CAPE FOULWEATHER’S LOOK-OUT OBSERVATORY & GIFT SHOP
by Jackie Meredith
A common thread in the tapestry of our Oregon Coast’s history are the momentous quests of pursuing personal dreams. Many individual paths intertwined and merged to create spectrums of unique passions, challenges, stories, accomplishments, and “dreams come true.” Various points of these historical intersections cultivated sites that remain today as opportunities to immerse yourself into a time-warp of sorts and historical integrity.
Such a place is Cape Foulweather’s Look-Out Observatory & Gift Shop… As you unfold from your vehicle in the parking lot, immediately you sense a “high” degree of inimitable venue – Nature and Mother Earth partnering to create their unique splendors. The scenery is absolutely breath-taking as the incessant winds remind you of unseen energies that craft and impact coastal landscapes.
The famous Cape was sighted in 1778 by Captain James Cook during his search for a passage to the Atlantic, “Foulweather” was the first promontory that he named on his five-day journey along the Oregon coast:
“The land appeared to be of a moderate height,
diversified with hills and vallies, and almost everywhere
covered with wood. There was, however, no very striking object on any part of
it, except one, hill,
whose elevated summit was flat. At the northern extreme, the land formed a
point, which I called Cape Foulweather, from the bad weather that we,
soon after, met with.”
This site of history is located approximately 3 miles south of Depoe Bay and 9 miles north of Newport. In an area known as Cape Foulweather’s “Bald Knob,” the Look-Out is perched upon a cliff 500 feet above the Pacific Ocean.
Whereas various ownerships have changed over the years, the essential “threads” of this site were Wilber “Buck” Badley and his wife, Ann.
DREAM UNFOLDS INTO REALITY
During the 19th century, the only man-made structure at “Bald Knob” (the flat summit on the hill) was a modest stagecoach station serving passengers between Depoe Bay and Newport. During the last days of World War I, a representative of the Hershey Chocolate Co. named Wilber “Buck” Badley found time to explore the hills and beaches of Lincoln County in the course of his distribution circuits and in 1934, Buck and his wife Ann decided to follow their dream of living on the Oregon Coast. They purchased 160 acres of property, including the “Bald Knob” and the remains of the stagecoach station on the Old Oregon Coast Road, and began construction of the “Fair Weather Coffee Bar.” (This was during the period when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established many of Oregon’s famous bridges and recreational parks.)
“Workers had several obstacles to overcome in building on the triangular point on the southwest corner of the promontory; the steepness of the hillside, with the Pacific Ocean 500 feet below, and ground that was solid basalt from an ancient volcano. According to old records, large steel rods – wrapped in copper to prevent erosion – were sunk into the basalt. The foundation is an 18-inch cement base anchored into rock, and the concrete walls reinforced with 1-inch steel all the way to the roofline. The walls are 16 inches thick at the footings and taper to 8 inches at the top. Steel headers were used throughout, also,” reported Gail Kimberling in her 1997 New-Times article.
It wasn’t until 1937 that the Badleys finished construction of the Lookout and the “Fair Weather Coffee Bar,” whereupon they lived in their walled-in estate on “Bald Knob” that eventually included the Badley home, the homes of their caretaker and his family, and other out-buildings. Often the Badleys would run down to open the store upon the arrival of customers, because “in addition to liking the company, even the sale of a penny postcard was important to us,” Ann recalled.
In spite of its outstanding view and location, the Fair Weather Coffee Bar was not a large money-maker for the Badleys. In the March 6, 1991 edition of the News-Times, the late Ray Moe, a local newspaperman and historian, recalls how Buck Badley explained their switch from a coffee house to a gift shop:
As quoted by Buck Badley, “this building at the top of Cape Foulweather was first constructed with the idea in mind that people would be happy to sit here and have dinner and gaze at the ocean below with its constant changing scene. But the people did not come to eat, and the Badley pickets became very shallow.
“I kept thinking that the situation would change,” Buck continued, “and I kept my spirits high somewhat by buying a monthly detective story magazine, which I would read in the dull moments, which was nearly all the time. The magazine cost 15 cents, and in ordinary times would not have been considered much of an expenditure.
“But it seems that Ann thought it was. One day when she went to the city to buy food for the restaurant, I mentioned it was about time for another detective story magazine to make the scene.
“She informed me that we could not afford the outlay of 15 cents for the magazine, and she suggested we forego the purchase of same.
“I thought that was really too bad,” Buck continued, “and I suggested it was about time we considered some other form of endeavor on top of Cape Foulweather, now known as Otter Rock.”
