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 commonplace. 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.

Nye Beach Natatorium photo from Salem Public Library
The Ashland Mineral Springs Natatorium was the first of its kind in Oregon, opening Saturday, October 30, 1909. 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 built 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

The Potters knew their natatorium couldn't be the first in Oregon or on the beach, so added 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" erroneously gives that honor 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 of the resort buildings lost. The west was partially collapsed after being undercut during a winter storm in 1932. It was later deconstructed.
Photo of Bayocean Natatorium at its best
from the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum

Rockaway and Seaside built natatoriums 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's nemesis was a river, not the ocean. Using ORMAP with a Tillamook County tax map overlay, the GPS coordinates of the southwest corner of the lot where the Bayocean Natatorium was built are 45.527644, -123.955606. You can reach it on low tide. Concrete chunks were last seen during an extremely low tide several years ago by Harold Bennett and his son Kevin.