When Paul Caruana bought the Norblad Hotel in downtown Astoria in 2008, it was a mess. The roof leaked, the floors were a wreck and it had become better known for the presence of police than guests.
“It was like a drug den,” he said. “It was an interesting property.”
“Interesting” might be downplaying the issues, but Caruana and business partner Brian Faherty were able to see beyond the old carpet and electrical issues to the beautiful historic architecture that lay hidden underneath. By following that vision, he’s been able to transform the Norblad over the last 10 years into a hip, modern hotel that caters to a crowd looking for affordability over luxury.
The historic building in downtown Astoria was designed by famed local architect John Wicks and built in 1923 after a fire destroyed much of the town a year earlier. The original 36-room Norblad Hotel opened upstairs, run by Portland businessman George F. Norblad, while the primary ground-floor commercial space was occupied by the Bank of Commerce, decked out with marble floors and tall windows.
The Commercial style building was given flourishes of classical detailing. Two terracotta doorways were a rare addition, and the tin-pressed canopy was considered the finest in town. The building was listed in the National Register for Historic Places in 1998 as part of the Astoria Downtown Historic District, but by then it had been taken over by what locals described as “sketchy clientele,” its original architecture covered up or neglected.
It was a wrong Caruana wanted to right.
Jamie Hale/The Oregonian He and business partner Brian Faherty converted 15 rooms around the perimeter of the upper floor into stripped-down, minimalist hotel rooms, maintaining the other 16 on the interior as short-term residential units. Most rooms share hallway bathrooms and showers, and the small communal area near the front desk serves as a gathering place for everyone in the building. That approach isn’t for everyone, but if guests are willing to relinquish traditional hotel amenities – as well as a little privacy – the Norblad is able to keep nightly rates much lower than at most competing hotels, resorts and Airbnb rentals on the coast. The smaller “cabin” rooms run $59 to $99 per night, while the “suites” (which have private bathrooms) run $129 to $159 per night, with rates fluctuating depending on the season and local events.
Jamie Hale/The Oregonian That approach “was really just to create a minimalist travelers hotel. Something where the prices were reasonable, where the rooms were stripped down to just what you need,” Caruana said. “If a person is willing to share the bathroom, their hotel room price is cut in half.” Beds in the rooms are all high-quality, but the Norblad’s stripped-down style encourages guests to get out of their rooms and into local businesses. Within a two-block radius of the hotel, visitors can find two breweries, three cafes, a food cart pod and several restaurants. It’s a short walk to the Astoria Riverwalk, or a quick drive to attractions like the Astoria Column. You won’t find any pamphlets or brochures advertising local businesses in your room, but the front-desk staff seems happy to offer a list of recommendations.