The First Presbyterian Church in Astoria is over 140 years old. The current location on Grande Avenue, known affectionately as the “Big Yellow Church,” is over 100 years old, having been built in 1903. The church is home to the Clatsop Food Pantry, the Astoria Conservatory of Music as well as Reach the Stars dance instruction and the Second Saturday Flea Market.
“The Congregation have been excellent stewards,” says Pastor Bill Van Nostran. The history of the First Presbyterian church is deeply rooted in Astoria. Originally located on the corner of 9th and Duane street near the downtown area, the church moved to its current location when the congregation grew large enough that it needed a new building. Congregation members Christina Flavel, wife of Capt. George Flavel of the Flavel mansion, and their daughters Katie and Nellie Flavel, donated the land for the church’s current location on Grand Avenue.
The architectural style of the church is a combination of the early 1900s Queen Anne and Carpenter Gothic also known as “stick style.” The architectural style is known for its use of wooden beams as opposed to stone, iron and other metals that were commonly used in previous decades. The church has some characteristics that are similar to European gothic or “Italianate” style churches and buildings, such as the parapets of the bell tower. But it also holds more modern features than its European counterparts, such as wood shingles on the roof and the heavy use of wood and concrete for the walls and foundation.
In its infancy the church also had, electricity, indoor plumbing, and central heating, which was all quite luxurious in 1903. In his will, Capt. George C. Flavel left the property and $4,000 for the construction of a new church for the congregation of Astoria’s Presbyterian Church. Although not a member of the congregation himself, George Flavel felt inclined to aid the congregation in finding a new home before he died.
The hilltop location of the church was particularly fortuitous in 1922, when the infamous Astoria Fire destroyed most of the downtown area and beyond. The church was protected partly by the hill and partly by the large ditch that was created by dynamiting a few buildings so that the fire would not spread.
A History and Future of Helping
Through the decades the congregation of the church have kept up the building beautifully by raising funds to buy various features of the church. This includes a pipe organ that is still used today, large stained glass windows by the Povy brothers of Portland, Oregon and more recently a new radiator. “Community and worship is what’s so important to us,” says Bill about the church’s many community outreach programs.
The church operates the Astoria Conservatory of Music. It was started 11 years ago under the direction of Lisa Nelson. The section of the church under the care of the Conservatory used to be a fellowship hall and classrooms for children’s Sunday school. When the number of children attending Sunday school lowered over the years, the church converted the building to create potential community outreach space.
The Astoria Conservatory of Music offers lessons in guitar, violin, drums, horns and more. The music teachers are residents of Clatsop County that hold the lessons in the grey building directly adjacent and attached to the sanctuary building. There are several classrooms, each with a music teacher’s name on it for students to learn their instrument in. Each classroom is also sound proofed so that simultaneous lessons may occur during after school hours.
The Clatsop Food Pantry has also been held at the First Presbyterian Church for over 40 years. It provides food to families and people in need. The food pantry resides in the basement of the church with a row of refrigerators and tables with fresh produce. Depending on the size of the household, people may take portions of food once a week.
“I’m really excited about the return of enthusiasm,” says Bill. “People are willing to invite their neighbors and their friends. Word of mouth is the best kind of news sharing there is.” In addition to the many community outreach programs, the church also hosts several scholarship funds, concerts and rents the building out for weddings, memorial services, and receptions. The First Presbyterian Church of Astoria gives back to their community through food, music, and love.