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The Crazy, Hazy Tale of a Spectacular Oregon Coast Real Estate Failure

Published 08/20/2016 at 7:51 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Jump Off Joe is a wacky and twisting, turning bit of history on the Oregon coast

(Newport, Oregon) – These days, it's a pleasant if not mysterious and crusty tourist attraction on the central Oregon coast, one that's part castle-like ruins and part lovely viewpoint. Splattered in graffiti on its battered, broken concrete walls, the remains of this condo construct-gone-awry sit next to a parking lot at the end of NW 11th in Newport, not far from the buzz of Nye Beach. All of this, in turn, sits on a quickly crumbling headland known as Jump-Off Joe, which is really the third incarnation of a rock structure to have that name in a little over 120 years.

Jump Off Joe is a wacky and twisting, turning bit of history on the Oregon coast, one that goes back all the way to the area's very initial moments as a tourist destination in the late 1800's. Jump-Off Joe was a name applied to no less than three different structures in the ever-sizzling destination of Nye Beach, each a famed and beloved attraction in itself, with the first two crumbling out of existence.

But it was this final spot to have the name that had the most intriguing and scandalous history, where a real estate venture gave the term “epic fail” new and grand dimensions in meaning.

It all came down to the geology of the place. Newport's Nye Beach is mostly composed of concretionary sandstone – meaning it's sandstone mixed with some other stuff, and it's pretty soft. It's prone to disintegrating.

Biggest case in point: in the mid 1800's there was a second headland just south of the Jump Off Joe headland. That had eroded by the 1890's into a large rock structure that was a favorite with locals, becoming separated from the cliffs. That was the original Jump Off Joe, which eventually featured a giant arch. But by 1916 this arch crumbled, and by the '90s, there was little left but a few nubs at the tide line (see here).

By the '70s, this headland got the name Jump Off Joe, and it too had a famed arch for awhile. That crumbled with a mighty crash in 1994, and since then less and less of it exists. Even so, in the late '70s, a couple known for their enterprising real estate ventures came up with the kooky idea there should be 39 condominiums on that area overlooking Nye Beach – some on the bluff itself.

So began a long fight with locals. Owners Richard and Barbara Anderson kicked things off when they knocked down a dozen or so trees on that bluff, enraging residents.

In 1980, their struggle to get permits for the “Beachland Estate Condominiums” started, with various sections of the community fighting them at every step. Most troubling, the Anderson's had considerable trouble finding a geologist who would sign off on the idea. They went through several, and finally found one man from Waldport who actually wrote the construction might even stabilize the wobbly Jump Off Joe.

This was an area that had had several landslides in recent decades. At least one geologic report cited as much as 500 feet disappearing into the beach since the mid 1800's. One landslide took out 200 feet of cliff in a single swoop.

Ironically, the same Waldport geologist had done a survey of that spot six years before and had declared it unbuildable. The man – whose name seems to have disappeared from most historical documents – said in his newer report that Jump Off Joe would be safe from erosion for another 20 years, however.

The Newport Planning Commission heard endless amounts of testimony, with almost no local in favor of the site. But in 1981, the commission gave initial approval and the city council followed in 1982. Part of the plan even included a seawall to be built somewhere around that bluff, which local government decided would be a ruse and false sense of security. That part of the permits was denied.

Also denied was the larger development, interestingly enough, leaving only the Jump Off Joe bluff condo units given the green light.

In '82, the Anderson's began construction. Three years later, they were in financial trouble and the building stopped. Just a few short months later, the ground around the unfinished condos began to shift and move, and it was obvious to the naked eye the foundation was sinking. Old newspaper clips from the time show a cracked building that quickly developed new cracks. There were even giant gaps in the walls at some point.

The couple filed for bankruptcy and defaulted on nearly one million dollars in loans, and some local businesses associated with the construction – such as an insurance company and a lumber outfit – went down with that ship. Most of the land went to a bank, and then eventually to the city. Sometime in the late 2000's an actual paved parking lot was built there for visitors to enjoy the spot.

After the demise of the Beachland project in the '80s, the city was soon charged with the responsibility (and the cost) of bulldozing the buildings. A citizens group called the Friends of Lincoln County got stuck with most of the legal bills.

The unnamed Waldport geologist had his license revoked by the Oregon State Board of Geology Examiners, citing “incompetence and gross negligence.” His reputation now ranks right up there with the Oregon official who in 1970 decided a beached whale in Florence should be blown up with dynamite (the infamous Exploding Whale).

Now, the old condo ruins host a couple of stairways that seem to go nowhere and a lot of graffiti that ranges from creative to creepy. An ever-shrinking ledge used to be near the top, sitting about 50 feet above the sand and creating a very romantic spot. But that too has mostly disappeared since 2010.

See more of this shrinking Oregon coast wonder here. Below: the outcropping at right would eventually become the new Jump Off Joe, while the old, crumbling Joe is seen in the middle, circa 1920 or so. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

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