Seaview gets a sign

At Oman's back lot in Ocean Park, sign-painter Donnie Sartwell, left, and engineer John Ramage consult on the Seaview sign.

How many people does it take to change a sign? In the case of the Seaview beach access sign, it takes a village. And perhaps even more importantly, a village chief, in the personage of Nansen Malin. Even Nan admits that people see her as the unofficial mayor of Seaview.

Malin, who can wear many hats — from topiary master, to political social media kingpin, to grandmother — says wryly about the two year process to decide on, agree on, and execute on a new Seaview sign, “It’s been a journey.” That appears to be an understatement.

Two years ago in August one of the posts holding up the Seaview sign was hit by a motorist and came down sometime in the early morning of the next day. “The sign was old, hadn’t been property maintained, and was so termite ridden that even people who collect old signs for memorabilia didn’t want it. If you’d brought it onto your property your house would be endangered!” says Nan over lavender tea in the historic house she shares with husband Brett and seven year-old French bulldog Midnight.

When the post was hit, it seems the police got the first call, but Nan got the second one. “I’m the one people come to when they have a problem that needs solving, whether it’s about property rights, or history, or some community issue. I’m sort of the information hub in Seaview.”

Nansen and I were on the same side of an important Seaview issue back in 2005 when we were fighting to keep developer Matt Doney from building in the Seaview dunes. (In October 2005 Doney submitted a request to the Seaview Sewer District for 120 new sewer hook-ups. This was just the last in a series of problems that resulted in the Washington State Shoreline Hearings Board issuing a ruling to formally “vacate” Doney’s development permit, which had earlier been issued by the Pacific County Board of Commissioners.) Folks know when Nan is called, things get done.

So, lo, those two years ago, Nan met with the usual suspects on the sign problem and heard something roughly like, “We can’t replace the sign — it’s going to cost too much.” Of course her next question was, “What’s too much?” She was told it would probably be $35,000, to which she immediately said, “We can do this!”

So Nansen began the process of talking to people — a lot of people — from engineers, to county personnel, to neighbors, to contractors, to artists and artisans, to local businessmen and women. She involved all relevant entities: Pacific County, the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, The Seaview Historic Preservation Society (SHiPS), the South Pacific County Community Foundation (SPCCF) and others.

It was slow going. Between the last Seaview sign installation in 1998 and the new one Nan was hoping to install, structural codes had changed; there were new safety regulations; weather had to be taken into consideration. Nan spent one full year just researching everything needed to put a new sign in place. Finally as she puts it, “I just threw my hands in the air and said, ‘I need a sign, send me some help.’” Very shortly help arrived in the form of retired CH2MHill engineer John Ramage who took over some of the heavy lifting by managing the engineering aspects of the project. This development was a breakthrough, but there was still a long row to hoe; or maybe we should say a long line of crab pots to set.

Even when most of the critical engineering specs were established — for instance the sign had to change in size from 12 to 15 feet high; and from 24 to 36 feet across; and would come in at 1,700 pounds — there were still so many other details to figure out. And everyone — everyone! — had a different idea about how the sign should look.

“I did a lot of research on old beach signs,” Nan says, “and put together a power point of historic beach signs, some from as far away as Florida.” Then she also shows me display boards with a collection of black and white photos of the Seaview signs over the ages. “I think the first Seaview sign over the beach road was from the ‘30s, though there was a sort of arch of whale ribs at a Seaview property earlier than that.” Nan took her “show and tell” around to groups of neighbors and county officials trying to solicit opinions and cobble together some consensus.

“We asked a lot of questions. How could the sign conform to engineering specs and still keep with the feel of the Seaview community? I spent two years listening to everybody’s version of what they wanted. The people who own property here have strong opinions and had hugely diverse ideas: some wanted it to be metal, or super-modern looking. I helped us come to a common ground agreement that fits the community. That was quite a process.”

And yet, the goal was still a ways off. As anyone who lives here and owns real property knows, finding a qualified contractor who is bonded, competent, available, returns calls, shows up when scheduled, and gets you on the calendar in a timely fashion — especially during the prime building season — is nigh onto a miracle. And the Seaview sign team needed several different types of specialists to complete different aspects of the project: the sign needed specially-made flanges and brackets, poles, cranes and hoists, paint, road closures, augur drilling, and hauling. Nan’s networking proved to be indispensable.

Nan shared with me that sometimes she called around to find out how to intercept contractors while picking up materials for another job, or even at a worksite; “sometimes I just call their wives!” (She got me belly laughing on that one.)

But here it is, the denouement: as you read these words, the new Seaview sign may actually be in place. Just as we were finishing our tea, Nan made a call and was told the final installation — attaching the lettered beam to the poles — would be happening this week, (or not!). Even Midnight jumped up off her chair and started dancing around the dining room table!

A couple weeks ago, the poles, donated by PUD, were cemented into eight foot holes (strangely and scarily dry after this summer’s drought); meanwhile the main beam itself has been sitting in the back lot of Oman’s in Ocean Park while Donnie Sartwell put on the finishing touches.

But locals and tourists alike will soon be driving under big bold raised capital letters — S-E-A-V-I-E-W, in Venus, a turn of the century font — on a background of luscious ocean blue. SHiPS, a 501-c3 nonprofit that was created in 2006 has, with SPCCF support, ensured that sign maintenance will not be a problem.

If you’d like to bring this amazing effort its last few yards to the finish line — Nan says there is still a small gap in funding of $2,000 — please donate here: The grand total comes in around $32,500; but that certainly does not count the hours of exasperation and creativity put in by Nan and her band of dedicated community members.

So, with a nod to Margaret Mead, let us salute with our clam shovels: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change a sign.

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