Astoria, Oregon: Home of the Goonies

August 12, 2009 — There is a saying in the old country. Roughly translated, it goes “Goonies never say die.”

The town of Astoria, Oregon, is located in almost the exact northwest corner of the state. Far from this being a time-out spot, its location at the mouth of the Columbia River has given it a lively past full of both exploration and trade. It's probably worth being a destination town for quite a few reasons, but I only stayed there for two.

First, the town is mere minutes from the wreck of the 100-year-old Peter Iredale, which we planned on visiting the next morning, and second, it's located at the top of the Oregon coast, the length of which we planned to drive after visiting the shipwreck. However, it turns out there was a third, much more 80s reason for staying in Astoria.

We arrived at our bed and breakfast after a long day of Jack Nicholson film location scouting on an overcast evening that made the place seem halfway between quaint and the West Coast version of H.P. Lovecraft’s Innsmouth (I stole that latter observation from a friend, but it seems so dead-on I can’t get around it for my own impressions. Also, I’m a thief.). My wife and I were exhausted and fully prepared to see all that Astoria could offer from the comfort of our bed with our eyes closed.

However, after settling into our room, we came across a binder that detailed some of the history and notoriety of the town. To my embarrassed glee, I saw that a whole section of the binder was dedicated to movies that had filmed within its borders. Flipping through, we were surprised to find that Astoria was the home of…wait for it…keep waiting…Short Circuit, Kindergarten Cop, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.

But also…The Goonies.

I know that feeling you’re experiencing right at this moment. We all seem to get it at the mere mention of this Stephen Spielberg-produced and Richard Donner-directed flick. Even though it’s just the story of a bunch of kids screaming their way through a pirate adventure and over a Cyndi Lauper soundtrack, it’s nevertheless one of those rare movies that seems to hit a spot in our being that we somehow all have in common. I’m not sure why. Maybe it fulfills our fantasies of acceptance, adventure, nostalgia, and mutants.

Of course, the revelation that we were in the middle of the Goondocks made us immediately alter our itinerary for the next morning. The rest of the state would have to wait. Turns out, within mere blocks of where we were staying were at least three major filming locations that were definitely worth seeing.

First stop, and perhaps the most important, was the Goonies House itself. Technically, it was only the home of siblings Mikey and Brandon Walsh, but it was still the place where we were introduced to the whole group, and where it was inferred that the Goonies regularly hung out. Inferred, because the movie wisely eschewed any origins story and threw us right into the middle of all the shenanigans.

The Goonies House is definitely a central spot in the film. It was there that One-Eyed Willy’s map was found, Mouth proved his worth as a U.N.-caliber translator, and Chunk did his disturbing Truffle Shuffle and then played havoc with a statue’s genitalia.

Located on top of a hill at 368 38th Street, the house shares a private drive with four or five other houses, including Data’s house next door…from which he 007’s his way down a zip line and through the closed screen door in his scene debut. As further proof of the feelings that The Goonies inspire, a friendly sign at the bottom of the drive reads, “Private Drive. Goonies on foot welcome. No cars please.” I assume the owners put it there. If not, ha.

Still, we obeyed the sign (and drew a strange type of confidence from it) and found that the white house with its wrap-around porch still looks pretty much the same as it did for the film…minus, of course, the Rube Goldberg contraption that filled the front lawn and opened the gate. I wonder if it’s still 1985 inside.

Just across town at 441 8th Street and pretty much visible from the Goonies House (all of Astoria seems visible from that house) is the place that stood in for the museum where Mikey and Brandon’s dad worked. In real life it’s called the Flavel House Museum, and it’s a 125-year-old house that was built by a rich river boat captain who was prominent in the town at that time. To me, it looks like the house of the eccentric uncle you’ll have to live with when your parents die in a mysterious automobile accident. For some reason, despite the overtly photogenic and quirky quality of the building, little of it was actually shown in the movie.

Directly across the street from the museum stands the county jail that stood in for the county jail from which one of the redundantly name Fratelli Brothers escaped. This entire paragraph was researched using only the two words in the included jail picture.

It really was that easy, though. In mere minutes and pretty much by accident we'd relived a good portion of the The Goonies. Enough, in fact, to turn The Goonies movie itself into our own personal vacation movie (Me: “Remember when we visited there?” Wife: “Shut up, I’m trying to watch the movie.). Then, later that same day, before we’d even had time to brag about it to folks back home, we accidentally relived some more.

One of the stops on our Oregon coast itinerary was the gargantuan Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, about 30 miles south of Astoria. At some point I’ll dedicate an entire article to that monolith and its tide pools [Update: Did it], but while visiting it, we noticed that the beast itself and some of its fog-wreathed companions seemed familiar in ways that giant rocks on the opposite coast from where I lived should not. Turns out, Cannon Beach is featured regularly throughout the movie, including the randomly inserted truck racing scene (in which Haystock Rock can be seen the most prominently), all that Goonery with the perforated doubloon, and in the triumphant ending that somehow did not launch a slew of sequels.

In the end, even though our discovery was accidental, it was still decent timing on our part. Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the film. I know. I can’t quite believe 1985 is that far away from me, either.

Incidentally, I just re-watched the film before writing this article, and Goonies said “die” on three different occasions. I mean, counting the time that they said, “Goonies never say die.”