Thursday, February 12, 2009

Vintage Roadside Visits: The Sou'Wester

Last week we were up on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula, in town as part of the planning for Jake the Alligator Man's Birthday Party on August 8th, 2009. (We'll have much more on this later, but in the meantime, think carnival sideshow married to rockabilly with a splash of burlesque...)

After the meeting, we had some time to explore before heading home and followed up on a couple of recommendations that we check out the Sou'Wester Lodge. Variously described as funky, eccentric, odd, and wonderful, we were hooked at the mention that there were vintage travel trailers on the property.

Thinking that we would do a quick swing by the property, we drove down to Seaview, knocked on the door of the Lodge, and ended up staying almost three hours visiting with the owner, Len Atkins - hands down one of the most interesting people we've ever met. Unfortunately, his wife Miriam was under the weather, but we look forward to meeting her next time.

Located on three acres with only trees and dunes between it and the ocean, the Lodge itself was once the summer home of Portland, Oregon businessman and politician Henry Corbett. Weathered by 117 years of coast rain and wind, the Sou'Wester remains impressive in its scale and interior woodwork. Within the Lodge, there are a number of small suites for rent on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Our favorite was probably the Picasso suite, decorated with art prints and postcard reproductions of Picasso's work and having a feeling of the artist's garret.

Art note: in the Lodge's main room, you'll find original art by Bill Cumming, founder of the Northwest School art movement, and Catherine Murphy, noted contempory realist painter. Both artists have spent time at the Sou'Wester and are counted among Len and Miriam's friends.

After a tour of the Lodge, Len was kind enough to show us around the grounds...and one of the most impressive collections of vintage travel trailers we've come across. Although the collection started almost by accident, Len has amassed Spartans, Airstreams, and the Pacemaker, the first trailer we've ever seen with an upstairs AND a downstairs. Although not easy to keep a travel trailer watertight and mildew-free at the coast, the trailers were well-loved but tidy and decorated with the same funky eye to art as the main Lodge. The price of a night in one of the trailers ranges from around $88 - $140 depending on the particular trailer and season.

Jumping back to the story of Len and Miriam, we learned some interesting facts during the course of our conversation with Len: they are originally from South Africa, spent a number of years in the 1950s teaching on a kibbutz in Israel, moved to Chicago in the late 1960s, and, tiring of city life after 15 years, set off on a quest for tranquility in a travel trailer of their own. Landing in Seaview, WA, Len and Miriam realized they were home and bought the Sou'Wester in 1981, two days after seeing the property for the first time. Nothing like a little adventure to keep one young!

If you happen to be near Seaview on Saturday, February 14th, the Sou'Wester is hosting a talk by noted naturalist and author Jim Stapleton, an event that fits right in with Len and Miriam's decades long tradition of gathering people together to share ideas, music, and art.

With its funky decor, very basic amenities, and rough-around-the-edges appearance, a night at the Sou'Wester might not be for everyone (something Len was careful to make clear). What we can say is that there is definitely something about the place and the proprietor that rings true - an authentic roadside stop run by authentic people on a quest for life experiences beyond the 9-to-5. We're looking forward to returning!


Rick Kilby said...

Sounds like an amazing place. Will you posting images on Flickr?

Learning Spanish at 41 said...

We've been needing a new road trip locale. Now that's a new destination for us to check out. Great write-up and thanks--hoping for photos on the stream!

*fingers crossed* :-)

Vintage Roadside said...

Rick - It really is a unique place. No photos due to weather the day we were there but we'll be back again soon.

Tina - If you're in the area stop by and introduce yourself. Great people with wonderful stories. Photos on the next visit in a couple of weeks:-)

wendy said...

I'm so glad you liked it. I ride my bike through the property regularly. Regrettably I have only been to one of the events but it was a truly unique experience. I'm always intrigued and enchanted by the place.

Vintage Roadside said...

Wendy - We had a great time. Thanks again for the tip!