The project was sponsored by Ralph Budd who was president of the Railroad at the time. He commissioned the building of the monument to salute Astoria's explorers and early settlers. Great Northern and Vincent Astor (great-grandson of John Jacob Astor) covered the expense to purchase the 30 acres on Coxcomb Hill where the monument was erected and still stands today.
Architect Electus Litchfield and Italian immigrant artist, Attilo Pusterla designed and decorated the column. Using a bas-relief, Itallian-Renaissance, technique (sgraffito), Pusteria combined paint and plaster carvings to decorate the exterior of the column with a frieze of 22 historic events that occurred in this area.
Here are some facts about the structure:
- 125 = feet tall
- 164 = steps to the top
- 500 = feet of artwork that encircles the column (if unwound)
- 600 = feet elevation of Coxcomb Hill above the city of Astoria
- 27,134 = dollars to build in 1926
- 400,000 = number of annual visitors
- 400,000 = dollars to replace staircase to top in 2008
- 1,000,000 = dollars for column restoration in 1995
- 1,750,000 = dollars for plaza restoration in 2004
There are multiple overlooks from the plaza that provide views of the mighty Columbia River as it flows into the Pacific. A canoe of the style made by the local Chinook people is on display on the plaza.
We climbed the spiral staircase (with landings along the way) to the top. Whew! As you can imagine, the views from the balcony are fantastic!
Balsa wood airplanes can be purchased at the gift shop to launch from the top of the column. We saw lots of kids doing this and most of the airplanes stayed aloft until they were out of sight. Fun!
The Columbia River Bar is located at the where the river and ocean meet. It is 600 yards wide, 5 miles long, and 55 feet deep making it the most dangerous crossing in the world. 2,000 vessels and 700 lives have been lost trying to cross it making this area known as the "Graveyard of the Pacific." About 300 ships pass Astoria monthly. Licensed Columbia River pilots in small ships (not tug boars) guide large vessels through the area to assure their safety.
The state boundary between Oregon and Washington runs through the Columbia River here, so the opposite shore is the state of Washington.
The artwork on the column is pretty fantastic; be sure to check it out carefully if you visit. You will see the monument towering above the city. It is a fascinating piece of history about the Native Americans in this area, Lewis and Clark, pioneer settlers, and Oregon history. There is a $5 charge for parking and no additional expense to climb to the top of the column.