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Remnants of cannery get historic protection

ASTORIA  — One of the last remnants of Astoria's heyday as a cannery town will get historic protection.

The old White Star Cannery boiler, an iconic, rusty scrap that rises out of the Columbia River west of Second Street, was designated a local landmark Tuesday night by the city's Historic Landmarks Commission.

The historic designation also covers wood pilings that were used to prop up cannery buildings and ballast rock that would help steady wooden ships.

Rosemary Johnson, a special projects planner for the city, described the waterfront scene off Second Street as among the few places along the river that evoke Astoria's cannery past and have not been destroyed by fire, storms or demolition.

The White Star Cannery, which became part of the Van Camp Seafood label famous for making tuna the "Chicken of the Sea," burned down in 1973, leaving the exposed boiler as a lone symbol of a bygone era.

The red, ramshackle Uppertown Net Loft over the river at 31st Street, the Bumble Bee remnants at Pier 39, and a net loft in Alderbrook are among the city's other remaining cannery icons.

"We've had multiple requests over the years, so people see it as important," Johnson said of the old White Star Cannery boiler, wood pilings and ballast rock, "but without the designation you could lose every bit of it."

The historic designation, combined with the land-use restrictions in the Bridge Vista phase of the city's Riverfront Vision Plan, preserves both the old boiler and the expansive views of the river and the Astoria Bridge.

New development is essentially limited to docks and piers no higher than the riverbank and would have to take the historic nature of the old boiler, pile field and ballast rock into consideration, obstacles that would discourage most projects. The Historic Landmarks Commission, which applied for the historic designation, would also have to approve the projects, adding another layer of protection.

After some convincing by Johnson, the Oregon Department of State Lands, which owns the property, agreed to the historic designation. Jill Stokeld, who owns The Ship Inn off Second Street and leases the property to protect views for her fish and chips restaurant, endorsed the idea. The Columbia House Homeowners Association, which represents waterfront condominium owners off Second Street, also supported preservation.

The city hopes to eventually have an interpretive sign that explains the history of the site.

Ironically, Astoria, which wants to preserve a working waterfront and protect cultural and architectural history, now has development restrictions off Second Street that would prohibit another cannery to rise where the White Star Cannery burned down.

Jack Osterberg, who serves on the Historic Landmarks Commission, said he is not necessarily in favor of preserving every set of pilings or leftover ballast rock along the waterfront as historic.

The old boiler and other remnants have unique character and important elements, he said, that are "worthy of historic designation and protection."