“Ann asked, ‘what do you suggest?’ I told her I had noticed most of the visitors to the top of Cape Foulweather were not hungry…”
In the March 6, 1991 edition of the News-Times, the late Ray Moe, a local newspaperman and historian recalls how Buck Badley explained their switch from a coffee house to a gift shop:
“I told (Ann) I had noticed most of the visitors to the top of Cape Foulweather were not hungry, but seemed to be looking for some sort of souvenir to take away from the place, and I thought it might be a good idea to lay in a supply of items such as pillow cases with the word ‘Mother’ printed on them in big letters, or perhaps a big collection of postcard pictures of the coast.
“Well, you know, it took off like gangbusters and it was not long before we were looking for good investments to make with our money. That pillow case with ‘Mother’ on it was the hottest item we had.”
The Badleys also installed telescopes to view the ocean and coastline. Ray Moe reflects, “Buck and Ann were great hosts at the top of Cape Foulweather, and to please the visitors that thronged there each summer, they put in two or three telescopes a person could use to scan the horizon, providing the mounted telescopes were fed 10 cents. You could use them for 20 minutes for this fee, and after that you had to feed the money box on the telescopes much the same as a parking meter.”
(Today, a telescope offers the opportunity for viewing across the broad Pacific horizons and to imagine stormy days when Captain Cook’s ships first sighted the rugged shores of Oregon. The cost is 25 cents for 5 minutes viewing – also an excellent vantage point for whale watching.)
Eventually the Badley’s changed their business name to “The Look-Out.” They even came up with a cartoon character named “Lookie” who watched the ocean with a telescope while perched in a lookout atop a ship’s mast. And for many years the Badleys displayed a 450-pound bell in front of The Look-Out. The bell originally had been used by the Yaquina Bay Life Saving Station to alert rescue crews when a ship was in distress at Newport’s Yaquina Bay. When a new Coast Guard station was constructed, the bell was sold to Badley. In 1967, the bell disappeared; two weeks later a 250-pound anchor was dragged from outside the shop and hauled away. Whereabouts of the bell and the anchor remain a mystery to this day.
In the early 1940’s our country amidst concerns of a Japanese invasion along the Pacific coastline. In 1942, the US Coast Guard station in Newport asked to use the building’s basement for their air and sea surveillance, whereupon six men moved onto the premises and stayed until near the end of World War II. Ann Badley continued to run the gift shop upstairs – in addition to cooking for the men stationed there – and Buck Badley spent the war years working at the shipyards in Portland.
In later years, Bob Troxel, who did painting and repair work for the Badleys, vividly recalls the broadcasts Buck Badley made via telephone on KNPT radio, giving reports of glass float discoveries, naming off the passing fishing boats, and referring to seagulls on the rocks as “our Oregon turkeys.”
Buck Badley passed away in February, 1964. Ann sold the Look-Out to other principals, but continued to live at the estate until shortly before her death in 1990. The estate, which included the Badley home, a caretaker house and other outbuildings, was razed in 1994.
After a series of owners, Katherine and Ralph Peyton bought the gift shop in November 1977, and spent four months making repairs, remodeling the gift shop, installing new counters and carpets, adding windows along the southwest wall, and moving the office and storage area to a basement that hadn’t been used since the Coast Guard Beach Patrol had lived there during World War II. The Look-Out reopened on March 1, 1978 and one week later held an open house to commemorate Captain Cook’s sighting and naming of Cape Foulweather exactly 200 years before.
“This IS the cape of foul weather,” says Jay Nicholls, a former long time manager of the Look-Out. “It always seems to blow at least 20 more miles an hour up here than down below on the beach. In the winter, 100-mile winds are not uncommon. On days when the cloud layer is at two to three hundred feet, it’s like being on top of the clouds. It’s a lovely sight watching the fog burn off – it evaporates, dissipates – just blows away.”
Over the years, improvements have been made to the grounds. A rock wall was built early on and the outside stairway to the basement was enclosed to provide an inside stairwell with windows that frame view to the north through the trees and vegetation that have grown up to soften the landscape around the shop.
OBSERVATORY & GIFT SHOP
P.O. Box 248
Depoe Bay OR 97341
– Coast Tidings, THE NEWS GUARD, January 6 – 19, 1999; Cape Foulweather was ‘discovered’ by Captain Cook
– New-Times, Newport, OR, Wednesday, August 13, 1997; The
Look-Out Observatory & Gift Shp celebrates 60 years atop Cape Foulweather
– News-Times, Newport, OR;
March 6, 1991; Historical Sketch by Ray
– The Bayfront; August
1997 Volume VII, No. 7; The Look-Out:
Sixty Years Atop Cape Foulweather by Sally Houck, for The Bayfront
– Pictorial History of Otter Rock, Oregon
Access to the Cape Foulweather’s Look-Out is via Highway 101 approximately 3 miles south of Depoe Bay and 9 miles north of Newport at the Historical Marker halfway between MP131 and MP132 onto the road, Otter Crest Access Loop Road and the drive to the Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint parking lot.