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Ecola Point's Pictorial Past: Old Cannon Beach up to Modern Oregon Coast Disasters, Goonies

Published 12/02/23 a 4:35 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – One major highlight with any Oregon coast trip is making it to Cannon Beach's Ecola State Park and getting out on that main viewpoint. The oceanic world really explodes in front of you here, showing off not just the natural beauty of the sea but a nearly-aerial view of Cannon Beach to the south, Chapman Point and its secretive cove, and the mysterious lighthouse just offshore.

Indeed, Ecola Point is the closest you can ever get to that baby.

Photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium, taken from Ecola Point

There's even some sizable Goonies history here.

Ecola State Park has been around in one park setting or another since the early '30s, but its history as an attraction and viewpoint goes far beyond that. Part of the ancestral home of the Kilamox tribe, Tillamook Head itself was named after them (though a bit garbled in translation). Those first people undoubtedly stood in awe of the views for thousands of years before Euro-types arrived.

Written history of the place goes all the way back to Lewis & Clark, who first recorded any trek over the mountain-like headland, starting at the side that would face future Seaside. Captain William Clark declared it one of the most incredible views he'd ever laid eyes on, but he also said the ascent was a bitch. Or he would've used that terminology, were it around back in 1806.

First photographic evidence of that grand viewpoint at Ecola Point goes back to about the turn of the 20th century – over 100 years ago. In this historic photograph (at top), from the archives of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, there's a very Victorian-looking pair of women checking out the view.

Even photographically, this place's history tells its own tales.

From Oregon State University comes this shot of Ecola Point in 1910, quite possibly from around when the above photo was snapped. It shows a clear-cut version of the favorite with a couple of buildings up top. One could well be a precursor to the restrooms up there now.

Though historical records from Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) seem to indicate Ecola Point didn't fall into state hands until 1932, soon Ecola Park was initially developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) starting in 1934.

This photo predates that so it's hard to discern what was there in 1910. In any case, the CCC did erect some buildings in the fledgling park through 1941, along with trails and creating roads into the park.

The photo above was taken in 1943 – wartime Oregon coast, basically. By this time, great dirigibles were patrolling the skies, and not far from where these two girls are sitting – just a mile or so southeast of them – was a radar station. It was by all accounts a rather secretive one, so it's possible they may not have even known it was around. See more on the The Mysterious World War II Bunker Atop Oregon Coast's Tillamook Head.

1950: this photo is snapped at Ecola Point. Oregon State Archives has noted on these that the modern skyline and contours of the hills above Cannon Beach differ from what you see here and in the other two photos.

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About this time, according to OPRD, a campsite was created in the park but then abandoned by 1954, deemed risky by the tendency for Tillamook Head to have landslides.

That dynamic came into dark reality in 1961 when winter storms caused a major landslide, knocking down acres of trees and smothering the viewpoint parking lot. These photos from Seaside geologist Tom Horning show the melee, which manages to resemble Mount St. Helens nearly 20 years in the future.

Later that summer, Ecola State Park was far from recovered but open to the public. A family was hiking there when all of a sudden their small daughter disappeared. She had dropped off into the rough terrain. A major search ensued. For the ending to that story see Intense History at Oregon Coast's Ecola State Park: Murder, Landslide, Explorers .

In 1984, a handful of child actors and a small army of a film crew – including Richard Donner – descend on Ecola State Park. Just prior to that, the crew behind The Goonies had built this ramshackle-looking facade of a building, the front of the Fratelli's oceanside hideout. The photo comes from the Clatsop County Historical Society and is a historical gem.

Little known fact: the original plans for the hideout were to include a graveyard surrounding the abandoned restaurant. But writers agreed it wouldn't have made sense for there to be a cemetery in front of a restaurant.

OPRD originally denied the film crew the permit to build the fake structure, but eventually both sides came to an agreement. Plenty of Cannon Beach landmarks are visible in the scenes atop Ecola Point.

In late November of 2007, Oregon Coast Beach Connection snapped these sunsplashed photos of the viewpoint. It was a chilly day but remarkably warm at times if you could get out of the wind.

Why does this moment stand out? It's mere days from the Great Gale of 2007, when hurricane-force winds tore up the north coast and knocked down huge swaths of forestland along Highway 26 (still visible today). The calm conditions give no hint to the historic storm that would rip up the area. Great Coastal Gale of ‘07


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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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Keywords: Oregon coast, Cannon Beach, Seaside, Cannon Beach history,