The Rusty Magic of Sou'Wester Lodge

How a senator's vacation home became an artist haven.

It's hard to talk about the Sou'Wester Lodge without resorting to certain cliches.

Sitting just over the Washington side of the Astoria-Megler Bridge in the woodsy town of Seaview, hidden among a cluster of Douglas firs, it's the sort of place that inspires froofy descriptions like "enchanting" and "magical." Those are accurate, but they're also not enough to describe this place, which has quickly achieved its new owners goals of becoming the go-to spot for artsy Portland scenesters looking to feed off the energy of the Pacific.

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The Sou'Wester is an inn, campground and trailer park, all conforming to an aesthetic of thrift-store kitsch. It's ramshackle enough to scare off daintier types, but cozy enough to feel like you're staying at your grandparents' house in the country. It's quirky and earthy, romantic and rusted, silly and charming—like a frontier junk shop you wouldn't mind honeymooning at.

(Emily Joan Greene) (Emily Joan Greene)

If that sounds a bit patchwork, it's a reflection of the Sou'Wester's evolution over the last century. Sen. Henry W. Corbett, one of the most powerful men in early Portland, built the main three-story lodge as a vacation home in 1892. When it opened to the public in the 1940s, the second-floor ballroom was converted into guest suites, and separate cabins were added to the grounds. A little later, a fleet of about a dozen midcentury travel trailers were brought in as additional lodging. Ranging in size from the double-decker African Queen to the tiny Potato Bug two-sleeper, they are the Sou'Wester's main attraction. While the exteriors show the wear and tear of years being battered by sea air, the interiors have been refurbished—though the vintage appliances need to meet some steel wool—and sleep as comfortably as any bed-and-breakfast.

Four years ago, the property was purchased by a transplanted Portlander, Thandi Rosenbaum, who established the Sou'Wester as a getaway for young creatives. She turned one trailer into a makeshift consignment shop, and another into a rentable analog recording studio. An artists-in-residence program, promising "a distraction-free week devoted to your own creative pursuits," has produced a Nick Jaina project, a screenplay and other small items—artwork, candles, beeswax—that are then put on sale in the de facto gift shop in the lodge's mud room. On Saturday nights, bands play the downstairs parlor in the main building. Some leave merchandise behind, adding to the collection of vinyl available to play on turntables in some of the units.

(Emily Joan Greene) (Emily Joan Greene)

Oh, and if you're lucky enough to get a room with a VCR, there's an extensive wall of videotapes, which can be borrowed on an "honor system" that extends to basically every other amenity. Watching Kingpin in a coastal storm while rain rattles the top of a slightly musty airstream trailer? You can only call that "magical."

Sou'Wester Lodge, 3728 J Place, Seaview, Wash., 360-642-2542, $77-$178 per night.


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