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Surprising Oregon Coast History: Cannon Beach's Tolovana Inn and Warren Hotel

Published 10/25/2018 at 5:54 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

Surprising Oregon Coast History: Cannon Beach's Tolovana Inn and Warren Hotel

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – These days, Cannon Beach’s Tolovana Inn is a kind of landmark all its own. If it seems like this iconic Oregon coast hotel has been there forever, you’re half right. (Above: the old Warren Hotel, photo courtesy Cannon Beach History Center. Part 2 of this story is here).

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Tolovana Inn has a somewhat intricate history that's closely intertwined with that of Cannon Beach, especially in its early days. This is part one of the historic look at this modern hotel; part two comes out next week.

The information, interestingly enough, largely comes from former Senator Blaine Whipple, who represented Beaverton in the late century. He was also closely involved with Tolovana Inn operations from the beginning.

Before all that, however, the story begins as Cannon Beach was just getting created.

Way back in 1906 is when the Warren brothers scouted out a section of beach just south of what was only recently called Cannon Beach. The intention was to create a new little town.

Mark and William Warren had been explorers to some degree – or at least tourists who enjoyed the rough edges of remote Alaska. They had been inspired by the native languages of that region, and by the different sounds that came out of them. When choosing a name for this new townsite, Tolovana was the one that stuck in their heads: it had come from a trading post in those netherlands to the north. While the word actually meant a pile of logs or driftwood, they apparently either didn’t know that at the time or simply didn’t care – it was about the sound not the meaning.

In 1911, the brothers built the first complex on the site where the Tolovana Inn now sits.

“The complex consisted of a large rustic lodge with dining room and several satellite cottages,” writes Whipple.

It was christened the Warren Hotel. Sounding familiar, right?

According to the Cannon Beach History Museum, the hotel had a massive and elegant fireplace, created by Paul Bartels, who had crafted other fireplaces in the north Oregon coast town in its early days.

For about thirty years, the lodge operated as a hotel, until the start of World War II. At that point, it was taken over the U.S. Coast Guard and served as the headquarters for military personnel who patrolled the beaches. The entire west coast was in such a state of tense anxiety after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Oregon coast was no exception. Horses, dogs and infantry operated out of here, sometimes accompanied by the presence of massive blimps which also patrolled the coastline.

In the early days of the war, Fort Stevens – just north of Seaside – was actually shelled by a Japanese submarine. It did not return fire, however. Not far away from Cannon Beach, a radar station sat atop Tillamook Head. The Warren Hotel was by far and away not the only wartime installation

A little more than halfway through the war years, it became clear no invasion would be hitting the Oregon coast, and by the final year or two most guard stations were abandoned. The Warren Hotel was particularly abandoned and left to rot. It lay empty and shabby until about the early ‘50s when two Astoria men bought it at an exceptionally low price and refurbished it. Once again it was utilized as a beach motel until 1961.

That year, the building and lot were purchased by a church group called King’s Garden and the hotel was renamed Grace Haven Lodge. By then it had 11 cottages surrounding it, and it began touting its fine amenities as well as the “singing sands” of the Cannon Beach area. This is curious because the “singing sands” effect doesn’t really happen in the area, although there are the “squeaking sands” you can hear in this area a little more often than others. It’s possible the actual singing effect did happen at one point – but it’s unclear.

Singing sands are a weird phenomenon where you hear the sands making a singing or violin-like noise, mostly in the Sahara desert. It has been documented in the National Dunes Recreation Area just south of Florence, but it’s extremely rare. Squeaking sands – and sometimes an odd squishing noise – does happen at Arcadia Beach and around midtown Cannon Beach, however.

Back to the history of the Tolovana Inn: by 1971 there was larger commercial interest in the spot, especially as a tourist boom began on the Oregon coast after the beaches had been declared public just a few years before. A group from Beaverton wanted to create a luxury hotel in that spot, but the current owners refused to sell.

The weird little fact about Tolovana Inn: the original group still owned the land until '95. They agreed to lease the property until 2031, at which point it could've been purchased at the market value at that time. It was purchased in '95, however, much earlier than originally designed.

Part 2 of the history of Tolovana Inn is at this link.--- Hotels in Cannon Beach - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

Above: photo of the Grace Haven Lodge in the '60s, courtesy the history museum. Tolovana Inn below.

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