[Photo 1: Owens-Adair]

ASTORIA - When you think of historic preservation you probably picture 18th century row houses, 19th century barns and early 20th century commercial strips run-down, probably vacant, often disfigured and in desperate need of being brought back with a lot of hard work and even more tender, loving care, to the glorious things they were designed, built and, for at least a while, maintained to be.

But you almost certainly don't think of broken arms.

Except, maybe, in Astoria, a city of 9,500 on the banks of the Columbia River just a few miles from where it flows into the Pacific. In 1980 Clatsop County's Board of Commissioners established a housing authority to provide the "leadership, partnership, and provision of resources" needed to "create expanded opportunities" for Astoria "residents' access to safe, clean and affordable housing."

The Clatsop County Housing Authority moved, using a HUD grant to acquire its first property the very same year - the former St. Mary's Hospital at 1508 Exchange Street in downtown Astoria that had first opened its doors in 1933. Almost as quickly and in collaboration with the Northwest Oregon Housing Authority, the Authority converted the 4-story building into 46, one-bedroom apartments for low-income elderly and disabled residents. Subsidized by HUD project-based rental assistance, the complex - now named the Owens-Adair in honor of one of Oregon's first female physicians has remained affordable ever since with residents paying no more than 30 percent of their limited incomes to rent.

But clocks tick, time passes and buildings, like people, age. Most residents probably noticed it first in the building's more than 250 original, wood-frame windows. They leaked. And leaked and leaked and leaked. Worse, opening and closing them was hazardous duty. Just ask the elderly woman whose arm was broken when her just-opened window didn't hold.

[Photo 2: Wood windows showing their age]
Wood windows showing their age

The Authority knew it had to do something - and fast. It had set-aside some funds for just such an emergency. The project went out to bid. One came in for $680,000 and called for replacing the old windows with brand-new, energy-efficient, wood windows. Another bid called for vinyl windows. Two problems, though. First, the Authority hadn't set aside enough funds. Second, Owens-Adair was on the National Register of Historic Places. Vinyl windows were a no-no.

Fortunately, there was another bid, the lowest, for just $259,000 from a firm in nearby Canby. It proposed not to replace, but repair the existing wooden windows - "a few at a time," a City planner noted, to avoid inconveniencing residents - and modify them only to accommodate double-paned glass. Within a month of installation, the "new" windows had cut energy costs by $1,000.

A winner on all counts. Residents were now both safe against the weather and falling windows. Project costs were cut $420,000. And the historical integrity of Owens-Adair had been maintained. Proof, the planner noted, that "historic preservation can be the right solution."

The Oregon State Historic Preservation Office which had worked with the Authority to address the issue certainly agreed. So much so, that in 2012 it conferred an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award on the Authority for "its excellent work in making the Owens-Adair building safer and more energy efficient while retaining the building's historic character."

Three of the state's seven 2012 Heritage Awards went to Astoria. Something in the water? Nope. Just the values of the community notes The Daily Astorian, reflecting "the North Coast's smart embrace of history. We lead the West Coast when it comes to marrying our rich past with a promising future."


Content Archived: April 4, 2014