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Story of One Much-Lauded Lincoln City Icon Stretches Over 100 Years of Oregon Coast

Published 07/21/22 at 6:35 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Story of One Much-Lauded Lincoln City Icon Stretches Over 100 Years of Oregon Coast

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(Lincoln City, Oregon) – There's a lot of newness on the Oregon coast these days: a good number of older, historical buildings have been torn down. While it often has to do with the struggles of maintaining an older building, it's a sad event for many. (Photo courtesy Ester Lee Motel)

Lincoln City is fairly lucky in that respect: not as much has been leveled to make way for the newfangled as in many other coastal burghs, and one of the historical gems that stands out is the Ester Lee Motel at Taft. This central Oregon coast stalwart is closing in on 100 years old and it's still going strong and forceful.

It is, in fact, an Oregon coast motel that's acquired a fiercely devoted following over the decades. Stories are innumerous of older couples who spent their honeymoons there in the 60s through the 80s, and then returned numerous times, often after wedding vow renewals or even as regular, yearly anniversary treats. The place is a tradition for many.

Original cabin in 1927

The entire Ester Lee complex, however, is not near that age. The original building here was a cabin built in the '20s, and that was added onto over time. It's now part of the lobby. Larger chunks of the complex were built in the '40s, which are now approaching that 100-year mark, but some other parts came later.

It was in the '40s, current owner Mark Baete recalls, that Ester and Lee Inman bought it up and created the new additions. They created the first Ester Lee Apartments. The entire property changed hands a couple of times rather quickly over the next few years, ending up with a pair of sisters named Bena Englund and Carrie McClanathan. They added more buildings and even annexed a property next door, expanding the land too. The apartment complex had 15 units by this time.

These were for a time simply apartments, but then soon newspaper ads in the '40s onward show the Ester Lee Apartments was renting out its rooms to tourists, with arrangements that often meant staying all summer. It retained the word “apartments” into the early '70s, though it was primarily a motel by this time.

Throughout these years, other apartments went up around the Ester Lee, and these were eventually scooped up the owners as well, expanding the business even further.

This helps explain why now there are so many different little buildings associated with the place.

According to Baete, the Moore's Apartments next door (which were eventually scooped up by the Ester) had the revolutionary idea of putting garages out front, where you could then pull off the highway, slide into the garage, then escape the elements walking into your stay. It was something the sisters would utilize quickly on their own.

In the late '50s, there's an ad running in The Oregonian that talks about Pixie Kitchen with the Ester Lee Apartments advertised right below that. The now-famous restaurant was still a few years from becoming a household name, but even then the ad was able to claim a host of recommendations by AAA, Duncan Hines and more. The ad below talks about the Ester having apartments for one to eight people.

Come the 1970s, it soon switched the name to Ester Lee Motel. It was a here that Baete's inlaws, Paul and Linda Love, acquired the place. Their daughter Gina – Mark's wife – runs the motel with him now.

In the '60s, Baete says, a two-bedroom unit set you back 16 bucks. In the '70s that became $21. Now, that's well over $130 a night.

In December of 1993, the Ester Lee had to be evacuated due to a building nearby that caught fire. The conflagration was contained, guests allowed to return and the building was fine.

It was in the late '90s that Baete started experimenting with fun slogans, including wacky, rotating puns or dad jokes on the marquee. While they were truly fairly funny, and many enjoyed them, Mark was struggling creatively with them.

“They were way out there, sometimes,” he told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “They didn’t sit well with me, and didn't fit well with the property. So it just gave me all the more drive to come with some slogan.”

In the early 2000s, photo Oregon Coast Beach Connection

This consternation was the inspiration behind the now-famous “Ah, what you can see from the Ester Lee” slogan. That stuck and it still rings with the public today.

Technically, that original building inside the lobby has seen two major pandemics in those 100 years, and it's seen the Ester Lee come out on top both times. The Ester and Mark and Gina came through it just fine. The extraordinary views remain, the impeccable service and engaging amenities are still there. The business horizon for this much-loved spot seems as wide open as the one you see from the rooms.

3803 S.W. Hwy. 101, Lincoln City, Oregon. 541-996-3606.

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