Hood River waterfront endures many transformations

Riverfront Retrospective

“And it goes on and on, watching the river run/

further and further from things that we’ve done/

Leaving them one by one.”

— “Watching the River Run”

Loggins and Messina

The history of Hood River’s waterfront is not something this community can totally leave behind; past uses and planning efforts affect what goes on today and will continue to do so. The history of the waterfront has never been more important to understand than it is now, with the public debate rising, at times, like a wind-blown February froth.

To bring the community up to date, Hood River News presents again a 1998 article written by Paige Rouse of Hood River, updated by news staff writer Esther Smith.

Here, then, is part one of a four-part retrospective on Hood River’s Columbia River front.

Waterfront development has been a topic with many viewpoints in the community for the last decade, as the port and city have undergone a comprehensive process of rezoning the remaining acres of developable land near the Columbia shoreline.

Throughout the sixties and seventies, however, “waterfront development” meant the creation of usable acres of landfill along the city’s waterfront.

This land, prior to the dam, had been submersible sandbars and marshland, with limited use due to its irregular flooding. Various enterprises like potato farming and cattle running took place amid saw mills and log ponds.

A sandbar in the river also was used as the area’s first airstrip. The river was generally mucky and unsanitary, particularly with sewage and refuse.

When the Bonneville Dam was built in Cascade Locks, the U.S. government purchased easements to flood the low lying lands along the Columbia River, reserving title to the various owners.

Though the Port of Hood River had been formed in 1933 to help create industry along the Columbia basin, it was not until after the purchase of the bridge in 1950 that the port had the necessary working capital to take up this task. In 1950, the electric power produced by the Bonneville system, which by then had expanded to a number of dams, was in great excess of the needs of the Northwest. The Bonneville Power Administration developed plans and means by which this power could be used, including bringing industries to the Northwest.

In the mid-fifties, the port made several significant property acquisitions along the waterfront, while securing the services of environmental planners and engineers to prepare plans for waterfront development. Financial assistance was forthcoming by the federal government, and the active cooperation of the State of Oregon, federal government, Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration, which helped the port bring its plans to fruition. The filling of the river in phases commenced in 1959 and continued through 1971. Over this period, the port developed around 200 acres of waterfront, expending approximately $2.9 million over the twelve year period.

The first phase, where the present Hood River Inn exists, had been the location of the Oregon Lumber Company until the early 1920s, and later a camp for migrant fruit workers.

The land immediately west of the bridge continued to be used as a log pond for the Oregon Lumber Co., which had relocated to Dee. Both of these areas were subject to spring flooding. According to the port’s masterplan, recreational and commercial uses were recommended for these sites, since no rail access existed.

The property where the Hood River Inn is now located was filled and sat vacant for a period of approximately five years, while the port heard several proposals for its use, including a sawmill, trailer park, and truck stop. The port turned down the inital proposals but not without some criticism. When the Hood River Village was built in 1964, by Rogers Construction, which later leased its operation to Eddie Mays Inn, the port commission was accused of having provided public lands for a luxury motel that would never be used by the public.

The log dump continued to operate intermittently immediately west of the bridge approach, in the area intended to become a recreational boat marina. Immediately in front of Hood River, approximately 500 stumps were visible that were left by the government at the time of the Bonneville Dam erection. A handful of boat houses were moored in questionable sanitary conditions, by residents resisting local orders to move. Nichols Boat Works ran a small operation that made primarily log boom boats and assisted in the storage and movement of logs in the river.

This was the area designated as the Waterfront Industrial Park, and the only one in the Bonneville Pool with potential access to railroad, interstate highway, and river barge transportation. The first development in this area was the commercial boat basin used by barges and Nichols Boat Works. The Hood River Sewage Treatment Plant was also built.

During those times, the port commission had the mission of recruiting businesses to bring to its newly created industrial park. As the industrial park was created, the Jucho building, later known as the “Blue Building,” was developed. Then came Fibermold, the Jantzen knitting mills plant, Hood River Distillers, the United Telephone service building, and Diversified Plastics. In 1975, the Western Power Products building was constructed on port property north of the sewage treatment plant. In 1976, the port reached a lease agreement with local fishing lure manufacturer, Luhr Jensen, to expand on the northeast corner of the property.

When the waterfront land was developed, all utilities were placed underground. No on-street parking was permitted, and sign controls and landscaping requirements were more strict than those of the city. As a matter of policy, the port limited every industry to not more than 10 acres, and refrained from locating two industries of the same type at the industrial site. These policies were intended to protect the community from suffering industry-related economic recessions.

Port efforts, in many cases, were not enough to keep many of those earlier industrial park tenants located in Hood River. Even though the port was at times very lenient with their terms to help them stay in business and keep jobs here, many of the manufacturers succumbed to the competitive times.

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