old photo gasco distant

Gas & Coke

by Jonathan Fine

The Gasco building, an abandoned concrete edifice built in 1913 by the Portland Gas & Coke Company, somehow manages a century later to be both grandiose and invisible.  At first sight, it provokes double-takes.  Three stories of poured concrete rise up with Gothic features to a clock tower that broadcasts a blank, mute circle where hands once spun and kept factory workers on task.  Moss has won the red slate roof, and grass and ferns have transformed the capacious copper gutters into lush planter boxes.  The several dozen first-floor windows, as tall as a man, are boarded up with plywood streaked with dirt-or perhaps it’s mold.  But higher up, many of the sash windows still have their panes-some unbroken, most jagged with holes.  Behind these windows lies unfathomable darkness.

Enclosed by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, the building seems built for a thousand-year occupancy.  now surrounded by newer, featureless industrial buildings, the Gasco building ostensibly to house administrative and lab workers, but also, it seems, to serve as a monument to itself.

The building sits almost directly under the St. Johns Bridge, which today dominates the landscape on this part of the Willamette River.  But the Gasco building predated the bridge by nearly 20 years and would easily have been the most impressive structure on this stretch of Highway 30, which follows the Willamette and then the Columbia River to the coastal town of Astoria.

 Written by Jonathan Fine

Also, check out Jonathan’s video about the Gasco builiding.