making offices out of them, but we want to retain the doors because they’re gorgeous. They’re beautiful and they’re of an era where they really machined everything and it’s all nickel-plated and engraved,” Ayotte said. “One door will be open and one will be closed so you can see the front and the inside of the door.”
One of those vaults will be the office of the city’s engineer.
Other aspects of the building are also now more period-appropriate with character-enhancing lighting fixtures. A chandelier that once belonged to the bank but has been stored at the Flavel House is now back in the lobby of City Hall.
Councilman Russ Warr sandblasted the city’s logo into tile in the middle of the entryway for a grand entrance impression.
And as before, the marble clock will again tick-tock in the council chambers on the second floor.
The first floor will be more customer-friendly, Benoit said, with counters to serve people and a waiting room. Meeting rooms and public spaces are on the second floor.
The third floor, now without the false ceilings to expose an additional 3 feet and crown molding, will be home to most of the staff’s offices, including Benoit’s.
City Hall is expected to be open for business April 23. Until then, the Yacht Club is still the place of business. The move back to the building will not take place until April 20.
“It will be kind of discombobulated with everyone getting used to their new spot and getting their files where they need them,” Benoit said. “The open house will be when the furniture is set up but nobody will be in here. Staff will be here to be docents, show people around. But it won’t be until a week later.”
The council will also host the official groundbreaking of the first phase of Heritage Square – The Garden of Surging Waves. That ceremony begins at 1:30 p.m.
The Garden has been a work in progress for seven years.
Mayor Willis Van Dusen came to the council with a proposition in 2005 to come up with a plan for restitution to the Chinese people, who had been instrumental in the development of Astoria from the very early years, but neglected and ignored when it came to credit and recognition throughout Astoria’s history.
The Chinese-Astorians were subjected to terrible mistreatment but were responsible for the canneries, jetties and the railroad.
The idea was born to develop a garden to commemorate the Chinese people and celebrate their heritage when prominent Astorian Duncan Law refused an invitation from Van Dusen to attend an event at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. At the time, the museum had no mention of the Chinese anywhere.
During the garden’s inception, state Sen. Betsy Johnson praised Law for “the courage to bring this oversight in Astoria’s history to everyone’s attention.”
“The journey has been full of a lot of challenges,” Van Dusen said. “We’ve had two different locations, the artwork came from China, and when it got here, apillars was damaged, but I am proud of our community and we will now have our park, the Garden of Surging Waves.
“This will truly be a historic event, but now we’ll finally be able to tell the story of the Chinese pioneers who really built Astoria and much of the Pacific Northwest.”
Van Dusen noted that money for the project has come from all over the world. The Astors in England, the sister city of Waldorf, Germany, as well as China, Serbia and the United States have donated money to the cause.
“The architect, Suenn Ho, raised $110,000 on her own for the project,” Van Dusen said. “That is unheard of. I have looked and have yet to find any architect on any project that has gone out and raised funds herself. She took vacation time to work on the project herself. That’s quite a statement.
“We all hoped that we could complete the garden during the Bicentennial year and we came pretty darn close.”
Ho will attend the event.
The garden was originally planned for Astor and Ninth Streets on the waterfront. But when the floor of the former Safeway store’s basement collapsed in December 2010 in the middle of downtown, the garden shifted locations and the development plans grew.
A living room
Councilwoman Arline LaMear said the new block will now be the living room for Astorians, a place in the downtown for people to congregate and a place to be proud of.
Meanwhile, the art for the garden, planned for the northwest corner of the Heritage Square lot, arrived in Astoria in October 2010. It’s been stored at the former Englund Marine and Industrial Supply building on the riverfront.
The garden is expected to cost $1 million.
Heritage Square as a whole, which will include an amphitheater, a festival street and Asian plant species, is expected to cost $3 million.
The owner of Shaanxi Yuan Kun Sculptural Arts Company in Xian, China, the foundry where the Garden’s art was made, will be in attendance Saturday for the first time.
Sen. Johnson is expected to also attend the event Saturday.
The North Coast Chorale will also perform.
“I met Denise Reed, who is the choir master, and she volunteered to have the choir come and sing some Chinese songs that they love to sing,” Councilwoman Karen Mellin said.
Several area restaurants will turn out to provide food for guests of the celebration.
City Councilman Peter Roscoe, who owns Fulio’s Pastaria, led the charge on the food front.
“I think it truly demonstrates diversity because food is culture,” Roscoe said of the restaurants that have chosen to participate. “Most cultures start around a couple of basic tenets and one of them is food. So this is going to be a celebration of our diversity.”
Other events Saturday
Saturday will also mark the date of The Liberty Theater’s official groundbreaking for Phase 3 of its renovations.
“The Liberty Theater will participate in the Inauguration of the Heritage Square festivities,” Liberty Board member Bill Armington said, “We are excited to announce the commencement of construction on the second-floor renovation and creation of the Paulson Pavilion. We anticipate that construction will be completed by December 2012 when the doors will open to a new and expanded venue for break-out rooms for midsize conventions, rehearsal and classroom space and additional dressing room areas to serve the needs of the Liberty and our community.
“We look forward to thanking the many individuals and foundations whose contributions have made this work possible.”
The Bank of Astoria, directly across from Heritage Square, will host people participating in the party to tell their family Astoria stories for a video record.
A limited number of Heritage Square Bricks and other items will be offered for purchase during Saturday’s event.
Following the party, from 4 p.m. on, the Second Saturday Art Walk will be taking place at galleries and spaces throughout the city.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.