Monday, May 11, 2015

Competition for Bayocean's Natatorium

I recently learned from Cape Meares resident Deborah Thomas Neal that Bayocean's natatorium had competition in its day. I'll admit to having thought the term was just something the Potter's made up. Not so. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition defines "natatorium" as "an indoor swimming pool" and says the use of the term began somewhere between 1885 and 1890. Today, indoor swimming pools are common place. Perhaps at the end of the 19th Century promoters thought it would increase business by giving them a fancier name. Several were constructed in the Pacific Northwest soon after the start of the 20th Century.

The first natatorium in Oregon was in Medford. The description of a photo of Medford's natatorium at the Southern Oregon Historical Society's web site says that it opened in 1910, and that it was the largest building in Oregon at the time. According to the Oregon Encyclopedia's entry for Ashland, city boosters hoped that adding mineral springs to the equation would help the one they opened in 1914 entice tourists to drive further south. It didn't work. 


Nye Beach Natatorium photo from Salem Public Library
The Nye Beach Natatorium in Newport was much closer to Bayocean, and thus would have been tougher competition. Descriptions of photos in the Salem Public Library collections say that it was opened in 1911. Since it was rebuilt after burning down in 1922 it must have been a profitable business. But by  1966 it was in disrepair, and eventually was replaced by the Nye Beach turnaround and beach access. This was a use much better suited to the location, as made evident by a 1939 photo by Roger Hart showing ocean waves crashing onto the natatorium's porch.
Photo of Bayocean Natatorium in its final days,
from the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum


On page 84 of  Bayocean: The Oregon Town that Fell Into the Sea, Bert and Margie Webber say that Bayocean's natatorium was completed in 1912. The Potters must have known that Nye Beach's natatorium would open ahead of theirs. This may have motivated them to add  extra features, such as the movie theater and a wave generator that simulated ocean waves so bathers could enjoy the experience year round. This wave generator appears to be the first of its kind, though Wikipedia's coverage of "wave pools" gives that distinction to the Gellert Baths of Budapest, Hungary, which were built in 1927. Perhaps Wikipedia authors don't count Bayocean because it no longer exists. Being closest to the ocean, it was the first building to be undermined. In 1932 it closed the doors. 
Photo of Bayocean Natatorium at its best
from the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum


Rockaway and Seaside built natatoriums as well, in the 1920s. It was evidently quite the rage, according to More Beneath Sands of Oregon Coast Town Than Meets the Eye, a story told with the help of local historian Don Best. Unfortunately their fates were all the same - though the Rockaway Natatorium fought river more than ocean. Using ORMAP with a Tillamook County tax map overlay, the GPS coordinates of the southwest corner of the lot that the Bayocean Natatorium are 45.527644, -123.955606. You might reach it on very low tide in the winter. Concrete chunks were last seen years ago.