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84 Years of N. Oregon Coast's Seaside Aquarium Filled with Twists, Turns

Published 05/27/21 at 5:45 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

84 Years of N. Oregon Coast's Seaside Aquarium Filled with Twists, Turns

(Seaside, Oregon) – Earlier this week, an Oregon coast stalwart and entertainment icon quietly celebrated 84 years in existence. The Seaside Aquarium opened its doors on May 25, 1937, turning a corner in north coast fun and evolving into a steward of the environment, protector of regional wildlife and a centerpiece for all kinds of learning. (Photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

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It's all been an interesting, sometimes surprising journey.

The building started in 1924, originally built as a natatorium – one of those saltwater baths where ocean water was pumped in and heated. These were all the rage on the Oregon coast at the time: at Bayocean, Bandon, Rockaway Beach, Cannon Beach and the one in Newport that probably lasted the longest. It was called the Seaside Baths Natatorium, the second in Seaside, actually. The first was started a few years before and eventually became the high-profile rock club the Pypo Club in the ‘60s.

Seaside Baths Natatorium had a variety of means to have fun, including a big fountain in the middle that sprayed you and a wading pool for the kiddies with large windows to the ocean (about where the seals are now). There was a diving board, balconies where everyone watched everyone else, and like just about all natatoriums, bands sometimes played up there.

However, in 1932 the Depression killed the new one, and the building underwent odd incarnations like a salmon farm and a wrestling venue.

It was the Seaside Aquarium, however, that stuck around.

“Looking at the Aquarium from the beach in 1937, there was a lunch bar in the southwest corner (the present site of the gift shop),” said the aquarium's Tiffany Boothe in a recent retrospective. “In 1938, apartments were added upstairs. They were called the Sea Water Apartments. Some of the apartments are still there, but are no longer used.”

Those apartments were closed down in the late ‘70s, and the building went through peculiar redo's every once in awhile, which included covering up the windows at the top, and then uncovering them. When you look at those windows up top, you're mostly looking into the old living spaces.

The old apartments are a trippy find, one which the public does not get to see. Oregon Coast Beach Connection had the opportunity to check them out a few times over the years, and in some spots it's almost a time capsule. One sign still hosts the names of the tenants that were there in the late ‘70s as it was closed. The old paint job of the hallway is still there, and a seriously old-school, color-tiled stairway takes you up the three stories to the former domiciles.

Since the ‘90s, the Seaside Aquarium has been a part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, helping out stranded wildlife on the beaches of the north coast and south Washington coast, assisting scientists investigating whales and larger creatures that have washed up, and lots of public education. Seaside Aquarium is on the Prom in Seaside. 503-738-6211
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