The 'Mother Lode' found in Seaview

<I>GLENN GILLESPIE photo</I><BR>Brothers Warner and Ron Williams talk about life in Seaview.

SEAVIEW - When we bought our beach house back in 1983, we chose an old two-story fixer-upper on the beach side of K Place in Seaview. While the price was right, it needed plenty of work, but my wife could see the old place had possibilities.

In years past, Seaview was a vacation enclave that attracted many families, including a surprising number from the Portland area, who wanted a quiet place close to the beach for a family vacation home. It worked that way for us.

As a writer, what I didn't know back then was that we sure picked the right house on the right street. Seaview and our K Place neighborhood from 37th south to 30th concealed a veritable mother lode of good feature story ideas. What a neighborhood! I didn't have a clue at first, but after I got acquainted and started checking around for features for the Chinook Observer, good stories kept popping up all around.

Since then I have thoroughly mined our neighborhood for Observer stories. One often led to another, thanks to tips from friends I made along the way. It took some digging to discover them all, but some of the stories just fell in my lap. I have no idea why this part of Seaview produced so many stories, but I'm glad it did.

First, though, before story time started we had to fix up the fixer-upper - and that took a while, too. Until I retired from my Portland day job in 1990, the fixer-upper beach trips to Seaview were limited to quickie weekends and vacation time. It was hard to sustain a particular project, and the work progressed slowly. After I retired we could come here whenever we wanted. Then the work went faster, with lots of professional help.

Eventually I got bored, though, as a writer tends to do when he or she isn't writing. So when my beach house was fixed up the way we wanted it, and when I had more time for writing, I asked the Observer's editor if he might be interested in some of my feature stories. He said let's give it a try.

Now here's where the mother lode comes in. Would you believe that once I started writing for the newspaper in 1997 or '98, I have written a full dozen stories based right here on K Place in Seaview, or at most maybe half a block away for a couple of them? That's 12 stories in just within a few blocks of our home base.

This has to be a magical place. I have never, ever encountered such a street as this with so many interesting people with stories to tell and who are willing to tell them. Almost every other house on the street has produced a story of one kind or another. It's a writer's dream.

While it wasn't the first story I wrote for the Observer, the "house history" story is one of the first I remember doing with a K Place locale. We wanted to find out as much as we could about the history of our old house - who owned it first and when, how many owners there had been in the interim, and whatever else we could find out about it.

Early in the fall of 2002 we started our quest with a trip to the county seat in South Bend. We started at the courthouse there, gathering what information was available, and then were directed to the title company office down the hill. That's where we hit paydirt.

A title company clerk produced records dating back to the early 1880s when the first owners of the property acquired it. The house likely was built in 1882 by the second owner, and records show there have been eight owners in all, including us, in the nearly 125 years of its existence.

The story of our successful sojourn to South Bend was published in September 2002.

Of all the K Place stories, my favorite by far was the camouflaged North Head Lighthouse saga in the spring of 2004. Technically, of course, it didn't happen on K Place at all, but the idea originated there anyway. When I first heard about it, my interest perked up immediately. The story idea came from one of the Williams brothers, Warner Williams, who with his brother Rod have been direct sources for at least four of the stories in the neighborhood series recounted here.

Warner and his buddy Stan Lochrie, both Seaview natives who grew up on K Place, got laboring jobs with the Army Engineers the summer after high school graduation, and the North Head Lighthouse was one of the places they worked. They got there just in time to see painters suspended from the top in bosun's chairs, busily painting the lighthouse in camouflage colors.

The reason was simple enough. World War II had just begun. Fort Stevens across the Columbia had just been shelled by a Japanese submarine and war fever was at its peak here on the coast. Everybody was scared.

The Army brass decided they ought to try to disguise the lighthouse with a new paint job, whatever good that might do. And whatever the motivation, the North Head Lighthouse soon had a new coat of camouflage paint, and it made a great story. We could locate no original photos of the "hidden" lighthouse, but electronic technology came to the rescue. The newspaper used a computer-generated photo showing how the lighthouse might have looked in its new colorful colors, and the caption identified it as such.

More recently, Rod Williams tipped me to another story involving Stan Lochrie, his Seaview buddy who went away to war and flew 29 missions in B-17 heavy bombers over Europe in World War II. Stan's story belongs in this group because he grew up on K Place.

This summer, Stan's family members, including children, spouses and grandchildren, read about a barnstorming B-17 bomber taking passengers on flights from the Hillsboro airport, just west of Portland. They decided a bomber ride would make a great Father's Day present and made it happen.

As family members watched from the airport tarmac, Lochrie's ride in a B-17 Flying Fortress named "Fuddy Duddy" - with the cartoon character Elmer Fudd painted on the nose - was both thrilling and nostalgic. One of the best parts was a photograph, published in the Observer, of Lochrie surrounded by his family standing in front of the big bomber.

Warner's brother. Rod Williams, who grew up in a Seaview house on K Place and now lives with his wife in rural Long Beach, helped straighten out one of my K Place yarns in the research stage.

For years we had heard stories that a house next door to ours had housed Coast Guard personnel during the war and might even have had clandestine wartime radio equipment in its garage, maybe to communicate with American warships offshore. Who knew? Rumors were rampant. Rod Williams was skeptical, and poked holes in those back-fence theories right away. He knew that the house in question had been built by an Ilwaco banker, father of Stan Lochrie, buddy of the Williams brothers, and to his knowledge had never housed Coast Guard personnel or radio equipment of any kind, whether Coast Guard or some other. Queries to Coast Guard headquarters in Ilwaco confirmed that theory.

