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Nye Beach Natatorium a Distinctive Part of Newport / Oregon Coast History

Published 12/03/20 at 4:55 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Nye Beach Natatorium a Distinctive Part of Newport / Oregon Coast History

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(Newport, Oregon) – For the first couple of decades or so of Oregon coast tourism, Newport’s Nye Beach was its own attraction, its own little town separate from the burgeoning shipping port of Newport. Like Seaside to the north, by the 1910s it had its own little boardwalk. Like that town; as well as Bandon, Bayocean, Rockaway Beach and Cannon Beach; Newport had its own natatorium. (Photo above courtesy Salem Public Library)

These were all the rage along the Oregon coast for the first two decades of the 20th century. Natatoriums were recreational hot salt water baths where sea water was pumped into the facility and then warmed up. Seaside Aquarium is itself a former natatorium, and some of the building’s layout still shows hints of that.

The one in Nye Beach stood at the Turnaround, where the parking lot is now. You can gaze out on the spot where it once was and imagine all the old-timey clothing and chattering of young and old alike – and the splashes they made.

Yet Newport’s natatorium story is a bit different. It lasted longer than the others, right up until the ‘50s or so. Then, as in other natatoriums, it became a skating rink.

The Nye Beach Natatorium, just as its counterparts, was also an entertainment center. Bands would play would play there, dances happened, especially in its later life around the ‘40s. According to the Lincoln County Historical Society / Museum in Newport, there were four dances a week by that time at the natatorium’s dance hall. The “Nat” - as this one and the others were known – held shindigs Friday, Saturday and Wednesday night, then with a Tea Dance on Sundays.

Yet there was much more to it. Newport’s museum writes:

“The Natatorium opened in 1912 and featured electric sweat baths, hot salt and steam baths and a 40 x 75 foot pool. Through the years it featured a theater, dance hall, mini golf course, bowling alley and more. The building also housed different shops and game rooms.”

On those dance nights the Nat was the hottest ticket, with Lincoln City’s Ocean Lake Pavilion being its main competition.

Photo courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society, Newport

Then in 1922, tragedy struck the building. On January 16, the Nye Beach Natatorium caught fire and was almost burned to the ground. Firemen actually didn’t spend much time fighting the blaze as strong coastal winds kept picking up burning shingles and sending them towards other structures. They were having to turn their attention to the summer homes and other parts of the business district, trying to squelch any new fires.

The Morning Oregonian on January 17 wrote:

“The natatorium was owned by E. M. Baker who said that the loss was around $30,000, partially covered by insurance. An agate shop in the building operated by Ruderman and son also was destroyed with an estimated loss of $1500. Other store rooms in the building included a picture show, bowling alleys, shooting gallery and other small concession stands.”

Indeed, Baker did rebuild and subsequent advertising touts a “new” natatorium, apparently at least before July of that year.

However, fire struck again in 1938, according to Newport’s history museum, and it was again fixed up.

After becoming a skating rink in the ‘50s it shut down, and later in that decade became dilapidated and in increasing states of ruin. A photo from 1966 clearly shows how there was no Nye Beach Turnaround at the time, but only a derelict building that was for sale.

Photo courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society, Newport

It appears it never really sold, at least not to private interests. Sometime in the late ‘60s it was razed and the Turnaround was built in its place.

In 1983, the Newport Visual Arts Center was constructed just above it.

Learn more at the Lincoln County Historical Society. Or at 545 SW 9th Street, Newport, when facilities open back up.

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