Coos Bay History
Coos Bay is the largest bay on the Oregon Coast. In view of recent developments in the forest industry, it is surprising to find that the population of Coos County has declined only slightly since 1980, when its population was 64,047. In a market analysis for the Coos Country Historical Society completed in the year 2000, Dean Runyan Associates reported:

"In 1999, according to the Center for Population Research and Census of Portland State University, Coos County had just over 61,000 residents. About a quarter, or just over 15,000 of these residents, live in Coos Bay, the largest city on the Oregon Coast. Despite significant job losses in the forest products industry, the population of Coos County has remained fairly stable over the last decade. Since 1990, the County's population has grown slowly by about 1,100 persons or about 1.8%, and steady growth is expected to continue through 2010. All of the population growth since 1990 has occurred because people have been moving to the area. Statewide, about 70 percent of population growth since 1990 has come from people moving into the state."

The city of Coos Bay used to be called Marshfield, and there is still Marshfield High School. But the city changed its name in 1944. Marshfield expanded after the turn of the century. A major fire on Front Street in 1922 led to the relocation of the city hall on Central Avenue. The area between the waterfront and 4th Street and two blocks on either side of

Central Avenue became the center of the new Marshfield, and what is now considered to be the city of Coos Bay's "Old Town."

In A Guide to Oregon South Coast History (1999), I have described recent developments in the twin cities of Coos Bay-North Bend as follows. In the mid-1990s, three blocks of pedestrian mall in downtown Coos Bay, created in the late 1960s, was reopened to traffic. Covered walkways to protect pedestrians from rain were torn down to open sidewalks and streets to sunlight. The covered mall experiment turned out to be a failure. It did not recapture business from newly built shopping malls, and the covered sidewalks kept out sunshine as well as rain. But while this aspect of urban renewal was reversed, a waterfront boardwalk became a reality, offering tourists access to a walking view of the bay.

In other parts of the four block square old downtown area, many buildings were removed to make way for parking lots and a scattering of new professional office buildings. A new city hall was built to replace one built in the 1920s; in 1998 the "new" city hall of the 1920s housed a restaurant, dancing ballroom, and office spaces. An historic Elks Club Building was restored and remodeled into a bank headquarters. An old bank building was turned into a brewery. A 1930s post office building became an art museum.

Away from the old downtown center of the city of Coos Bay, four new shopping centers appeared in the 1970s to 1990s, anchored by Albertsons, Bi-Mart, K-Mart, Fred Meyer, Safeway, and Wal-Mart outlets. A publicly financed Bay Area Hospital, built in the 1970s, expanded. The Southwestern Oregon Community College campus built in the early 1960s added new classrooms, office spaces, playing fields, cafeteria, and dormitories in the 1980s and 1990s. The town of North Bend built a new public library, and Coos Bay in the last two years has expanded its library facility.

In these and many other ways, the Coos Bay-North Bend landscape has been transformed. The two small cities, still administered separately, have grown together in the last thirty years. The old downtown areas of the twin-cities have been integrated into a larger pattern of multiple business centers linked by commercial streets and interspersed with old and new residential areas.

The urban landscape on the Coos Bay estuary retains some of the features of an older, coastal frontier West, but it is has been continuously re-engineered to meet the changing needs of business, industry, government, and individuals. This makes the human landscape on Coos Bay historically interesting, as well as a good place to live.

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