If you go
Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce. 111 W. Marine Drive, Astoria; www.travelastoria.com, 503-325-6311.
There’s a moment near the climax of “The Goonies” movie when Mikey, played by Sean Astin, is confronted with the thought that one of his group of friends may have been killed, and he exclaims, “Don’t say that! Never say that! Goonies never say die!” Those simple words have become the mantra for a generation of “Goonies” fans from all over the world.
If you go
Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce. 111 W. Marine Drive, Astoria; www.travelastoria.com, 503-325-6311.
“Goonies Never Say Die” is emblazoned on T-shirts and other memorabilia from Los Angeles to Tokyo, Paris to Sydney — and never so much as it was in Astoria on the first weekend of this month.
Astoria was the primary filming location for the 1985 youth adventure movie, produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Richard Donner. Popular but not a smash hit when it was released, its staying power has made it a cult favorite and a testament to the fans it has won around the world. They arrived in droves — from Australia, from Japan, from South Africa and from all over Europe — for the 30th anniversary reunion of “The Goonies.”
Spielberg himself wrote the story of “The Goonies,” a group of misfit friends who, upon finding a long-lost pirate map in the attic of a house doomed to foreclosure, set out to find the legendary treasure to keep their home. Along the way, they encounter a villainous family of counterfeiters, a misshapen creature named Sloth and a hidden sea grotto where the mythical ship of the notorious One-Eyed Willie is nestled.
The Goonie House, as it’s now known, was on a hillside at the east end of Astoria. The bad guys broke out of the Clatsop County Jail, now the Oregon Film Museum. And the cave was beneath Ecola State Park at Cannon Beach, in the vicinity of Haystack Rock.
“The Goonies” was a launching pad for the careers of Astin (“Lord of the Rings,” “Rudy”) and Josh Brolin (“No Country for Old Men,” “Milk”), in particular. Astin was 13 at the time of filming; Brolin, who played his older brother, Brand, was 16.
Neither of those future stars was in attendance at the June 4-7 event. But Jeff Cohen, who played Chunk, a pivotal character as an irritatingly chatty fat kid, visited and provided insight on the filming. Supporting actor Curt Hanson (developer Elgin Perkins), stuntman Randell Widner (Sloth’s double) and others involved with the production also mingled with the thousands of visitors who came to Astoria specifically to celebrate “The Goonies.”
As I explored Astoria on this “Goonies” weekend — attending events from the beautifully restored 1922 Liberty Theater to the city armory (renamed “The Goondocks” as festival headquarters) — I met people from near and far, including one Italian man who said he visits every year. I was never in the target age bracket for this movie, so I wondered: What is this fascination with “The Goonies” all about?
Perhaps young people of the time, feeling their own teenage angst, were able to identify with one or more of the characters. There was Mikey (Astin), smart and curious; Brand (Brolin), striving to fit into a world of “jocks”; and Chunk (Cohen), still remembered for dancing the Truffle Shuffle. Their friends included Mouth (Corey Feldman), the cynic; Stef (Martha Plimpton), the intellectual; Data (Ke Huy Quan), the brainiac; Andi (Kerri Green), the boy-crazy cheerleader; and even the pathetic but lovable Sloth (John Matuszak), released from his chains.
“I think ‘Goonies’ holds up because (director Richard Donner) made it as real as possible,” said Cohen, who transitioned from a career as a child actor to become a film-industry attorney in Beverly Hills. “Dick really encouraged us to be natural, to talk like kids talk and to improvise. He really was a father figure.”
Ten-year-old Cohen, as curly-haired Chunk, dressed clown-like in plaid pants and a Hawaiian shirt for much of the movie. Forty-year-old Cohen, a balding lawyer and author, bears a far more dignified appearance. And he rarely performs the Truffle Shuffle. “It takes three martinis,” he confessed.
On the festival Friday night, as I dined on tuna carpaccio and poached ling cod in the dining room of Astoria’s harborside Baked Alaska restaurant, Cohen was seated in the establishment’s lounge for its weekly “trivia night.” With him was filmmaker Michael Alderman, an Astoria native who had interned with Donner during production of “The Goonies.” Certainly, mere amateurs would be no match for this daring duo when it came to fielding 20 “Goonies” questions.
As it turned out, they got only 13 of 20 correct. As they only occasionally revisit the movie with which they were once so intimately involved, they have nothing on lifelong “Goonies” students who memorize every scene and every line. A four-way tie for first (Cohen and Alderman didn’t qualify) was settled with the question, “What kind of ice cream did Chunk find in the freezer with the dead body?” The answer was Swensen’s. “I could have sworn it was Haagen-Dazs,” Cohen said.
While “Goonies” weekend is huge every year, and especially on five-year anniversaries, Astoria visitors can take in the sights any time.
A good place to start is the Oregon Film Museum. The old jailhouse — built in 1914 and operating until 1976, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It opened as a museum five years ago and places emphasis on memorabilia from “The Goonies” and other films shot in Astoria, including “Kindergarten Cop,” “Short Circuit” and “Free Willy.”
In all, more than 300 movies have been wholly or partly shot in Oregon, according to the museum archives. And museum visitors can pick up a “set pass” to produce their own film clip, either as stars or cinematographers.
The Flavel House, its flamboyant Victorian exterior depicted as the Perkins home, is just up the hill from the Film Museum. Owned by the Clatsop County Historical Society, this former bar pilot’s home is a fine period museum. The historical society also operates the Heritage Museum, directly adjacent to the Astoria Armory where “The Goondocks” was headquartered.
