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Oregon Coast History, Seaside Promenade Part II: From Lewis and Clark to Rock 'n Roll

Published 01/05/2018 at 4:45 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Oregon Coast History, Seaside Promenade Part II: From Lewis and Clark to Rock 'n Roll

(Seaside, Oregon) – How did the famed Seaside Promenade begin? It's quite a tale of shifting sands, crazy manmade structures that didn't stand the test of time, and a few stunning successes and failures. The north Oregon coast icon was a whole new landscape for visitors about 100 years ago, and it had a complex interaction between geology and the history of what had gone before it. (Photo above: Seaside in the '30s to '50s, with sand more like today than before 1920).

Yesterday, Oregon Coast Beach Connection presented part 1 of the History of the Seaside Promenade, and here is part 2 – which begins just before the actual Prom was constructed and the sands began to drastically change the landscape due to the construction of the jetties at Astoria.

All of that sandy expanse you now see built up quickly after the beginning of the jetties, apparently by the mid-20s.

Meanwhile, planning for a sturdier walkway began somewhere in the 1910's. The city's engineer at the time, LC Rodgers, was the primary architect, and around 1920 he used horse teams to start putting in the concrete. The plan was to create the actual Turnaround at the same time: a structure with a diameter of 108 feet, a 25-foot driveway and concrete railings that were 30 feet high.

The Prom and Turnaround were finished in 1921, all 1.5 miles of it

After that, Seaside exploded with tourism.

Natatoriums were almost as big as selfies are today, and the result was another firm started a competing one in 1924 just two blocks away from the Seaside Natatorium, which was now part of the Turnaround. The Seaside Baths Natatorium was the official name, and both hot water baths got to cash in on the new jazz music scene for a time, after it was no longer taboo. (See Forgotten Oregon Coast History: Natatoriums of Seaside, Cannon Beach for full story).

The Turnaround area saw a variety of shops pop up, including a cigar store, ice cream, a photography seller and the Oregon Woolen Mills Store, among others. Many of these were gone when the Great Depression came along, including the second natatorium. The first one stuck around for many decades, becoming a “Swim 'n Skate” in the '50s for a time.

The second natatorium shut down in 1932, and for a time it changed hands and concepts, becoming a wrestling match venue and even a salmon farm. It took on new life in 1937, becoming Seaside Aquarium – which still thrives today. There was a lunch counter in the aquarium when it first started, and the window structure was much different than it is today.

At some point, the highest section of the aquarium became its own separate third floor, filled with apartment units. It was called the Sea Water Apartments and was around until the 1970s.

By the 1960s, the original natatorium was gone but an all-age rock 'n' roll venue came along called the Pypo Club, upstairs from where the salt water baths were. It didn't last long there, perhaps a year or so, and soon moved to a building just north of this spot. There it thrived for a large chunk of the '60s, hosting some soon-to-be legends in the world of rock 'n' roll, such as Gene Vincent, the Wailers, Paul Revere and the Raiders and others.

It was here, as legend has it, Portland's The Kingsmen kept hearing a version of "Louie Louie" on the jukebox, and that inspired them to cover the famed the song - the iconic rock ditty that was the centerpiece to "Animal House" and the first song that actually caused the FBI look into rock lyrics.

To this day the club is considered somewhat seminal in the early Northwest music scene, indeed rock 'n roll itself.

Over the decades, a variety of businesses and hotels came and went along the Promenade, but many of the stately homes stayed. In the '80s, the grand Hotel Seaside was razed to make way for the Shilo Inn. By then, the hotel and its bar were said to be haunted. Many of the employees moved down to the then-new Girtles restaurant and bar on Broadway, and local legends say the ghosts of that place followed the employees there.

Girtles stuck around until about 2012 or so.

Meanwhile, the sand kept building in Seaside, and every shot you see since the '30s shows a layout similar to today's. This presented a unique problem, however, as that sand needed to be removed periodically. Until about the '80s, local construction supply companies were simply let loose to scour the sand periodically, keeping the accesses clear and making sure the sand didn't build too high. About that time, local officials became wary of the fact companies were then selling that sand as landfill material and making money off this endeavor, even though the city was getting the job done for free.

A local law was passed banning that practice and now the city pays to have it done once or twice a year.

About 2000, perhaps the biggest visual change in the Prom happened as construction began on the towering Worldmark Resort complex, the tallest building on the entire Oregon coast. The most striking – and perhaps most controversial sights – were the two towering cranes that loomed over everything. It was completed early in the decade.

One of the big attractions along the Promenade is the Lewis and Clark Saltworks, a replica of the salt-making endeavors of the Corps of Discovery back in the winter of 1805-06. It currently sits at a spot near Avenue G, along what is called Lewis and Clark Way, practically next to the Prom. What you'll find is a metal fence surrounding some sort concrete re-creation of a pile of rocks set together. The attraction has been poked fun at by some publications for being “cheesy,” including Roadside America back in the '90s. But there's a fascinating history here that be-bops through time like the Doctor and his TARDIS.

Back in the days of Lewis and Clark, the only way to keep meats preserved on such a long journey was to cure them using salt. Salt, however, wasn't mined nor available along the way in any form. The corps had to boil it from sea water.

It's a famous passage from the journals of the group, where five men sauntered south some 15 miles from their Fort Clatsop near Astoria and set up camp in this very spot for a few days. Back then, the sea came almost right up to that locale, which allowed the men to bring in buckets of sea water to the rocky stove much more easily.

100 years later, as Oregon began celebrating the centennial of the Corps of Discovery, a Clatsop tribe woman named Jennie Michel showed the Oregon Historical Society exactly where the men were seen boiling sea water. Her real name was Tsin-is-tum (English names were forced upon local tribes about this time), and even though she was born in 1818, her parents and other tribal members had witnessed the group and had the spot memorized.

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A few years later, about 1910, a local family gave that land to the state and a small fence was set around the area. It wasn't until 1955 that the salt works replica was built, through the efforts of the local Lions Club.

Although there is that famous statue of Lewis and Clark at the Turnaround, that is not an actual spot they visited. Ironically, the exact spot of the fort where they spent a few winter months is not 100 percent certain – but it is most likely. This spot in Seaside is the absolute location, however.

These days, you may notice memorial benches or even plaques along the Prom. These are still available for purchase. Contact the City of Seaside's public works department if you want to be an eternal part of this eternally beautiful and engaging feature. Lodging in Astoria/Seaside - Where to eat - Seaside Maps and Virtual Tours

Sources: Seaside Aquarium, Jon Rahl / City of Seaside, Oregon Coast Beach Connection archives.

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