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Living Oregon Coast History: Seaside Aquarium Celebrates 80 Years with Old Prices

Published 05/01/2017 at 6:23 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Living Oregon Coast History: Seaside Aquarium Celebrates 80 Years with Old Prices

(Seaside, Oregon) – On May 25, one major stalwart of Oregon coast entertainment will celebrate 80 years. The Seaside Aquarium becomes an octogenarian this year, and May 25 the celebration will have it returning to its roots. Quite literally. Admission prices will be rolled back to 1937 levels, with ten cents for kids and 15 cents for adults. In keeping with this bit of time traveling, you'll have to put away your credit cards as they will accept cash only that day. (Above: Seaside Aquarium as it looked the year it opened. Photos below courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

Seal food will remain about the same as $2 per tray, so you can still feed the adorable, barking creatures for a minor sum. All proceeds from admissions and seal food will be donated to the Friends of Haystack Rock and the Wildlife Center of the North Coast.

Both organizations will have representatives and special displays set up inside of the attraction.

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The Seaside Aquarium has been a sizable part of the Oregon coast vacation experience for generations. In recent decades, its focus has grown beyond just entertainment to being about stewardship of the coastal environment by educating the public and helping the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. It's been a big help to many creatures over the years.

It's likely the oldest privately-owned aquarium facility in the U.S., but the attraction's history goes back a good decade before it opened. In fact, the story starts beyond the building's construction back in 1924.

About ten years before that, there began a kind of craze for natatoriums on the Oregon coast – hot salt water baths where water was pumped in from the sea and heated. They had them in Newport, briefly at Bayocean (a town which no longer exists), Rockaway Beach, at Cannon Beach, and one at Seaside.

Several years after the Seaside Natotorium was built on the southern face of the Turnaround), another group wanted to cash in on the fun with the Seaside Baths Natatorium in 1924, about two blocks north. This one eventually became the Seaside Aquarium, while the initial natatorium faded away and was torn down (but not before becoming a high profile rock 'n' roll club in the '60s).

Keith Chandler, manager of the aquarium, said the Seaside Baths Natatorium was multifaceted in its entertainment. This one had a big fountain in the middle where you could sit and get sprayed by water. There was a wading pool out front for the kiddies, which had large windows facing the ocean. That's about where the seals hang out now at Seaside Aquarium.

A high diving board let you jump in with a jolt of thrills, while balconies around the top allowed people to watch it all.

The Great Depression killed the Seaside Baths Natatorium in 1932. For a brief period, owners tried wrestling matches for entertainment and a salmon farm, but those too failed. (At right: old remnants of the apartments above the aquarium).

Behind the scenes at the aquarium are some fascinating remnants of its past, including giant murals and boards that were once signs on the exterior. One is for Clara the seal, who had one eye that was disfigured. It stated she was in no pain, and that one of her favorite tricks was to put her flippers to her mouth, showing tourists she wanted to be fed. Clara died in 1978, Chandler said.

Seaside Aquarium is on the Prom in Seaside. 503-738-6211. Lodging in Astoria/Seaside - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour




 

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