ASTORIA — In 1926, the Astoria Budget announced contractors Uhrbrand and Berwick were remodeling the old Elmore mansion, one of Astoria’s landmarks, into a 13-unit apartment complex. In order to accommodate third floor living spaces, the venerable home’s hip roof was removed, then replaced by a taller, mansard-like roof.
Today, the apartments retain elements from both its original construction and historic remodel: high ceilings; wood moldings; huge double-hung windows; cast, ceiling-hung light fixtures; wall-mounted intercoms once used to receive guests or contact the janitor; and three, capped fireplaces.
The mansion was constructed in 1891 for Charles and Annie Page. He was an attorney, county judge, Astoria mayor and founder of the Astoria Savings Bank. She stood at the pinnacle of Astoria’s social stratum. In 1896, they divorced, she kept the house and eventually married one of the bank’s bookkeepers, William Wilkinson. The newlyweds embarked on a two-year European excursion, then returned to Astoria and incorporated a real estate firm. Annie invested in speculative housing and constructed three row houses adjacent to her home.
In 1905, the Wilkinsons sold their home to Samuel and Mary Elmore who owned the world’s largest salmon cannery and The Daily Astorian. After Samuel’s death in 1910, Mary continued to manage the cannery’s interest. In addition, she was widely known for her work on the board of the Astoria Public Library, founding the YMCA, and volunteering for the Red Cross among other social causes. When she died in 1924, she was thought to be one of Oregon’s most prominent philanthropists.
Ninety-one years later, the Elmore Apartments remain a consistent, viable housing solution for scores of Astorians. The apartments are owned by Dan Hauer who purchased the property from his parents in 2002. While growing up, he assisted his father, Ed Hauer, with mowing, painting and basic repairs around the building.
Hauer attests to the popularity of the apartments, several of them housing long term tenants. “Most of my tenants are here through word-of-mouth. I haven’t had to advertise in years,” he asserted. “I have a variety of tenants: families, couples, young, old and in between. Some work downtown, others go to the college.”
He manages the property himself and is literally a part of the neighborhood. Hauer and his family live next door, in one of Wilkinson’s row houses.
Although the building’s upkeep starts with “grand plans,” the reality is more basic. “As apartments open up, I paint the walls and install a new carpet,” Hauer conceded. Larger projects, such as roofing and exterior painting, take “years and years” of saving money before work can begin. “My ‘want to do’ list is longer than my time and money,” he said.
Nevertheless, one of his first projects was to install a fire alarm system. He hired his father’s firm, Hauer’s Cyclery & Locksmith, to do the installation. Since then, he laid an IB membrane roof, “ran the gamut” of plumbers and electricians, and hired Scott Still to paint the exterior. The paint job, commenced last summer, will continue this year. Still — who preps and paints a building as if it were fine furniture — promises to highlight the building’s Queen Anne details.
As Hauer works his way down a check list, he’s had the opportunity to see the structure up close. “I see the extra detail of the house,” he said. “The more I do, the more impressed I am with the craftsmanship, the old growth and all the wood details.”
“This is one of the neat buildings in town. It has its own character and feel and I want to keep that going,” he added. “I feel like I am a caretaker of the building.”
For more information about renovating an old home or commercial building, visit the Lower Columbia Preservation Society website at lcpsociety.com.