Friday, June 10, 2016

Sandbags Couldn't Save E.H. Roberts's House

Ben Maxwell Photo ID 5507, Salem Public Library Historic Photograph Collections, Salem Public Library, Salem, Oregon.
When Tom Olsen of  Anchor Pictures shared his video on the history of the Port of Garibaldi last year, he told me of a video on Bayocean he'd produced twenty years ago. He recently found it, digitized it (the original was shot on Hi-8), and uploaded it to Vimeo for all to view. It tells the story of one of the houses lost to the sea, using an interview with Nancy Lee Goldberg and photos provided by Betty Lou Roberts. Tom had not been told who owned the house, or the women's relationship, but I had to know. Betty's last name was the main clue. I previously identified E.H. Roberts as the owner of the house shown on the right, by way of captions on photos of the same house in an Oregonian story on February 19, 193, and a 1940 Army Corps of Engineers report. Records at list Betty as the daughter of Evan Harry and Sylvana Huddleston Roberts, and that she died in 2002. Nancy was her cousin, the daughter of Winbert Huddleston, Sylvana's brother. Nancy refers to "Harry" in the video. Perhaps the woman on the beach is Sylvana. Pat Patterson told me he helped the Robertsons remove items from the house before it fell. Nancy died on May 10, 2016.

Tillamook County Deed Record 39, pages 331-333, shows E.H. Roberts buying the house on lots 29, 68, and the north halves of 28 and 69 in 1919 from the estate of W.J. Clemens, a Portland insurance man. This was just north of Jackson Gap.

Westview (as Clemens dubbed the house) was moved back from the edge at the end of January 1940 after storms first breached Bayocean, but the sand kept giving way, and by early 1945 it was again in danger. Near the end of February that year, the Roberts finally gave up and sold it for salvage to fellows named Strube and BarryIt was so large that each planned to build a house from the materials salvaged (with eleven rooms it must have rivaled the three Poulsen houses). After just a couple weeks of deconstruction - on March 13 - the house crashed into the sea. Beachcombers got what they could before continuing storms washed the rest away. (Oregonian 3.19; Tillamook Headlight Herald 3.15 and 3.22). 

E.H. Roberts was the President of the Roberts Brothers department store, located at SW Morrison and 3rd in Portland. His father Thomas had founded it fifty years earlier, and his sons Richard and William (Betty's brothers) carried on the family tradition. (Oregonian 10.18.1952). In Tom's video, Nancy identifies the boy in the photo to the left as Dick. He's lifting driftwood up from the beach below, for use as firewood, using a winch they rigged up for that reason. 

Nancy makes an interesting point: summers at Bayocean were wonderful for kids but hard on mothers. These women left behind all the conveniences, social life, and cultural activities of city life, for the relative isolation of a spit. Their husbands could bring a few things with them when they took the train to visit on long weekends, but mostly they were stuck with whatever provisions the Mitchells offered.

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