The Cannon Beach Hotel: A New Beginning
By Claudia Toutain-Dorbec
PUBLISHED FOR THE CANNON BEACH HOTEL 100 YEAR ANNIVERSARY IN 2015 My vision for a small boutique hotel began in 1989 when I first moved to Cannon Beach. While I was growing that vision I completed other projects, my first motel project was in Gearhart, Oregon in 1989.
What is now the Cannon Beach Hotel was previously a bed and breakfast, one of the first in the area. At some point in the late 1980's, the second floor of the Becker Building was transformed into the first Cannon Beach bed and breakfast. A retired nurse from Boston, Beverly Smith (now passed), purchased the building and opened the bed and breakfast. I met her in 1992 and what she had accomplished was impressive. There were shared baths, plenty of teddy bears, old-fashioned curtains, wall paper, and all the trimmings that made it feel like home. Beverly was smart, hard-working, very direct, and amazingly tenacious. She did not suffer fools lightly. Breakfast was served promptly (in what is now the Cannon Beach Hotel laundry room) on picnic tables and the current rear entrance was where guests entered and registered. The current lobby of the hotel was storage and mostly unused space.
During the late 80's and until 1992, the Brass Lantern Restaurant was in the Cannon Beach Cafe's space. The locals flocked to the Brass Lantern and there was often a line. Even I was a customer before buying the building. Reza Kamali, a psychology professor at Portland State University, was the owner and chef, a lovely man with an outgoing personality. It was dark and funky, but the food was great and everyone loved it. His son currently owns Kamali Real Estate Agency in the area.
Beverly's son and his wife took up residence in what is now Room 8 on the second floor. Her first grandchild, Eileen, was born in 1990, and called that room home. She graduated from Portland State in 2012 and came to work for the Cannon Beach Hotel at the Front Desk! Until a few years ago, Eileen greeted hotel guests in person and on the phone much like her grandmother. She has moved on to follow her passion to become a teacher. We still miss her.
When I initially purchased the Becker Building in spring of 1992 from Beverly, along with partners Stephen Tuckman and Rod and Teresa Graham, we were pinching ourselves! Suddenly, we were in the hotel business. I felt like I had come full circle. I worked in several hotels at various capacities as a young woman before moving on to college and a corporate career. My first hotel job was at the Front Desk of the Cosmopolitan AirTel, the first airport hotel in Portland.
The next step was to name our hotel. Shortly after our purchase I discovered an old post card of the original Cannon Beach Hotel in an antique shop in Seaside. It was located where the Cannon Beach Christian Center is now. The hotel had been quite prestigious, even welcoming President Woodrow Wilson as a guest; unfortunately it was torn down many years ago. We searched for a name that would recapture the history of Cannon Beach, and looked for as much information as we could find. Long-time residents in the community shared stories and we were charmed by the few we heard about the old Cannon Beach Hotel, but saddened to know the building no longer existed. It was quickly unanimous that Cannon Beach Hotel should be reincarnated.
At the time we purchased the hotel there were rumors circling about the town that the building was set for the wrecking ball. We were even more ecstatic to be a part of Cannon Beach's history by saving one of the oldest hotels in town (and now we know one of the oldest continuously operated in the state!). We rolled up our sleeves and went to work. The entire building had to be renovated from top to bottom. During the process we were amazed to watch as the interior walls uncovered and the original construction of Roy Becker and his crew exposed for our inspection. The original entrances and many of the windows were in the same location, which is true to this day. There were lovely aspects of the building to appreciate, the wide upstairs hall, completely lined with beautiful first-growth pine and the original ice room was still intact. We found original floorboards and had other first glimpses into the time it was built. Unfortunately, the original floors, ruined by loggers "cork" spike boots, had to be covered. The original ice room, used for food storage before modern refrigeration, was removed to make way for a new kitchen and public restroom.
An open house was held on June 4th, 1992 for the newly christened Cannon Beach Hotel. The entire town was invited. We officially opened for business on June 5th, while finishing touches were still being made. In fact, the plumber was installing the last toilet in Room 9 and slipping out the back door just as I was greeting our first guests at the front door. Unbeknownst to me, the staff was in such a rush to get the rooms ready for the previous days open house they made the beds without sheets! I discovered this just before check-in the day of opening. We all jumped in and quickly made the beds before our first guests arrived. We laughed about that for years. JP's Cafe opened the same day in the restaurant space (now home to the Cannon Beach Cafe) and stayed until 2004 when they moved downtown. JP's restaurant would become one of the most popular in Cannon Beach, JP has since retired to enjoy his garden and missed by many.
In 2004, the Cannon Beach Hotel was updated once more. A serious effort was made to bring the finishing touches that we had originally hoped for in 1992, but could not afford. Wooden floors were installed on the first floor and all the wonderful trim you see today was added to restore the building to what it may have looked like 1914. The same can be said of the beautiful bathroom plumbing, period soaking tubs, and the tin ceiling and other touches in the Cafe.
I left the Company for six years while remaining a "silent partner" and my remaining partner, Stephen Tuckman, ran the business. I traveled extensively internationally, lived in Burgundy, France, and Santa Fe, New Mexico where I owned and operated two art galleries. I remarried a wonderful Frenchman, Pierre, a retired photo journalist. During that time I worked full-time as an artist. After spending five months as an artist-in-residence at Monet's Gardens in Giverny, France in 2010, I published a book of my work there, A Season at Monet's Garden. I have since published a second book, A Year in the Southwest, a project based on my time in New Mexico. I returned to operate the Company in 2012 and purchased it from my partner in September of 2013. Sadly, Stephen Tuckman passed away in March of 2015, he will be remembered fondly by many.
I remember standing across the street from Beverly Smith's Bed and Breakfast dreaming of how I could purchase it -- thinking it would make a perfect European-style hotel. At the time, I did not realize that my purchase would save it from the wrecking ball or that the Becker Building would continue serving food and taking in boarders under my care. To my amazement it all happened. Part of this dream was to see my daughters married in the hotel I fell in love with so many years ago. That dream came true on May 18th, 2013, when my oldest daughter, Jill, was married in the hotel. It was impossible not to cry as I watched her come down the lobby stairs. Abe Guretzki, an employee for over 17 years and also a part time pastor, officiated at the wedding. We held a lovely reception and dinner in the Cannon Beach Cafe after the ceremony. In a way, the hotel too has come full circle. From one family's dream, to another.
Cannon Beach Hotel Lodgings, four classic inns and a restaurant at the entrance to Haystack Rock: Cannon Beach Hotel and Cafe, The Courtyard, McBee Cottages, and Hearthstone Inn. Check-in for all our inns is at the Cannon Beach Hotel Front Desk. Cannon Beach Cafe, adjacent to the hotel lobby (a boutique bed and breakfast), operates seasonally from March to November. For information or reservations: 503-436-1392 or www.cannonbeachhotellodgings.com