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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Transformative’ renovation aims to turn Astoria museum into world class attraction

An aerial view of Astoria, Oregon.  (Dreamstime)
By Jamie Hale The Oregonian

The Columbia River Maritime Museum is already one of the biggest and best museums on the Oregon coast, but a new renovation project aims to transform it into a “world class” attraction.

Headlined by the brand new 24,671-square-foot Mariners Hall, which will house exhibitions and educational spaces, the $30 million renovation project kicked off in March and is scheduled to wrap up by September 2026.

In that time, the museum will also remodel 11,000 square feet of existing galleries, which showcase Pacific Northwest maritime history, and create two new exhibits that showcase local Indigenous culture.

“It’s absolutely transformative and it’s very exciting,” executive director Bruce Jones said. “We’re part of a cultural renaissance in Astoria.”

That renaissance includes a $10 million expansion of the Oregon Film Museum, a $10.7 million renovation of the Astoria Library, and a $1.7 million renovation of the 100-year-old Liberty Theatre, he said – projects that aim to serve tourists and locals alike.

The maritime museum, between U.S. 30 and the banks of the Columbia River in downtown Astoria, aims to be a key part of that cultural scene, telling the stories of the people who have lived, worked and recreated on that water.

Since the museum’s last big remodel in 2002, its 26,000 square feet of gallery space has housed boats, artifacts, art and exhibits focused primarily on the last 200 years of maritime history. In that time, the museum has filled its roughly 30,000 square feet of warehouse space with other watercraft and artifacts that tell a deeper story.

“Those artifacts represent so many more stories that aren’t being told,” Jones said. “Almost everything we display in the new building is a story we’re not telling in our existing building.”

Those stories are all about people, he said, the mariners, explorers, sailors, fishermen, engineers, designers and cannery workers that help make up the area’s maritime culture. There will also be more stories told about the local Indigenous communities, who have had a presence on the lower Columbia River since time immemorial.

The two new Indigenous-focused exhibits are expected to open in existing, remodeled galleries this fall. “Cedar and Sea,” a permanent exhibit, will explore maritime traditions of Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest coast, while “ntsayka ili/i ukuk – This is Our Place,” a collaboration with the Chinook Indian Nation, will share Chinookan maritime culture seen through modern photography.

The exhibits are a significant expansion on the relatively small display of Indigenous culture that has previously been on exhibit at the museum.

“It’s a big gap we’ve had in our storytelling and we’re really excited to fill it,” Jones said. “We want to tell comprehensive stories about our maritime history of our region.”

The Columbia River Maritime Museum has been planning the renovation project since 2019, he said, buoyed by an anonymous $5 million gift in 2021. Fundraising efforts have brought in $24.4 million to date, according to the museum, which aims to secure the rest of the money by the end of 2025.