Interiors: Flavel House, Astoria, Oregon, circa 1886 (restored).

flavel 1

Above and below are some photos of a very interesting historical landmark in the city of Astoria, Oregon: the Flavel House, the retirement and extended family home of George Flavel, who was one of Astoria’s richest citizens in the late 19th century. Above is an image of the library which has been restored to its appearance around 1886, the year the house was completed and the Flavel family went to live there. You couldn’t find a more classic exemplar of the late Victorian interior style. Dark velvet curtains shroud windows covered in Venetian blinds made of pine; the blinds are original and have never been replaced since their installation 130 years ago. An overstuffed velvet-upholstered settee awaits perhaps a married couple to sit down and read a book or newspapers before dinner in the grand dining room. To the right is a more comfortable chair, the lounge chair of the late 19th century, which may have been where Captain Flavel caught up on his daily reading. Lamps of both oil and gas are visible. The rug on the floor is probably from Persia and very expensive. The only detail in this room that stands out as anachronistic is the wallpaper, which looks too modern to date from the reign of Queen Victoria.

flavel 2

Here is a view of the breakfast nook, just off the main dining room. These were all the rage in 19th century mansions: a place off the formal dining room where residents, and often the women of the house, could gather in the mornings for coffee and a simple breakfast. By the late 19th century what we today regard as “breakfast food,” as a distinct genre of meal choices, was firmly established; in the early 19th century especially in wealthy houses breakfast was usually leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, which in an era without refrigeration had to be eaten quickly before it went bad. While the china is very fine, note the furniture and furnishings of the breakfast nook are much less ostentatious than other rooms of the house. In the summers, especially in Oregon, meals might also have been taken on the veranda; the Flavel House has a porch that goes almost all the way around the perimeter of the house.

flavel 3

Here is one of the upstairs bedrooms in Flavel House, occupied by one of Flavel’s adult daughters. I don’t know how much of the furnishings are original to the house, but obviously they’re intended to resemble what this room must have looked like in the late 1880s. The wicker crib and child’s rocking chair are both pretty expensive and consistent with the period, but I think this room looks a little too neat for the abode of a new mother and baby. (Children were no less difficult and messy to handle in 1886 than today!) The glass case on the table contains some stuffed birds in a scene of dried vegetation, a form of art pretty common in the late 19th century. I like the simple design of the bed. The chair on the left, I suspect, is original to the house. Here again we see the pine Venetian blinds which are all throughout Flavel House. Although very attractive, even today they contribute to the feeling of the house itself as rather gloomy, especially for Oregon where cloudy days predominate throughout the year. My suspicion is that life in this mansion had both its advantages and drawbacks. As lavish and comfortable as it is, you could also easily imagine its inhabitants secretly finding it stifling or emotionally cold.

flavel 4

This is the bedroom of the house’s builder and proprietor, Captain George Flavel. You can’t see it but there’s a fireplace on the left–that’s what the rocking chair is facing. Like everything else in the house, the furnishing of this room is elegant but austere. You may notice that this picture cants to the left–as does, in fact, every other picture I took inside Flavel House. The reason? The house, built on a hill in downtown Astoria, is slowly settling at one corner and in another few decades will probably slide right down the slope. I show no exterior shots here, but I did notice the chimney was already braced with steel stays to prevent it from toppling over.

George Flavel earned his living and reputation as a boat pilot, guiding ships across the dangerous sandbars at the mouth of the Columbia River. From this activity, which he began in the 1840s, he eventually grew quite rich, investing in various other industries and ultimately becoming Astoria’s wealthiest and most powerful citizen. He had this house built for himself and his family after his retirement. It was completed in 1886. Flavel enjoyed only a few years in the house; he died in 1893, though his family continued to live in the house until the middle of the next century. Flavel House is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and it’s regarded as one of the coolest historic houses in Oregon.

All photos in this article are copyright (C) 2016 by Sean Munger, all rights reserved.
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