Robert “Jake” Jacob, a colorful character with an entrepreneurial spirit who had a hand in creating and preserving landmarks in his hometown of Astoria, died on Monday.
Jacob, 69, died of natural causes in his Astoria home, according to the Astoria Police Department.
Best known as the owner of the Cannery Pier Hotel, Jacob was also involved with the restoration of the Liberty Theatre and was key to bringing the Astoria Riverfront Trolley to the Astoria Riverwalk. The developer was also behind efforts to purchase the Astoria Armory and reopen it for rollerskating and community events, as well as the campaign to bring the Tourist No. 2, an old ferry, back to the city.
Jacob was born in Astoria and graduated from Astoria High School in 1967. He attended the University of Oregon and later joined the Army. He documented his misadventures as a young man in a memoir published this year with the title “I Wouldn’t Recommend This: What Not to Do Spring Term of Your Senior Year in College.”
In the memoir, he described how he moved back to Astoria after dropping out of college, a town that, he wrote, “I’d spent the last eight years trying to leave.”
That feeling changed in his later years. He became a staunch advocate for the town, coming up with one “crazy idea” after another.
“He could see things other people couldn’t see,” said Donna Quinn, director of sales and marketing for the Cannery Pier Hotel. She called Jacob a friend and a mentor. “He had a lot of funny, crazy ideas and he made some of them happen and others are now lost to us.”
Jacob struggled for most of his life with alcoholism. It was an issue he was candid about in his own writing. He tried to address it in many different ways, Quinn said.
Jacob described taking on numerous hobbies to distract himself from drinking, and checked in for treatment several times.
“I think we can have great compassion for that struggle that many people face,” Quinn said.
Jacob was also a generous man, known for freely giving money and support to others.
In the late 1990s, Steve Forrester, the now-retired publisher of The Daily Astorian, was part of a group that had long been interested in acquiring the Liberty Theatre and turning it into a performing arts center. He met Jacob and told him about the group’s troubles in working with the theater’s owner.
“Well, maybe I’ll buy it and sell it to you,” Forrester recalled Jacob saying. And that’s just what happened.
“Jake’s role in putting the Liberty Theatre into local ownership was pivotal and absolutely essential to the rebirth of downtown,” Forrester said.
“I thought that the idea of the Riverwalk with a trolley would be something great for the town,” Jacob wrote in an essay online about coming up with a plan for the Astoria Riverfront Trolley in the 1990s.
“One day I got a crazy idea and thought maybe there is a trolley out there somewhere that we can get for Astoria,” he wrote. “Problem was our budget was zero. But I figured that (somewhere) there was a broken-down trolley that needs to be rescued.”
They found one, in Gales Creek, 80 miles away. The trolley is now a fixture on the Riverwalk and a major draw for tourists.
In 2015, Jacob’s brother, Greg Jacob, organized a “roast and toast” in Jacob’s honor, telling The Daily Astorian’s In One Ear that he decided to hold the roast “because over the years Bob’s vision for Astoria has helped improve the waterfront, brought the trolley, saved the Liberty Theatre and made the Astoria Armory useful again, to name a few positive changes for the city.”
The roast was a complete surprise to Jacob, who, nevertheless, crowned with a bowling pin headdress, managed to turn the entire roast around to get his own jabs in. He “turned the tables and somehow roasted half the people in attendance,” Greg Jacob said.
Jeff Daly was several classes behind Jacob in high school, but always knew of him. Jacob was sure to be behind any and every prank in school growing up, Daly said.
“We have lost an icon,” Daly said Monday. “A man with a passion for Astoria like never seen before. … You can go anywhere in Astoria and feel the energy of his vision and see what he saved for all of us.”
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