Columbia River Maritime Museum


Maritime Research Center

Interior of the retail side of the buildling is just over 11,000 square feet

The Columbia River Maritime Museum has taken advantage of an unexpected bankruptcy sale to acquire the Astoria Builders Supply property adjacent to the Museum. The buildings of this former hardware store and lumber yard provide an unparalleled opportunity for the Museum to create one of the finest, state-of-the-art, secure and climate-controlled collections storage facilities of any maritime museum in the United States. It will also free up 1,350 square feet of gallery space in the Museum that is currently being used to store especially sensitive collections.

The Astoria Builders Supply property has two buildings, built in 2002, whose interiors total 29,941 square feet on one acre of land. The buildings and grounds are in still-new condition and require only a few minor changes to be put to immediate use by the Museum.

The 3-story 18,641 sq. ft. main building is perfect for small artifact storage and for temporary and traveling exhibits, and will provide for collections storage for the next 50 years. Because of its versatility, the building can accommodate special collections, fine arts storage, make a conservation laboratory possible, and allow expansion of the Museum’s library and archives. In addition, there is space for future Museum offices and a third floor apartment with a separate entrance, that will provide lodging for visiting scholars and instructors at the Barbey Maritime Center.

The neighboring 11,300 square foot, high-ceilinged warehouse will provide excellent storage for large-scale artifacts and the Museum’s growing collection of regionally important boats.

Museum Collections

The mission of the Columbia River Maritime Museum is to collect, preserve, and interpret the maritime culture of the Columbia River, its tributaries, and the waters of the North Pacific for the education and enjoyment of the public. The collection is the Museum’s most important and valuable asset, the foundation for all of its other work.

Beginning in 1962 with the personal collection of Rolf Klep, the Museum’s founder, the collection has grown from just a few thousand items to one of the largest collections of maritime-related materials in the United States. The Columbia River Maritime Museum was the first museum in Oregon to be fully accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Accreditation was largely due to the Museum’s commitment to the care of its collection, including provision for their secure and climate-controlled storage.

Ranging from the mundane to the magnificent, the collection includes more than 40,000 large and small artifacts, including 50 boats and 250 models; at least 9,000 books, journals, logs, business records, periodicals, and manuscripts; more than 21,000 photographs and 143 paintings; and more than 2,000 plans, maps and charts, some dating from the 16th century.

The Museum’s collection is used extensively for research on films, master’s and doctoral theses, and for books such as Michael E. Haglund’s recent The World’s Most Dangerous – A History of the Columbia River Bar, and Nathaniel Philbrick’s award winning Sea of Glory.

One of the most important functions of the collection is to provide the materials for present and future exhibits that tell stories about the history of the region to the general public while providing an entertaining and educational experience.

Intricate and exquisite ship models tell the story of discovery and exploration by Captains Robert Gray, George Vancouver, James Cook, and others. Large lumps of beeswax recovered from Oregon coast beaches form the foundation for the story about Spanish galleons and their trading voyages across the Pacific in the 1500s. Native American and Western fishing gear and boats are used to interpret the role of salmon in the maritime heritage of the Columbia River and the Pacific Northwest, and pilot boats and Coast Guard rescue craft help tell the story of the dangerous Columbia River Bar.

The Museum’s collection continues to grow. For example, in 2010 Henry and Holly Wendt gave the Museum a magnificent collection of 29 maps and charts, plus 18th century publications of the journals of Captain James Cook, Captain John Meares, and Sir Alexander Mackenzie. Dating from 1544 to 1801, these represent the resources used by President Thomas Jefferson in making his decision to send Lewis and Clark on their journey of discovery across North America, ending at the mouth of the Columbia River. Without secure, climate-controlled storage, we would not have this wonderful collection.

Among the more mundane but important recent gifts are 61 boxes of receipts and business records of the Elmore Cannery, an early 1900s Astoria salmon canning business. While less exciting than old maps and beautiful models, these old, and often exquisitely engraved documents, preserve an important aspect of the economic and social history of the region.

Materials like these are important to collect and preserve, but now, after 50 years of collecting, the Museum’s storage space is nearly at capacity. While existing Museum collections are safe and climate control is excellent, the collections are crowded together, making access difficult and offering little room for growth. Now, with proper storage space, our accreditation status with the American Alliance of Museums will be secure, and our reputation and our ability to attract important collections strong.

The importance of the Astoria Builders Supply (ABS) property to the Museum’s ability to continue to add to its collections is illustrated by three recent gifts that occurred as the Museum was negotiating for the purchase of the site:

  • Mike Wollaston, of Seattle, has offered the Museum his collection of more than 80 marine engines that are an important part of the history of maritime technology. This gift will make the Museum’s collection of marine engines one of the best in the country and the largest of its kind on the Pacific Coast. Without the space available in the ABS we would not be able to accept this collection.
  • The second is a gift from John Clemson of twelve fine 1920 and 1930s era freighter and navy ship models. Built with great attention to detail, these are a valuable addition to our existing model collection and will allow the Museum to more completely tell the story of commercial and military shipping on the Columbia River. Without the new space of the ABS property we would not have been able to accept this collection.
  • Finally, there is the Sai-sho-maru, the 20-foot Japanese abalone fishing boat that washed up on the shores of the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington State one week after the two-year anniversary of the Japanese tsunami of March, 11, 2011. On permanent loan to the Museum from the Washington State Department of Parks with the approval of the boat’s owner, 72 year old Katuo Saito of the island of Honshu, this boat will connect the Museum directly to the maritime culture of Japan and enable the Museum to tell the story of tsunamis, ocean currents, and gyres. Without the space available in the ABS property we would not have been able to add this boat to our collection.

Project Financing

Valued at $3.1 million, the Astoria Builders Supply property came on the market for $1,799,000 in a bankruptcy sale. The Board recognized that the one acre complex would solve the Museum’s immediate and long-term expansion needs, and on January 25, unanimously approved its purchase. Although the Museum has historically operated without debt on a pay-as-you-go basis, the Board agreed to short-term bridge financing from Columbia Bank for this important project. This loan enabled the Museum to close the purchase on time without using any Museum reserves and will be repaid by fundraising.

Project Expenses

The ABS buildings can be used immediately to accommodate the Museum’s collections.
Immediate set-up expenses are estimated to be $57,000. These include the costs of changing locks, adding new signage, repairing one of the large rollup doors, and $50,000 to hire industrial professionals to move the boats and other large, heavy artifacts. Start-up expenses will be covered by targeted fundraising, not by financing from Columbia Bank. In addition to immediate set-up expenses, there are several improvements to be made before moving collections into the Astoria Builders Supply buildings:

  • Install a sprinkler system in the main building.
  • Install industrial gas heaters and fans in the warehouse.
  • Purchase stationary and movable shelving to provide easy access to existing collections and to accommodate new material.

Project Funding

Funding for the acquisition of the Astoria Builders Supply property will come from individuals, corporations, and foundations.

Future Operating and Maintenance Expenses

The Astoria Builders Supply property is in excellent condition and will require only modest routine maintenance for years to come. Annual operating and maintenance expenses will be about $15,000 per year. This will be absorbed in the general operating budget of the Museum. No additional staff will be required and new shelving and equipment will be acquired by targeted fundraising. In time, tours of the collections and special exhibits in the buildings may generate income to offset building and collections maintenance costs.

Show Your Support

Your gift as a member or corporate sponsor will help bring this project to fruition. Please consider making a contribution to the Columbia River Maritime Museum today.

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