Seaview — The new owner of the Sou’wester in Seaview is targeting Portland’s younger crowd by continuing the hotel’s traditions of music, arts and back-in-style vintage trailers.

Thandi Rosenbaum purchased the landmark site in 2012. The historic building was built as a vacation home by Oregon U.S. Sen. Harry Corbett in 1892.

In addition to the main lodge and the trailers, the business came with a 42-space RV park.

Rosenbaum, an artist whose credits include work on the animated film “Paranorman,” has lived on the site since June.

She hadn’t actually been looking to buy a hotel, but when the opportunity arose she took a chance.

Anastasia Corya, who worked extensively in restaurants, manages the Sou’wester. She was there from the beginning as the deal was struck.

As they checked out the antiquated property they saw potential, but there were also a lot of “big ifs,” Corya said. Ultimately the research convinced Rosenbaum the purchase was a good idea, she said.

“It did happen really quickly,” Corya said, “but we did our best to prepare. We did a lot of projections and research and created a business plan, and it kept moving forward.”

She added: “Nothing seemed to make us want to stop. It seemed like it could work, so we did it despite (the fact that) every human being came to us and said ‘this is a huge project that will take years.’”

Rosenbaum and Corya knew the window for making money during summer wouldn’t stay open for long, so they and their crew of carpenters, painters and friends worked feverishly to get rooms ready.

No detail was left to chance.

“We played the world’s largest game of Tetris rearranging the furniture,” Rosenbaum quipped.

Marketing

The company focuses most of its marketing on its website. Rosenbaum and Corya also use their contacts to distribute postcards advertising the Sou’wester in Portland’s coffee shops. Rosenbaum created the cover artwork. The reverse side can be changed to advertise packages or specials coming up.

The hotel offers music on Saturday nights. During the summer concerts are held in the outdoor pavilion; during the winter they’re held in the lodge.

“Musicians are always really impressed with the sound of the (lodge) room,” Rosenbaum said. “‘There’s so much warm wood,’ is what they say.”

Music is free and open to the public.

The lodge hosted Portland-based musicians Lewi Longmire and Laura Gibson on recent weekends.

“We try to use that to introduce the hotel to the public, so the word starts spreading,” Corya said. “I’m really into direct advertising.”

Rosenbaum said at first they booked musicians they knew, then musicians who were friends of people they knew; now they have musicians calling them wanting to perform at the Sou’wester.

Vintage trailers

One unusual hook the Sou’wester offers is lodging in vintage travel trailers. Many are from the 1950s including several Spartan Mansions and a double-decker that sleeps six.

The double-decker is called the African Queen because of its African décor.

“The trailers need constant maintenance,” Rosenbaum said. “So we want to continue restoring them, and that’s a slow and detailed process.”

Once restored, they are less of a problem.

“We gutted them and did such a thorough job when we started that we’re aware of things before they’re a problem, Corya said.

The trailers are booked before anything else, Corya added. “It’s because of our clientele being young Portlanders,” she said. “They want the adventure of the trailers; they’re cute and unique.”

The Sou’wester’s vintage trailers also caught the eye of the Rollin’ Oldies Vintage Trailers, a group of vintage trailer enthusiasts based in Oregon. The group held a rally at the hotel in 2012 and plans to return this summer.

In addition, Rosenbaum said the group has offered advice on restoring the Sou’wester’s trailers.

RVs

Adding to the Sou’wester’s bottom line are the 42 RV spaces.

“That was financially really helpful for us to have,” Rosenbaum said. “I kind of fell into it, having no intention of being an RV park owner.”

Now she’s on the board of the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau, representing RV park owners.

Even though she’s still learning the business, the future appears bright for the RV end of the operation, she said.

“I know a lot of people my age and younger are all of a sudden again interested in buying RVs and going camping with their young families in smaller travel trailers and RVs, so I think RV parks on the Peninsula would do well to stay tuned to what’s happening in the market and adapt to them,” she said.

Looking ahead

The biggest expansion plans involve social, cultural and educational programs.

The hotel currently offers reduced rates for artists in residence. A showcase at the English Nursery Gallery next door on April 27 will highlight some of the work done by artists at the Sou’wester.

One of the trailers slated for renovation will be turned into an artist’s studio, Rosenbaum said.

Another trailer was pressed into service as the Thrifty Trailer thrift shop run by Kathy Duffy.

Rosenbaum is open to food carts, bike rentals or others on the site.

“We’re not real picky about what kind of enterprises they are,” she said, “because we want somebody who has some dream … and increase the cultural texture of the Sou’wester.”

Rosenbaum sees a bright future for the Peninsula.

She said: “(While) a vintage travel trailer hotel is more on the scarcer side of lodging types, many of the small inns and B&B's of the Peninsula do have a very personal touch and strong personality. Even the larger Adrift hotel designs with environmental responsibility and supports local food culture. It feels as though there is a demographic shift with younger people falling in love with the historical character as well as the natural beauty of the peninsula.

She sees her stewardship of the Sou’wester as picking up where former owners Len and Miriam Atkins left off.

“They set the tone and operated it as an independent establishment,” she said. “Very independent. Culturally independent and eclectic, unique. And their cultural programming and music programming was really appreciated by the Peninsula.”

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