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N. Oregon Coast's Tolovana Inn History of the Cannon Beach Icon, Part 2

Published 08/09/2019 at 5:23 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

N. Oregon Coast's Tolovana Inn History of the Cannon Beach Icon, Part 2

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – The north Oregon coast icon of Tolovana Inn has a long and storied history, one that goes way back beyond its construction in the early ‘70s.

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This is part two of the Tolovana Inn’s history – part one can be found here: Surprising Oregon Coast History: Cannon Beach's Tolovana Inn and Warren Hotel. It covers the old Warren brothers' homestead and Hotel - where the hotel now sits - and their contributions to early Cannon Beach life.

It ends just before the construction of the hotel, which was intended to be a condo ownership situation where owners also rented out their rooms under the aegis of the hotel. The Warren Hotel had been torn down and a new set of buildings set in their place; by the ‘60s they were called the Grace Haven Lodge

The semi-new hotel was owned by Francis and Myrtle Nevan and Nicholas and Helen Nelson, sitting on 3.5 acres. Earlier in the decade, Beaverton developer William Brenner had approached them about buying up the property, but they weren’t interested. Later, they began having a tough time of it. By 1971, their tune had - sort of - changed because of increasing property taxes and a major sewer bill coming up.

They still did not sell, however. Technically, Brenner and his group of investors only leased the land. It was supposed to be a lease in place until 2031, and it was even renewable then. However, owners of the Tolovana Inn wound up purchasing it in the ‘90s for about one and a half million dollars (it was assessed at well over three million dollars by this time).

The beginnings of the Tolovana Inn were fraught with controversy. Brenner and his group proposed the construction of a new building in 1971, but there was severe push back initially. Some 70 local businesses owners petitioned to have it rejected by the city council.

At the time, Brenner illustrated the culture clash of the time with one comment. He complained “a bunch of long hairs came up to me and said they would fight me to the end if I tried to build but wouldn’t if I remodeled the old buildings.” He lamented – probably correctly – they did not understand the economics of site development and that a multi-unit development was necessary. Redoing the old buildings wasn’t possible in this case.

In fact, one of the strong arguments that helped make the case for the Tolovana Inn was that it was better to concentrate rooms in one area, such as these condos, rather than spread them all over town.

Mayor Gerald Gower and others were behind the development, saying it would bring more trade to town, but also commented with regrettable phrases like it would “bring a higher class of people” to town.

Finally, the town council gave approval for the building permit but imposed many conditions. That included all but one building would be angled towards the ocean. Another issue was a water tank, which had to be built across the street where the Wayside Inn is now. That proved problematic and was removed, with Brenner and the city eventually splitting the cost on building new pipes in and out of the hotel.

The Tolovana Inn opened in October of 1972. A year later, Nevan – one of the owners of the Grace Haven building there before – became a desk clerk at the hotel and retired in ‘91. Apparently, he worked there and received rent money from the hotel land. Lucky guy.

Dough Nealeigh is with Vacation Villages of America, the Beaverton-based company that now owns the Tolovana. He said there were some major renovations done between 1999 and 2001.

“This included the addition of our Lodge Building which houses our lobby/front desk, administrative offices, saltwater pool and spa, and 2,500 square feet of meeting space,” he said. “Tolovana Inn has now also added a state-of-the-art fitness center.”

From the retro photos included here, you can see the old A-frame style exterior elements – which disappeared with that remodel. Inside, all the units received swanky new fixtures, including an ADA-approved elevator.

One historic cultural contribution that many Portland / valley residents may remember is the old commercial jingle for the Tolovana Inn, which ran on TV on and off for at least a decade, somewhere in the ‘80s through ‘90s. For many Gen X’ers and Boomers in the region, it’s right up there with Tom Peterson’s iconic “wake up” exaltations to the old record store commercial and the burnout customer yelling “You got Boston?” The Tolovana’s ad had a soothing – albeit now cheesy - easy listening tune where a woman softly sang “Tolo-vaaaanaaaa,” and lots of pretty footage of Cannon Beach.

Sadly, there’s no record of that anywhere. And Nealeigh doesn’t remember the commercial either.

While one part of Tolovana’s history does appear lost, there can still be found plenty of fascinating connections between it and the early Oregon coast. 800-333-8890.  3400 S. Hemlock Street Cannon Beach, Oregon. -- Hotels in Cannon Beach - Where to eat - Cannon Beach Maps and Virtual Tours

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