In eastern Washington State, in the desert along the Snake River, there's a huge gothic castle. It sits below my grandparents' farm, and inside are enormous pumps that force irrigation water uphill. It's roughly the same age as the Blitz-Weinhard building, and when it was built it must've been a wonder: This gray castle in the sand with no one around it for miles.
A castle meant these arid, miserable dunes could be settled. A European castle meant this wasteland could become like England. And people came, including my grandparents.
Downstream a couple miles, on the opposite side of the Snake River is an Egyptian temple: another reassuring metaphor--the valley of the Nile--to attract farmers. It was maybe a little too esoteric for the Irish and Swedes. No one came, and the temple has now been abandoned.
It rises out of the gravel and sand. It juts into the river with huge vacant windows, pilasters, cornices, statue niches, and moldings, all made of poured concrete. Inside, there are two deep pits in the floor where the pumps were torn out. In high school, my friends and I would carry beer overland a couple miles from the Kahlotus highway. We'd build bonfires inside the Egyptian shell and sit in the windows, kicking our feet above the river, across from Strawberry Island, covered with cactus and burial mounds.
In Sung Kim's photographs, we see the Blitz-Weinhard building wrecked and isolated as a specimen.
These people brewed beer. They wanted a castle that said, good beer. Olde Worlde Bier. In the narrative of architecture, the red brick and crenellated battlements, the Norman-style corbel-table cornices and Romanesque arches, they advertised their product. It's no wonder the smokestack is buried inside the building.
Look at Maryhill Museum. Stonehenge. The Italianate Flavel House in Astoria. These items seeded in the landscape as reference points. To impose a new story on the land, to fill the seeming emptiness, settle the wilderness for immigrants, and spur them to keep dreaming old dreams.
Go read chapter 18 from Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust. Read the whole book. I won't cheat you by describing it here.
In the gorge of the White Salmon River is another Gothic castle. It's six stories high, sitting on a rock outcropping, looming over the river on one side and a lake on the other. The realtor explained the front door was burnt because a dog had tipped over a space heater. In fact, there were a lot of space heaters. Still, I want it. Chilly or not, living there, founding a colony for writers and artists, founding it there in a castle would mean something. I want more than my little green Monopoly House. I want a world to create drama, to create me, as a stage set, to call me into being cooler, larger, more noble.
Me and my immigrant delusions. Beer and castles.
Will I ever learn? Will we ever learn? I kind of hope not.