Crusty mid-century modern, a visit to the Sou'Wester Lodge

Can you see those trailers in the background!?

For enthusiasts of mid-century-modern design, the vintage travel trailer possesses serious mojo. There's something about the travel trailer that encapsulates a concentrated dose of Americana. Sleeping inside one of these often-musty trailers is like entering an intimate time capsule. You get an in-your-face exposure to past space-age design ideas and "modern" construction materials. How can you avoid thinking about the history of where these trailers came from when you're brushing your teeth in a trailer's bathroom?

Many people are aware of Shady Dell, a motel in Arizona where you can stay the night in a restored, period-correct travel trailer. Here in the Pacific Northwest we have possibly a better collection of vintage trailers at the largely-undiscovered Sou'Wester Lodge. (Warning: web 1.0!) Like the Shady Dell, you can experience them first hand by staying in them!

A few weeks ago, the family took a short trip to the beach. The pretext for the three hour drive from Portland was to look at a used china cabinet for sale on craigslist in Longbeach, Washington. We figured we shouldn't kill ourselves with the long trip. So we planned one night's stay at our favorite hotel, the Sou'Wester Lodge, located in Seaview Washington on Long Beach Penninsula.

Here is a link to my Flickr set of the trip.

The main part of the hotel is an 1892 summer home built for a former Oregon Senator, Henry Winslow Corbett. At some point, the main house (impressive in its own right) was converted to a hotel. In the 1940s or 1950s, drive-in cabins were added along with an amazing collection of now-vintage mobile home/travel trailers. (There are also RV parking spaces.)

Staying at the Sou'Wester is definitely a diamond-in-the-rough experience. I absolutely love everything about this place but it's not for everyone. The current owners are ex-patriot South Africans, Len and Miriam. They purchased the business sometime in the 1980s and have imbued and transformed the former tourist motel into something much more with their love of art, peace and humanity. Frequently the Sou'Wester hosts lectures and classical music concerts. This earthy intellectual culture might not jive too well if you are a tatooed rockabilly-ist. This is no Atomic Age Disney Land.

The owners appear to have viewed the trailers with some ironic distance. They are certainly protective custodians but they also call them "Tch, Tch," a British-ism for tacky. Over the years some of the trailer exterior walls were used as surfaces for murals and practically all of the trailers have guest art, guest journals and found beach objects. This may have been their attempt to breathe some "taste" into the stay. The decorating attempts to bring something softer and perhaps a more-grounded aesthetic to the sharp modern American design ideas.

Nevertheless there are the trailers in all their shaby glory.
Boles-Aero, three Royal Spartans and a Zel-Mar

While the owners of the Shady Dell probably spend a lot of money and time locating period-correct furnishings and fabrics for their trailers, Len and Miriam are perfectly content with, say for example, a homey late-80s floral bedspread:

Zel-Mar bedroom

And why not? This isn't a museum. Let the Sou'Wester be what it is. A vintage trailer enthusiast doesn't need a perfect restoration to appreciate the trailer underneath. Mostly the trailers are still remarkably intact. The wood in the bedroom of the Zelmar provides an enveloping warmth.

Look past the guest art and you can still make out the original Formica and appreciate an original cabinet hinge or light fixture.
Zel-Mar, looking into the kitchen

When I first experienced the interior of a Royal Spartan, I was surprised by how well integrated the use of natural wood paneling was with the more modern design items such as the appliances and hardware.

It is certainly a surprising diametric contrast from the aluminum-clad exterior. Some of these trailers are indeed very earthy while still being modern. Is this a synthesis of Monty Python's "horrible" Tinny verses "good" Woody? A new world view?

Sou'Wester's Pacemaker trailer is a departure from the warm wood paneling of the Spartans and the Zelmar.


The interior is angular and I would say is more populux instead of moderne.

Pacemaker interior

Can you get more atomic age than a light fixture shaped like an atom?
Pacemaker light fixture

There are numerous other trailers at the Sou'Wester. I counted at least five Spartans and there are other interesting models on the site. Surprisingly there's only one Airstream and it's a small one. If you are interested in a stay, it might be worthwhile to show up early and see what is available. In the winter there are frequently a lot of options.

The Sou'Wester is right at Seaview, Washington's beach access. While I don't encourage it, this beach is actually a legal state highway and it can be driven on at least up to Long Beach. If you are in the area, we suggest a visit to the Depot Restaurant, about a two block walk from the Sou'Wester, a bit fancy but, hey, you're on vacation. There are also oysters in Oysterville (up the peninsula) and Jake the Alligator Boy at Marsh's Free Museum just up the road (or beach) in Long Beach. Now we're talking tacky!