One of the most impressive buildings on Newport’s historic Bayfront also houses one of the area’s best kept secrets.
The Pacific Maritime Heritage Center is a major museum and interactive center that celebrates the history, art, diverse culture, commerce and marine scientific research of the central Oregon coast. Lincoln County Historical Society executive director Susan MG Tissot is eager to spread the word about this community asset and make it a must-see destination for locals and tourists.
Tissot said many people who’ve lived in the area their entire lives have never been to the heritage center or may not even know about it.
“People tend to neglect their own backyard,” explained Tissot. “That is why we are creating a lot of new programming and changing exhibits. People need a reason to come back.”
The 30,000-square-foot museum has two changing exhibit galleries, now that the previously unfinished mezzanine gallery has been remodeled. An Oregon State University traveling art exhibit about agriculture called. “The Sustainable Feast” has 49 pieces of art and runs through Sept. 30.
“Animals in Nature” runs in the Galley Gallery until Oct. 9 and features the work of three Oregon artists who find their inspiration in nature as well as art and artifacts from the museum’s collection.
“That exhibit is about conservation and wildlife and using those concepts for education purposes,” Tissot said. “People learn in different ways and art is a great way to get concepts across and drive those concepts home. It’s not our job to tell people what to think. We succeed if we get people to think.”
The main floor includes an exhibit on commercial fisheries and a shipwreck and coast guard exhibit.
The new exhibits are coupled with several one-day programs such as a lecture on native plants, living with black bears on the coast and a meet and greet with Buck, the first and only wildlife detection K-9 in Oregon. These one-time programs are free and open to the public, and children must be accompanied by an adult.
The Doerfler Family Theater is a beautifully remodeled, small venue in the museum with 121 seats and room for about 150 with additional chairs. The theater features 15 short films that range in duration from about 3 minutes to 30 minutes. When visitors self-select a topic from a keypad, the projector turns on, a large screen lowers, and the chosen movie begins to play. The museum was awarded a grant to produce three more films, and Tissot has plans to add captioning to all the films.
The Siletz Music Festival will be held in the theater on Wednesday, Sept. 7 starting at 7:30 p.m. Tissot said the acoustics in the theater are very good and with an evening of live music with the backdrop of the commercial fishing fleet and sunset on the bay, the concert will be spectacular.
Besides new programming and exhibits, Tissot, who started in her position in May, is focused on two other special projects including the transfer of 50 years of the oral history collection from cassette tapes to digital and continued digitization of the museum’s image collection.
“We want to make these images easily accessible to the community,” she said. “If they aren’t digitized, it is like finding a needle in the haystack. Digitizing makes the photos available 2/47 online so people can access them for free.”
In addition to the exhibits, visitors to the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center can enjoy three levels of spectacular bayfront views and browse the gift shop and bookstore.
The center is located at 333 SE Bay Blvd on the hill just east of Local Ocean Seafood.
Parking is available at the top of the hill next to the building. All Historical Society buildings are wheelchair accessible.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children 13-17, kids 12 and under get in free. Family and group rates available. Members receive tickets for free admission to the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center.
The center may be available to rent for events, meetings or special occasions if staffing allows. Tissot has plans to renovate a 2,000-square-foot space next to the theater into a multi-purpose room that could be used for classes, small conferences and receptions.
Volunteers are still needed and applications can be found on their website. But Tissot said the most important things community members can do is support the museum through memberships, donations and participation.
The site was first graced with a home built in the 1880s for Dr. James Bayley and his wife, Elizabeth. That building burned in 1923, leaving only the foundation and chimney. A new home was built in 1925 by World War I hero General Ulysses Grant McAlexander on the site. In the late 1970s and early 80s, the structure underwent extensive remodeling and expansion and reopened as Smuggler’s Cove, a restaurant and nightclub. Up until 1999 it housed Gracie’s at Smuggler’s Cove, a popular restaurant. It sat empty for five years until the building and site were purchased by the Lincoln County Historical Society in 2004. The society is the governing body of the heritage center as well as the Burrows House Log Cabin Research Center and Archives in Newport.
“It was a tremendous amount of love and support from the community to get us to this spot,” Tissot said. “It was a huge project and represents an investment of $3.5 million by the community.” That investment, through government entities, grants, individuals and families, all came together to make it happen without incurring any debt.
“We don’t have a lot of money or an endowment, but the community can be really proud this building has gotten this far without any debt,” Tissot said.