For 125 years, princesses, anchors and admirals have paraded through the streets of downtown Astoria through pouring rain, thick mist and searing heat in the Astoria Regatta Grand Land Parade.
“The parade is the cornerstone of the festival,” said Charlene Larsen, who has been involved with Regatta for 49 years.
Regatta kicks off Wednesday, Aug. 7, and runs through Saturday, Aug. 10, with historic traditions and celebrations including the Queen’s Coronation on Wednesday, Astoria-Warrenton Kiwanis Junior Parade on Thursday, Seaman’s Memorial and Admiral’s Reception on Friday with the Fun Run, Highwater Boat Parade and Columbia River Symphony pop’s concert concluding the festival on Saturday.
Initially established in 1894 as a way to celebrate the conclusion of a lucrative fishing season, the Regatta Festival has long brought citizens of Clatsop County together for more than a century.
It has also attracted a national and international audience throughout its history, including high-speed cigar boats from Florida and the Canadian and US Navy.
The festival continues to thrive because of the year-round dedication from local volunteers.
Nancy Kennell, a second generation Regatta Association member and current board member, has been involved with the festival since 2000. She, along with a small team of Regatta members, dedicated countless hours to the festival chaperoning events, listening to Regatta court speeches and organizing fundraisers.
This year, the team planned a bingo night that filled a local venue and raised nearly $3,000 for the festival. Kennell got the idea from her mother, Betty Cunningham, who chaired Regatta Bingo when she was on the board years ago. Cunningham and her best friend made the trip back to Astoria for the event.
“It becomes part of who you are,” said Kennell. “My mom’s 87 and she’s still helping.”
“It’s about who we are,” Kennell continued. “It’s a way of celebrating and sharing memories.
It’s something to be proud of.”
Documenting festival’s history
The anniversary has refocused Regatta members on documenting and archiving the festival’s history.
Irene Baltimore, one of this year’s Grand Marshals, spent weeks digitizing a comprehensive list of Regatta queens and dignitaries.
Regatta Board member Kevin Leahy donated archival photos and historic Anchor Club memorabilia of his mother’s to the festival.
To celebrate, the board designed a window display that highlights segments of the Regatta’s past in the former Thiel’s Music space on the corner of 14th and Commercial Streets.
Board member Melba O’Bryant’s handiwork is featured in one of the windows: a photo of a recent court dressed to match a massive cloth clown in colorful, polka-dot jackets.
O’Bryant remembered sowing all the jackets with a friend for the float. The fabric covered her entire living room.
Kennell was overwhelmed but not surprised by the help she received from neighbors while setting up the windows. One display features a mannequin in a classic 20th century Anchor Club uniform.
That mannequin was donated from a nearby store owner during the display’s setup.
“Only a small community takes care of you like that,” Kennell said. “Everybody steps up and helps for Regatta.”
Behind the windows, visitors can also see a 1936 silver baton used in Regatta parades, a plaque dedicated to the Astoria Drum and Bugle Corps from the Rose Festival and yellowing newspaper clippings from past coronations.
“If you have a history of an event, and you have a tangible history in those photographs and identifiers,” Larsen said, “then you get the whole story.”
“What you did in the past helps the future vision of a community,’’ Larsen said. “If you don’t know where you came from, how in the world do you know where you’re going?”