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Whale Park gets a makeover

Cannon Beach's Public Art Committee chooses to improve Whale Park, a project as much about structural maintenance as it is about cosmetic renovation.
By Erick Bengel

The Daily Astorian

Published on July 30, 2014 4:30PM

Cannon Beach’s Whale Park, which marks the famous spot where Lewis and Clark came upon an enormous whale skeleton in January 1806, just got its long-awaited face-lift.

The small group of city officials, volunteers and contractor-artists who saw the project through to its completion gathered to commemorate the occasion July 28.

One thing everyone agreed on was that the final form of the renovated gazebo — with its new roof and finely carved supporting columns — represents a happy compromise between the desirable and the achievable.

Wear and tear

The original gazebo at Whale Park, where Third Street becomes North Hemlock Street, was built in the early 1980s and had long ago started looking its age: Moss covered its quaint shake roof, and the wood had turned dark and weather-beaten.

“It’s like any other facility: It had suffered from a lack of maintenance,” Public Works Director Dan Grassick said.

Then, last fall, the city’s Public Art Committee (formerly Sculpture Without Walls) decided to renovate and restore the structure.

Initially, the city wanted to tear down all of the wood and rebuild the entire thing from the ground up. But this would have entailed such inconveniences as pulling up the concrete foundations and having to earn the blessing of a structural engineer.

And no one wanted to deal with this expensive and time-consuming rigmarole.

“That did kill the whole project in terms of being feasible, because once we tore it down, we would have to completely redesign it,” Grassick said. “This thing took on a life of its own.”

Repair, not rebuild

Instead, city officials said, “We will repair it,” and the “repairman” was contractor Tevis Dooley III, of Arch Cape.

In May, Dooley and his brother-in-law, Gerald Sroufe, a contractor from Cannon Beach, went to work on the Whale Park gazebo.

Their job was not to demolish and resurrect but to perform some cosmetic surgery on the original frame.

On site, the men replaced the shake roof with a new one. They also replaced the old posts with sculpted pillars made of western red cedar “that are beautiful when you see them,” Grassick said.

“They pull you in and make you want to touch them. It’s very intriguing to watch people,” he said. “You reach out and you want to caress the posts.”

To replace the old bolts and brackets with new ones made of galvanized metal, they turned to Joe Sopko, owner of Sopko Welding in Seaside, Dooley said.

The trusses are still composed of the original beams, but even with the old wood living alongside the new wood, the structure looks practically brand new. For good measure, the contractors even rounded off the old rafter tails, making them less jagged and angular.

“It just needed a little TLC,” Grassick said. “It’ll last another 25 or 30 years.”


Now, again, despite its makeover — which was equal parts maintenance and renovation — the gazebo’s new look is still a compromise.

One idea that was dropped — because it would have cost an additional $50,000 or so — was to have the two central columns removed entirely “so there was a larger opening to the whale,” said Hank Johnson, a member of the Public Art Committee. Johnson was referring to a statue of a whale in front of the gazebo.

As the structure stands, “I think it’s quite beautiful,” he said, though he would have preferred a shingle roof to the shake roof because shingles “have a more refined look.”

The city budgeted $25,000 for the project. Though the contractors’ final invoices have not yet been received, “we can safely say” that the total cost of the project” came in at less than $20,000, Grassick said.

“They did a great job,” Mayor Mike Morgan said. “It would have been nice to have redone the whole thing, but given the limitations of the building code and all that, it was a very clever solution to just replace one post at a time.”


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