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Seaside Promenade History: Beginnings of an Oregon Coast Icon, Part I

Published 01/04/2018 at 4:45 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Seaside Promenade History: Beginnings of an Oregon Coast Icon, Part I

(Seaside, Oregon) – Does the Seaside Promenade begin at the northern end of town, at 12th Ave? Or does it start in the southern end, at Avenue U? (Above: the old wooden walkway at Seaside).

All that's a matter of perspective, of course. One thing is for sure: the Promenade at Seaside actually began in the 1920s. Or did it? Before that, the Oregon coast icon was a wooden boardwalk. Even earlier still, the seed of the Promenade was planted all the way back when Lewis and Clark visited here.

In some ways it's a Dr. Who-like timey-wimey sort of thing. That latter story will show up in Part II of this exploration of the Seaside Promenade's history. Here is Part I:

Indeed, what is often simply called The Prom is not only a prime attraction on the north Oregon coast but a literal walk through time with its architectural finds along its pleasantly scenic length.

The Seaside Promenade had its concrete beginnings – if you'll excuse the pun – in something made of wood. Tourism in this town goes back to about the 1890's, when trains were really the only mode of transport out here. There were no hotels at first. In fact, the majority of travel lodgings up and down the entire Oregon coastline were tents for the first few decades – really until the '40s. In Seaside, this was also true.


Hotel Moore and the Pacific Pier, around 1904. Note the length of the beach.

A little ahead of its time, the town got what appears to be its first hotel around 1900, called the Moore Hotel. Side note: this later became the grand Seasider Inn and the Hotel Seaside in later decades, then was torn down in the '80s to make way for the Shilo Inn Suites Hotel.

In 1904, they built a pier stretching from the Moore Hotel straight out into the sea, called the Pacific Pier. In 1908 came the precursor to The Prom: a walkway of wooden planks and railing known as the boardwalk. This construct stretched 8,010 feet down the length of the shoreline.

The wooden walkway and pier took off quickly, and a host of touristy businesses sprang up along its length and down Broadway.

The Pacific Pier, however, didn't fare so well. Having some structure jut out into the Pacific Ocean from any place on the Oregon coast is not a good idea. The pier was battered badly every winter by the storms this region is known for. It did not last long. By 1914 the people of Seaside had simply given up on its upkeep after each stormy season and let it disintegrate into the raging tides.

The pier gets roughed up by heavy seas, circa 1908.

By 1914, a precursor to the famed Turnaround was created, loosely called a “roundabout.” That year also saw the creation of a building called the Turn Around Building, part of which housed the Seaside Natatorium. This was an indoor hot salt water bath with quite a few luxuries and distractions for the time, including live music. These natatoriums were all the rage along the Oregon coast back then. Newport and Cannon Beach had one at the time. A burgeoning resort on Tillamook Bay called Bayocean had one as well.

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That bygone playground is a ghost of a ghost town: Bayocean failed before the start of the '20s and all remnants of it have been gone since the '70s.

Back in the days of Seaside's wooden walkway, the surf was not much more than 100 feet away. Look at old photographs of Seaside and you'll see it was a sloped beach – more like Gleneden Beach today. There wasn't nearly as much sand, and it only stretched a ways before ending in a rocky section that dipped off into the ocean.

These days, there is about 800 feet of flat sand, interrupted by the occasional foredune. That change happened quite abruptly.

The Seaside Promenade in its current state and its history are both tied to these changes. It was construction of the jetties at the mouth of the Columbia River that altered things so drastically. The south jetty began construction in 1895, and the northern jetty almost 20 years later. When both were finished around 1917, they greatly changed the movement of sand in the region, causing 2,000 feet of extra beach to be created in what is now Fort Stevens State Park, and more than 1,000 feet of sand to build up around Seaside and Gearhart.


Seaside's beach length in modern times: approximately 800 feet of sand to the tideline.

Weird North Oregon Coast Fact: Seaside would look just like Gearhart – all covered in massive dunes and beachgrass – if it weren't for purposeful intervention. Seaside, unlike Gearhart, tames its beach with giant construction equipment. The city of Seaside scours out a few tons of sand every year, preventing sand from blocking the access steps and keeping its surfline safer by allow a myriad of eyes on it from the oceanfront hotels.

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

Where to stay in this area - Where to eat - Seaside Maps and Virtual Tours Part Two of this historical exploration of Seaside is here.

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