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Ah, the History of the Ester Lee, Central Oregon Coast

Published 09/03/20 at 4:41 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Ah, the History of the Ester Lee, Central Oregon Coast

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(Lincoln City, Oregon) – One of those few places that stand out as an old yet still vital, relevant icon is Lincoln City’s Ester Lee Motel. It’s Oregon coast history and modernity all rolled up into one these days, with the catch phrase that seems to live forever: Ah, What You Can See from the Ester Lee. (All photos courtesy Ester Lee Motel. Above: the Ester in the '50s)

Mark Baete and his wife Gina run the operation these days, having been there over 20 years now. It was Gina’s dad and mom, Paul and Linda Love, that bought up the place in the early ‘70s and rocketed it forward in the realm of Oregon coast tourism. So it’s stayed in the family for over two generations.

The multiple-building complex started out as a meager cabin overlooking the surf. Way back in the 1920s, Baete says, which is about when the beach access was constructed as well. This, of course, is back when Lincoln City didn’t exist, but instead this was a village called Taft that would later become part of the whole town. Redoing that building yielded some ancient surprises.


1927

“I did a remodel on the office which had an apartment in the back,” Baete said. “I took out the apartment and made that into a lobby. I had to get into the walls and found that old wire-on-post wiring. That’s bare wire wrapped around ceramic and those go into an outlet, all behind the wall. All done in bare wiring, with maybe two outlets originally. I was pretty impressed to find it.”


1920s

Who created the cabin isn’t known, but Baete knows that an Ester and Lee Inman bought up the property somewhere around 1940. They built on the first additions, creating the Ester Lee Apartments. A couple named RH and Libby Bing bought it from the Inmans, but by 1942 a pair of sisters named Bena Englund and Carrie McClanathan had it, and they added two more apartments.

Baete said the sisters then purchased an adjacent property in 1946, creating another building shortly after as well as some garages. By this time, the Ester Lee Apartments had 15 units.


Baete said as far as he knew these were still apartments, but a series of ads and articles from the ‘40s onward show Ester Lee Apartments was renting out its units to tourists. In the earlier days, these were likely arrangements that lasted all summer, but it held onto the name “apartments” through the early ‘70s, even though it acted at least partially as a motel.

It was in ‘46 that Bena married a North Bend man, according to newspaper reports at the time. Sister Carrie threw a big shindig for the reception at the Ester Lee Apartments.

Somewhere about this time, a woman named Berniece Moore created the Moore’s Apartments right next door, and in fact the building looked similar to the Ester Lee architecture.

“They mirrored each other,” Baete said.

The Moore’s Apartments had a garage out front, Baete said, and you could pull off of 101 into the garage and walk straight into your home.


In ‘53, the sisters purchased that from Moore, converting the garages into rental units as well. This brought the whole operation to 20 units.

Also next to the property was the Granview Apartments, which operated in a similar motel fashion in the ‘60s. That too was absorbed into the Ester Lee “empire.”

It’s about here Baete notes that in the ‘60s, a two-bedroom unit cost 16 bucks to rent, then bumped up to $21 per night in the ‘70s (now it’s $200 per night). When Gina and Mark started running it in ‘98, a studio cost $50 per night, and now that’s $126.

Somewhere in the ‘70s Paul and Linda Love changed the name to Ester Lee Motel, after they purchased it from McClanathan. In 1978, the couple built 24 units on the hill’s southern end, bringing together a total of 53 units – which it still has. In the late ‘90s, the Loves retired and Mark and Gina took over, buying the property in 2007.


1940s

The Ester Lee saw a bit of adventure one winter’s night in 1993. A neighboring building caught fire after a storm blew down a live power line, gutting that building and threatening the motel. Guests were actually evacuated. The motel fared just fine, however.

One endearing part of the Oregon coast hotel’s history is its goofy jokes and puns it put on the readerboard in the ‘90s and early 2000s. Yet it’s part of the place’s past Baete doesn’t dig.

“They were way out there, sometimes,” he said. “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.”

This consternation was the inspiration behind the now-famous “Ah, what you can see from the Ester Lee” slogan.


1960s

“We were scratching for stuff to come up with on our readerboard, and as a matter of fact we were coming up with stuff that wasn’t really getting it for who we are and what we got,” he said. “One day I was just driving home, trying to think of something to put on the readerboard, and I came up with this.”

That slogan on Highway 101 is probably about as famous as Pixie Land is now. 3803 S.W. Hwy. 101, Lincoln City, Oregon. 541-996-3606. www.esterlee.com/




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