I learned early on through years of tramping with my construction lineman husband, and later as a travel writer, that rarely do you see something so clearly as in those first days of experiencing it. In a new place, everything is fresh and if you’re lucky, in some way amazing or at least interesting. It’s a sad truth that after 17 years on the coast, I don’t see things the way I should. I take them for granted or just fail to notice. Recently, I drove to Pacific City for a travel story assignment and was surprised to find that after all the years of traveling 101, I couldn’t say the last time I’d noticed that spot on the highway where you look west and there, just for a moment, is the view of Haystack Rock. In truth, I only noticed it because as a travel writer, I know to open my eyes and collect as much detail and color as possible — which, if you think about it, is not a bad way to go through life.
That’s how Mike Arsenault is seeing Rockaway Beach. He has had a second home there for a few years, but it is only in the past year that he has called it home. And he sees it with fresh eyes, which has translated to a passion for the place that’s absolutely contagious.
“I am involved in a lot of things, just because that’s who I am,” Mike told me. “I like to keep things happening. The company I started, RecreateNow, is all about elevating arts and the culture in Tillamook County, especially North County, just because of the geography. The goal is to elevate the arts, to bring small towns closer together so that they are doing things together, sharing practices.”
Prior to talking with Mike, I would have said that I know Rockaway Beach and the little towns around it — and I do, kind of. I’ve written about some of the people there, about the Emily G. Reed shipwreck, about Pier’s End in Garibaldi and about the efforts to find a Spanish galleon off of Manzanita, among many others.
But I had no idea that Rockaway Beach was once home to its own Natatorium or the grand old Lake Lytle Hotel.
“This town had tremendous glory days in the 1950s,” Mike said. “The Natatorium had a heated salt-water swimming pool, bowling alley, pool hall and fabulous beach-facing restaurant/bar, the Panorama Room. Based on my observations with locals, it was the place to be.”
The Natatorium opened in 1935 and was closed in 1967, apparently after the state chose not to repair or maintain it. When they closed it, Mike said, they collapsed the walls, leaving the pool still in existence beneath the wayside. Now, he wonders, What would the Natatorium of 2025 look like?
Like the natatorium, the Lake Lytle Hotel also once played a significant role in Rockaway Beach’s glory days.
“Lake Lytle Hotel was originally called the Overlook Inn and was built in 1912, remodeled and later named Lake Lytle Hotel,” Mike said. “It was beachfront at 8th and Pacific. It was an early premium four-level hotel, ahead of its time. It met with the bulldozers in 1967 after years or disrepair.”
But it’s not just the history that has Mike jazzed.
It’s the personalities...
“The people that live in this town, the people that run the businesses, you need to embrace the fact that there are people who will tell you how they feel without any filter. We have strong personalities. You can love us or hate us, but you’re not going to forget us.”
And the beauty…
“Other towns are near the beach, we actually are on the beach. Seven miles of sand. It’s probably one of the most unspoiled beaches in this part of the Pacific Northwest.”
He even waxes poetic about the food — one of the reasons he started the Facebook page for Rockaway Beach Foodies.
“We now have over 500 members. We’ve done about 10 foodie events. Now, everyone is like, ‘When is the next event?’ It’s become a social event. People who are neighbors who have never met each other have met each other by coming to a foodie event. The most exciting thing is we are promoting and celebrating food, but it is also about bringing diverse communities together.”
I’ve no doubt we’ll be hearing more about Rockaway Beach — about art shows and author readings and, who knows, maybe a new natatorium.
See what happens when you look at things with a fresh eye.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.