While we were researching the "Coast Guard house" story, Rod told us about still another story idea that made the paper. As a kid riding his bicycle just east of Long Beach, not long after World War II started, he saw an Army searchlight unit setting up for a training exercise.

"It was one of those big searchlights on a rubber-tired rig, and I was really impressed," he said. "In those days there was a lot of military stuff happening here on the Peninsula that not many folks knew about."

We combined that story with the Coast Guard house story, and photographed Rod Williams near the location where he saw the big Army searchlight that had so impressed him many years ago just off 41st Place.

One of the Williams brothers figured in yet another K Place yarn, first outlined to me one summer's day at the Williams' vacation home on that special street, K Place. It turns out that as a first-grader, Warner Williams surely was the only kid on the Peninsula who rode the train home from school.

First grade at the Ilwaco school dismissed its classes two hours ahead of the high school, and the school bus waited for the older kids. That was a problem, and Williams recalls:

"My mother, not wanting her six-year-old to wait for two hours for the bus, bought monthly train passes to take me from Ilwaco to Holman Station on L Place in Seaview" - a block from his home.

Later, we were privileged to meet and write about a noted Oregon writer and historian who built a hideaway cottage he called "Crank's Roost" on 37th just half-a-block from K Place in Seaview. This man was Terence "Terry" O'Donnell, a published author, historian, poet and long-time staff member of the Oregon Historical Society. As a youngster O'Donnell often visited the Peninsula with friends crossing on the ferry and exploring on his bike.

Sadly, I also was asked to write his obituary for the Chinook Observer after O'Donnell died in March 2001.

O'Donnell's nephew put the "Crank's Roost" Seaview cottage up for sale after that, and another "story idea" bought it. She was Lisa Smith, who came to this area as manager of the community radio station in Astoria, KMUN, and I interviewed her for a story in the Observer.

After a successful year with KMUN, Lisa moved to Philadelphia to take a public affairs position at a prestigious eastern college. More recently she married a noted writer. Buzz Bissinger, who won a Pulitzer Prize for stories he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Bissinger's latest book was listed on the New York Times best seller list for 19 weeks.

Lisa has kept the cottage and comes to visit her neighborhood friends every once in a while.

The house on 37th just across the street from "Crank's Roost" is owned by Mary Alice Neale, widow of the well-known tennis player Emery Neale. Built originally for Mr. Neale's parents, the house figured in a story and is close enough to K Place to qualify for this listing. As published in the Observer in January 2002, the story told how the house was built from lumber salvaged from a 1925 shipwreck, the lumber schooner Caoba that went aground in a winter storm.

An enterprising local salvage expert and beachcomber Harry DeMuth, claimed salvage rights, gathered up the lumber and built a number of houses with it, including the Neale home.

The elder Neales, who owned a large collection of books, established what probably was the first lending library on the Peninsula. In those days traditional libraries had not yet been established, so the Neale family set up their own free book-lending service for their Seaview area neighbors.

Among Seaview's newer houses on the block is a charming cottage built in 2002 for Tom and Marilyn Stiver of Silverdale. They plan to retire here eventually, but for now they are weekenders. The structure replaced a tiny vacation home named "Clamalot" which had been a well-known fixture on the lot for many years, and that helped make it a story for the K Place feature list.

Tom Stiver remembers past family reunions at Clamalot, one in particular with a large turn out.

"Because the house was quite small we set up card tables and a picnic table in the front yard and put all the dishes and glassware out there, getting ready for the relatives to arrive," Stiver recalled. "The house was close to the street, and people driving by thought we were having a big yard sale."

One of the items the Stivers salvaged from the old place before it was torn down was the Clamalot nameplate, which they proudly installed near the front door of their new home.

The travel tales told by a full-time K Place resident, Beverly Rolfe, also made our feature story list. Wanderlust and an intense interest in other lands have taken her to more than a dozen countries around the globe. Two other trips, to Peru and India, were featured in personalized travelogues edited by this writer and published in the Observer.

Without listing each story, it's about time to end this tally of K Place feature stories that came our way. While we haven't mentioned them all, there's one more memorable story we wanted to tell you about.

Who, indeed, could forget June Dust, that plucky lady in her electric powered cart, tooling down the center of K Place with two of her dogs in close pursuit, on her way to the post office or Sid's Market. (June's golden retriever was one of the few dogs allowed inside at Sid's.)

She lived down near the south end of K Place, and the first time I met her she was booming along the road on her electric cart, friendly and out-going as always. I stopped to chat and we soon became friends.

June was recovering from a massive stroke suffered several years earlier, which affected her speech, caused partial paralysis and other physical problems. After long months of physical therapy her condition improved. She regained her speech and soon was able to get around home with the aid of leg braces.

She enjoyed cooking, and her culinary specialty was preparing delicious desserts at Seaview's Depot restaurant, then owned by June's son and daughter-in-law.

As she adapted to her new and daunting physical circumstances, June Dust began taking part in community activities. In 1999 she was an organizer and busy chairman of the first annual "K Place Block Party" - a neighborhood gathering and potluck dinner that brought folks together from several nearby streets.

June Dust now is living in southern Oregon with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. She is a remarkable woman with remarkable inner strength, and I was privileged to know her and write her story.

So that's how it was on K Place, where the feature stories grew like dandelions, totaling 10,000 words or more on the most productive street on the Peninsula and keeping my computer humming.

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