Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cannery Blues

Astoria, Oregon, is, or was, famous for her canneries. There were many booming years for the fishing industry, and the canneries were going strong. Gradually, the fishing industry faded and the canneries were left to rot on their posts and fall into, or blow into, the Columbia River with the fierce winter wind storms the area seems to attract.

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to town was the net loft, or Big Red, on the east end of town at the bottom of 31st Street. It is, or I should say was, a wonder to behold. I often used to drive down to look at it just to enjoy its simple design and the majestic way it stayed on its pilings through literally hell and high water. I can't even guess how many photos I've taken of it, from many different angles. It was also one of the most intact canneries around, and its owner, Royal Nebeker, worked his ass off to fix it up and maintain it, which was a mammoth job.

This last storm, with winds exceeding 120 mph, was the straw that broke the camel's back. The top floor of Old Red blew away, and damn near took Nebeker (who was in it at the time) along with it. You can read the story here:

"After the storm, a glimmer of hope"

I feel crushed just looking at it now, and I can't even imagine how he must feel. With any luck, public support and funding will put things right.

There's another red cannery on the east end of town, tucked into the Alderbrook area. It looks very similar to Old Red, and it sure looks like someone is taking care of it. So I'm hopeful it will be around for a good long time, as it doesn't look like it sustained any damage from the recent storm.

Just to the east of the Alderbrook cannery there used to be the skeleton of a cannery in the process of being repaired, but it was reduced to splinters in January 2006 ... just about a month after I took some photos of it. At least I have a record that something was there at one time.

A lady came into my booth at the Sunday Market a few summers ago and asked me to go take photos of a cannery that was hidden away upriver. Had quite a time finding it, but find it I did, and took several photos of it. This one, too, obviously had someone taking care of it.

Last summer I was at an event with my photos, and an old gentleman was browsing through my photos. Suddenly he looked up at me, scowled and said, "You've been trespassing!" and he held up a photo of that cannery upriver. Whoops. Okay, yes, I was. What can I say?

Turned out the lady who sent me up to take photos of his cannery was his sister, and thankfully I remembered her name. So all was forgiven, sort of. And I did give him a matted copy of the photo, which seemed to mollify him a bit. At least I got a smile out of him.

Just last week an old fisherman told me about a cannery hidden away in the Brownsmead area. It took a lot of driving around in circles, but I did, indeed find it. And a very fine old building it is, indeed. I was so captivated I took dozens of photos of it.

Now the trend seems to be to take old canneries and modernize them, like Pier 39 and the Red Building near the Cannery Pier Hotel. I guess it's a good thing, but I'm not totally convinced. I'm just glad I got photos of the Red Building before it got completely yuppified. Truth be told, I liked it better in its original form. I didn't see Pier 39 before the renovation, except in old photos, so I have no idea how much was really changed.

So many canneries have just disappeared. I hope I can photograph the ones that are left before they do, too.

Click here to see Elleda's photography at the Astoria Photografpix web site


Jaypea said...

I grew up 7 miles from Astoria and really enjoy every return visit. I share your hope that Big Red can be repaired before the next big storm. One of our neighbors was a farmer who gillnetted. His bowpicker was moored with others just like those portrayed in the postcard at the top of your piece. He took my Dad, brother and me along on a few drifts a couple times in the early 60's. It seemed like a lot of work for a few fish to me then. Sometimes he would net over a ton of fish and if there was a by catch of a few flounders, our family would share the "windfall". I think us kids liked them better than salmon at that point. As the years rolled by, the runs continued to deplete, the wooden buildings over the water maintained by generations of cooperative fishermen and/or canneries slipped into disrepair and one by one the storms took them out. Beach combing for planks and timbers became a popular pastime. Anyway I was preparing to do some painting last spring and what should I find in a Benjamen Moore color chart of Northwest colors but a nice picture of Big Red with a congregation of seagulls on the roof,

nootka said...

I just wanted to say hey.
I've picked up some of your photos at various events and places.
Enjoy them much.
Keep up the good work (reading through your older blogs now, too, and enjoying those as well).


Elleda said...

Hey Jaypea ...

Thanks for sharing the mini-history. You are so lucky to have been brought up in this area and to have seen how things were before the fishing industry started dying out - I can only imagine it, and it makes me heartsick as I see these old canneries falling into the river.

Hi Nootka,

I'm delighted you enjoy my photos! Thanks for telling me, and for taking the time to read my blog. And now, I'm reading yours ...