Biking past the Jantzen Beach fire

By the time I heard about the big fire, it was too late to see flames filling the nighttime sky. Two hours after the five-alarm fire was brought under control, when we drove across the Interstate Bridge on our way to church, the flames had disappeared, but the twisted ruins of the vacant Thunderbird on the River Hotel complex on Jantzen Beach-Hayden Island were clearly evident.

Three days later, fire fighters were still shooting plumes of water into smoldering, smoking hot spots.

Since its construction in 1971, this hotel has held down what once was a prime location on the Oregon end of this important bridge over the Columbia River. Even in these recent years, when it has been vacant, surrounded by chain link, and increasingly forlorn in appearance, it has riveted my attention on my frequent bike trips over the river.
Its demise has come about because newer, more efficient motels have been built near by, increasing the competition. Business plans change and once desirable properties lose their appeal.

In the case of the former Thunderbird, however, a major factor is continuing uncertainty about the proposed Columbia River Crossing, the $4 billion new bridge that is supposed to be built during the coming decade. The design for the bridge has not yet been determined nor has its exact footprint as it crosses Hayden Island where the hotel is located.

It’s too early to determine why the complex of buildings burned down. A crew of inspectors, chemists, and arson dogs has already begun their investigation of the ruins. Presumably, the demolition and removal of these ruined structures will get started fairly soon.

There will be lot’s to watch as I continue my rides across the I-5 bridge.

4 Responses to Biking past the Jantzen Beach fire

  1. Bob Cornwall says:

    The report of the fire takes me back to my youth. We stayed at that very hotel on several occasions when we visited Portland. Great location on the river. There goes my youth!!

    • Bob, I remember being in the hotel only once, and that was for a Rotary lunch in the late 1990s when we were visiting our Vancouver family. There’s a lot of suspicion about the cause of the fire. The current owner hadn’t paid property taxes since 2008 (the hotel closed three years earlier). There was an aborted effort to build a super Wal-Mart on the site, which would have added an even greater amount of congestion to the bridge and the access routes leading to it. I am one of many people glad that that effort failed.

  2. Gene Hill says:

    When did this fire happen? How terrible! I remember being there once as an NCC student in the early 70s, and then later for a dinner while judging the Miss Washington Pageant. Also, aren’t there stores – mall-type – around the hotel now?

    • Gene, the fire was called in about 3:00 am Sunday, Sept 2. Southbound lanes on I-5 were closed down from 3:15-6:00, and the fire was brought under control about 7:00 am. It was a five alarm fire, the largest fire in Portland for over a decade. There are big box stores on Janzten Beach, but not close to the hotel. Greater risk was to a residential neighborhood immediately to the west. Some demolition is already taking place, partly to allow the inspectors safer access as they try to ascertain the cause.

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