One of the most popular destinations for fans of the movie is the Goonies house. In actual fact, it’s the home of Sandi Preston, who bought the once-rundown residence on foreclosure in late October 2001. “The house was built in 1896,” she told me. “When Warner Bros. chose it for the film, they put a lot of money into it. They also added windows to enhance the view.”
Although Preston opens the house to the public only on rare occasions — such as “Goonies” anniversaries — she said she counts about 1,000 visitors a day in summer. They climb a gravel driveway from dead-end 38th Street after parking three blocks away at the Astor Elementary School, better known for its scenes in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Kindergarten Cop.” With rare exceptions, she said, those visitors are respectful of her privacy.
The principal events venues during the “Goonies” celebration were the Liberty Theater and the Astoria Events Center. The former location hosted a pair of lectures by Cohen, titled “Growing Up Goonie,” and various private receptions. The Events Center presented not only a half-dozen industry panels, but also a Goonies Block Party and Dance, featuring ’80s music, fashions and, of course, the Truffle Shuffle Contest.
The tall ship “Lady Washington” welcomed small groups of landlubbers aboard for two-hour sails in the Columbia River mouth throughout the festival. Cannon Beach hosted a 5K run on the beach and an evening bonfire. The “One-Eyed Willy Treasure Hunt,” a geocaching event, encouraged visitors’ exploration of Astoria. A variety of merchants sold their wares, including plush “Goonies” dolls and movie posters, at an ’80s Con exhibition in the armory.
The final evening’s event was a farewell to Warren Field, where cheerleader Andi shook her pompoms. The former high-school football stadium is scheduled to be demolished for an expansion of the community hospital, which stands adjacent. Americana band The Whiskey Rebellion performed a set that included an ode to the Goonies, and at sundown, the movie was presented on a giant screen behind the stage.
I like Astoria any time of year, Goonies or not. Few places in the Pacific Northwest have the history of this city of 9,500.
Astoria is the oldest white settlement in the Northwest. It was established in 1811, when a party of settlers assigned by New York fur merchant John Jacob Astor sailed into the mouth of the Columbia to establish a trading post.
Their chosen location was within an echo of Fort Clatsop, where explorers Lewis and Clark had wintered in 1805-1806 following their epic journey across the North American continent. Today that reconstructed fort, a few miles south of downtown, is headquarters for Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which comprises multiple sites of importance to the legendary expedition.
The first U.S. post office west of the Rockies opened in Astoria in 1847. As logging and fishing became the economic foundation, scores of northern Europeans, especially Swedes and Finns, settled in the river town. So did Chinese, who went to work in the canneries. Although fires in 1883 and 1922 destroyed downtown Astoria, which was built mainly on wood pilings above riparian marshland, the town bounced back.
In the years following World War II, 30 salmon canneries operated in Astoria — locals referred to the omnipresent stench as “the smell of money” — and the wood-products industry was strong. The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway ran regular service between Astoria and Portland. But the last cannery closed in 1980, the plywood mill shut down in 1989 and the railroad discontinued service in 1996.
Times were bleak. But the town bounced back, led by native son Jake Jacob. In 2005, he built the Cannery Pier Hotel, a luxury boutique inn, on an abandoned cannery site beneath the towering Astoria-Megler Bridge, which connects the city to Washington. A waterfront trolley system that began operating in 1913 on a 2½-mile route, but which hadn’t been in business more than 50 years, was restored to service. The grand Liberty Theater, once a vaudeville movie palace, reopened in 2005 and now hosts concerts and theatrical performances.
The Columbia River Maritime Museum, founded in 1962, was expanded and rededicated in 2002. The best of its kind in the Northwest, it exhibits sailing and fishing vessels of all sizes, and tells of shipwrecks, the salmon industry, lighthouses and navigational tools. Exhibits define the importance of the Coast Guard, which stages between 300 and 400 maritime rescues each year in this area, either by air or boat.
A great overlook is atop 600-foot Coxcomb Hill. Crowning this crest is the Astoria Column, currently encased in scaffolding and plastic during restoration. Normally this 125-foot tower — painted in Italian renaissance style with a spiraling sculpture that depicts historical events — welcomes visitors who want to climb its 164 steps to an observation deck. This summer, they must be satisfied with the hilltop panorama.
East of town on Pier 39, the 1875 J.O. Hanthorn Cannery has been restored. Besides a Rogue Brewery pub, a dive shop and the charming Coffee Girl cafe, it has displays that recall its past life as a Bumble Bee processing plant.
Nearby on the East Mooring Basin (Pier 36), a large herd of California sea lions, numbering in the hundreds, may be found lounging and barking, day and night. Tourists love them; the city of Astoria does not. They devour the salmon and smelt runs. They prevent residents from using the docks, which they are slowly destroying. Each year, they cost the port an estimated $35,000 in lost fees.
“Goonies” weekend visitors were treated, if that’s the word, to viewing the most recent attempt by the Port of Astoria to disperse the pinnipeds. On that Thursday evening, a motorized replica of a killer whale, a creature that preys on sea lions, was launched with a solo pilot aboard, accompanied by a support vessel. But the effort was doomed to failure.
The engine died. A tow rope snapped. The faux orca flipped, forcing its pilot to leap to safety. Eventually, the waterlogged machine was dragged to a pier — among the sea lions. By morning, the creatures were lounging upon it.
The entire fiasco was very, um, Goonie.
— Reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org