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Elder Statesman of the Oregon Coast, Seaside Aquarium Turns 86 - An Intricate History

Published 05/25/23 at 7:52 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Elder Statesman of the Oregon Coast, Seaside Aquarium Turns 86 - An Intricate History

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(Seaside, Oregon) – For an octogenarian she's lookin' pretty good. Turning 86 years old today – May 25 – the north Oregon coast's Seaside Aquarium is one of the oldest privately-owned aquariums in the U.S. It got its start today in 1937, a time when admission was just 15 cents and the Seaside Promenade was still an infant, by architectural standards. (Above: the aquarium the '40s, courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

These days, the team there are leaders in marine science education on the north Oregon coast, managing to inform a lot of people rather quickly about what's happening on the beaches from Rockaway Beach up through the Long Beach Peninsula of the Washington coast. When something interesting washes up, they're good at alerting the media and often those stories about giant whale carcasses or odd animals go viral.

Indeed, they work with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network to help out when some poor, hapless creature washes ashore.

Over a decade ago, Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe was the one who created the placards you see all over Seaside explaining what all the brown waves were about. No, they're not pollution, the signs say, they are a kind of phytoplankton, and it is a sign of a healthy ocean (and maybe a signal to look for glowing sand at night).

That building has seen some interesting transitions over the decades and the generations, which included having some apartments in the upper area. Yeah, that's right: at one time you could've lived above the Seaside Aquarium. Remnants of them still exist, but most of the two floors have been cut away. Only staff can see them now (see the old apartments and their history).

Before it was this timeless Oregon coast attraction, it was another kind of attraction.

The building now containing the Seaside Aquarium was originally a warm salt water bathhouse and entertainment venue. Built in 1924, it started out as a natatorium, which were all the rage along the Oregon coast at the time. The majority of what was called the Seaside Natatorium was a giant pool, with large balconies above where bands would play or people could watch the watery ruckus below. In the middle was a huge fountain, 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.

Seaside Aquarium in the '50s

In 1932, the Great Depression killed the natatorium, though by this time a second one was built just north (where the giant condos are now), and that one survived a bit longer. However, that building made its mark in music history becoming a legendary rock club in the '60s that helped give birth to the seminal rock tune Louie, Louie.

The older natatorium building hiccuped through the next few years, with owners trying everything from wrestling entertainment to a salmon farm. The new owners, however, hit the mark with the birth of the aquarium.

Seaside Aquarium is on the Prom in Seaside. 503-738-6211. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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