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What You Can See of Nye Beach's Past - Oregon Coast History Walk

Published 04/14/22 at 5:02 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

What You Can See of Nye Beach's Past - Oregon Coast History Walk

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(Newport, Oregon) – A long time ago, on a beach not far away, a little place came into being called Nye Beach. Back in the 1880s, this was a separate community from the burgeoning port town of Newport, almost as crusty and primitive, but right away it contained its share of tourism charms (historical photos courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society Newport).

This was still an untamed Oregon coast, however: very rough around the edges and more like the Old West. But then what's new and cutting-edge becomes common, and then it slowly becomes a part of history, sometimes getting lost in time. Yet Nye Beach has managed to hold onto its historic roots in unique ways, building upon what becomes historical later on.

However, a curious little secret about Nye Beach: some of its historical looks are manufactured. Back around 2000, the little neighborhood went through a big rebuild, where the arches were created and the tile-like squares in the streets that deftly evoke something much older were placed. It may be faux historical but it's effective – and it's no less charming.

Still, look beneath the layers and you'll find some surprising remnants of its past.

Nye Beach was created back in the 1880s, named after John Nye, the man who had first acquired the property in the 1860s. By the early 1890s, it was fast becoming a tourism destination on the rather newfangled Oregon coast scene, and kept growing in popularity year after year. The building of Highway 101 in the '30s and roads from the valley greatly upped the place's appeal. Then World War II hit and all that came to a halt for awhile, slowly sputtering back to life by the early '50s.

Even in its earliest days, the city began organizing the summer tradition of outdoor clambakes in the 1880s, running until 1918. There, tourists dressed in garb most respectable (swimsuits were so very Victorian then), gathered at long tables piled with food, including clams cooked in a fire pit in the sands. In the early 2000s, Newport revived the clambakes as a celebration with a kind of food court, but unfortunately that only lasted a few years.

Among the earliest groundbreakers in tourism in Newport and Nye Beach was the Gilmore Hotel. For a time, it featured a border collie that was a kind of canine concierge, his popularity causing guests to write postcards home about the furry new friend.

The Gilmore lingered on well into the latter century, but slowly turned into a den of inequity for at least a decade or two. While true that it was the residence to junkies and other unsavory types, its gritty Bohemian atmosphere also attracted a lot of artists and creatives, enabling them to live cheaply by the ocean. In the 1980s, some of its residents started hosting “nudie” parties, where people simply drank and partied au naturelle in the hallways.

Then by the 1990s, the Gilmore had become the Sylvia Beach Hotel (photo above), hanging onto its creative past by spotlighting various authors with its room themes, and creating one of the city's more storied hotels.

Its stately and historical vibe still gazes out at the sea.

Nye Beach cliffs how they looked almost a century ago

Nye Beach in the '80s itself was a wild and untamed spot, rather rundown by some standards. But it was an exceptionally inexpensive place where the common man could still acquire a little near-oceanfront property. Gentrification took away that affordability.

By the 1920s, this little town had become known as the “Honeymoon Capitol” of the world, turning into a favorite for newlyweds hitting the Oregon coast.

One of its chief attractions in its earliest days was a rock structure called Jump-Off Joe – but not the one you know today. This one was part of a larger headland that jutted out, and by about 1900 it was a nobby blob at the tideline that was a favorite with photographers and the equivalent of “selfies” then.

Jump-Off Joe in the early 2000s

It crumbled by the '30s, and soon after the current headland acquired the name Jump-Off Joe. It crumbled in early 2021.

The entire cliff area of Nye Beach is soft and unstable, and geology reports show it had lost some 500 feet in cliff since 1880.

The Nye Beach Turnaround was constructed by at least 1910, and it had a promenade as well, which was made of wood (like the original Promenade in Seaside). There are some rather dramatic photos of it getting clobbered by the tides.

Nye Beach Natatorium and the Turnaround in a different configuration

Like many early Oregon coast towns, Nye Beach had a natatorium – an indoor swimming pool where heated salt water was pumped into it. These also featured dances on some nights, with this building becoming one of the hottest clubs on the coast. It faded by the '50s and by the '70s was torn down. Nothing remains of it, unfortunately.

Some of the historic buildings do remain in Nye Beach, however, including those that house the shops by the Turnaround. This shot from the '70s shows a business called the Nye Beach Village Market. In the '90s it was a hip coffee shop. In the 2000s it changed faces periodically.

Sometimes history repeats itself in Nye Beach – and then becomes history again. In this case, a wondrous little eatery went up at the cliff edges of Nye Beach called Village Market and Deli, hearkening back to the older one. It was a gourmet tour de force but sadly closed in the 2010s. Hotels in Newport - Where to eat - Newport Maps and Virtual Tours


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