SEAVIEW — Anyone meandering on the Long Beach Peninsula might wonder why there are so many little communities on this 28-mile sand spit. Nine towns and unincorporated hamlets spill out along the roadway, each with its own distinct history.
From oysters in the North to commercial fishing in the South, each township developed over the last century and a half and each has different reasons for its existence.
While growth in most of Peninsula towns was spurred by commerce, Seaview matured in a different way. In the old days, a few people in Seaview were lucky enough to afford summer “cottages” in this unincorporated spot north of Ilwaco. Here would be a place for gracious summer-living at the beach.
Seaview was founded by a cooper named Jonathon Stout, who bought 153 acres along the ocean front and divided the land into lots of different sizes. It was 1881, and Portlanders were already flocking to the Peninsula on sternwheelers and ferries, catching the Clamshell Railroad for the final miles of the trip to the beach.
These working folks were eager to get out of the big city for fresh air and fun. They headed for an expanse of seashore next door to “Tinkerville,” now the town of Long Beach, where they pitched canvas tents and frolicked in their bloomers in the surf.
An enterprising contractor started building homes. Some of them were small and plain — beach cottages that sold for two to three hundred dollars. If you didn’t have that kind of money, you could rent a bare-bones cabin.
By the turn of the last century, the Portland’s middle class had taken notice of the Peninsula. They began building summer homes they would hold on to for generations.
Quiet little Seaview began to see itself differently from its neighbors — in visitor’s guides, residents described it the “Home of the Elite.”
Even today, Seaview is not embarrassed to brag. And indeed, some houses were extraordinary. Several of the biggest ones no longer exist, having burned down or been torn down many years ago.
One of the fancier mansions was the “Killkare House,” built by two Portland bankers who aimed to impress. They added a carriage house and stables and servants’ quarters. They hauled up handcrafted furniture, chandeliers, and French-fused glass. These were shipped around Cape Horn on masted schooners — no easy task considering how many ships went down in the treacherous waters off South America.
Locals relish the town’s unique history, and sometimes tourists are drawn in, too.
“When we first moved here,” said Nansen Malin, a Seaview resident who lives in a 106-year-old Dutch Colonial cottage. “It was very common to wake up and find someone peering in our windows because, you know, it’s kind of cool to walk around a community like this.”
Old-time residents can tell you which house has an ancient cypress tree that was shipped partially grown around the Horn and still thrives. The interior wood for some homes was handpicked and milled in San Francisco and carried to the Peninsula on returning oyster boats working Willapa Bay.
There’s the house with an extra wide front door. The owner wanted to be able to slide a coffin in and out of the house without a fuss. Death visited homes more frequently in the old days, and it wasn’t going to take the owner by surprise.
In 1940, the Jamison family hired architect Julia Morgan, to restore their summer cottage. Morgan was well known for working with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. With Morgan’s help, Hearst built his own private castle in California. Morgan is highly regarded today for employing master artisans and craftsmen in detailing her buildings.
“Unlike Oysterville or Ilwaco, you didn’t come here to work,” said Malin. Husbands often returned to Portland during the week, leaving their wives and children behind to enjoy the summer. These homes, fancy or plain, had no indoor toilets or plumbing until around 1915. None of them were insulated.
“We don’t have heat in our house,” said Malin. “We heat with a wood stove insert. We’ve slowly put in baseboards. People want modern conveniences”.
Often the owners of the homes do not retire here due to the lack of creature comforts in historic homes. Instead, they use their inherited houses as summer retreats.
“In Seaview we don’t allow vacation rentals,” said Malin. “We have a few that are grandfathered in, they’ve been operating for a lot of years.”
Visitors might notice the prevalence of “Monkey Puzzle Trees” in Seaview. These endangered trees have thick reptilian branches with tough, scale-like leaves. They’ve been called “living fossils.” Folks planted them from seeds given away for free at the Lewis and Clark Exhibition in Portland in 1906.
More than a hundred years later, Seaview’s biggest draw is its connection to the past.
“When you walk around Seaview, a lot of houses are owned by the same families, multiple generations and there’s an appreciation of its historical nature”, said Thandi Rosenbaum, who owns the historic Sou’Wester Lodge.
This getaway, originally built by a U.S. senator in 1892, had been one of the largest estates on the Peninsula. After 50 years, the property fell into “public domain” and was taken over by a couple who created a laid-back retreat for artists and other bohemian types. It’s uniqueness lies in its the array of vintage trailers parked all over the property. It probably wouldn’t be possible to create the Sou’wester Lodge today. Too many outsiders make old-timer Seaview residents uncomfortable.
Not everyone who lives in Seaview has history or money on their side. According to the most recent census, about eight percent of the town’s residents are living below poverty level. The town is split by the Pacific Highway. It’s on the east side that mobile homes and trailer parks cluster near the cranberry bogs — the agricultural mainstay of the area.
But the western half of Seaview is still a refuge for people with a certain degree of privilege. The median household income in Long Beach town is $29,500, but residents in Seaview have incomes over twice that — and about 60 percent of them don’t work, at least not at the jobs where they’d punch a time card.
“Our highest-priced homes are in Seaview,” said real estate broker, Gail Quimby. “It’s because of the aesthetics here and the classic Victorian houses. It has a different atmosphere from other areas on the Peninsula.”
Every so often, a Seaview house throws itself a birthday party. A house gets dressed up in balloons and bunting — and family and the neighbors come to celebrate, raising glasses to a home that’s been a member of the family for a hundred years.
“Seaview has a 100-year-long history of being very active about property rights and the environment,” said Nansen Malin.
The town is less than a mile long but it harbors broad expanse of sand dunes, grass and wetlands. These are among the last remaining pristine dunes on the Coast. The fight to save the dunes became a story that went statewide.
As Malin remembered, “The seawater used to come straight up to the back of the houses [on K Place]. But once the jetty was built, land started accreting.” Questions arose over who owned this new accreted land a half a mile wide that slowly expanded behind the original homes. The Supreme Court sides with upland property owners.
“All along the beach people had these little lots. I called them ‘piano lots’ because that’s what they look like — long and thin,” Malin said. “Developers wanted to come in and short plat — build houses and sell them. That’s what happened in Long Beach.”
Seaview homeowners feared developers would jack up condominiums in their backyards. The owners formed the Seaview Coastal Conservation Council, a sort of town forum that was eliminated by Pacific County commissioners in the 1990s. They took on the Department of Ecology and the Army Corps of Engineers. Washington State Parks bought much of the rolling dunelands south of the Seaview beach approach, but some of the area is still theoretically available for eventual residential development — if a rising ocean doesn’t take it back first.
“People feel passionately about everything here,” said Nansen Malin. “We’re organized. We get together. Seaview shows up.”
Folks in Seaview have written their stories in local publications. “Seaview,” they tell us, “is a place that has escaped the rampant commercialism of — for instance, the Oregon Coast.” Passionate Seaview takes no prisoners when it comes to telling it like it is.