SEAVIEW — Theodore Roosevelt was in the middle of his second term as president and the first Ford Model-T was nearing production in Detroit. Meanwhile, a successful Portland businessman had just built a summer home on the coast in Seaview.
The year was 1906.
Today, the sprawling nearly 8,000-square-foot three-story, six-bedroom mansion is cared for by the fourth owners, Erica and Dustin Vossler, who purchased the home last May intent on restoring and renting the historic site. Tucked behind a stand of trees along Willows Road, the home is now named Seaview Manor.
“People need a place like this. This is a house that has to be shared,” Erica Vossler said while giving a tour in late December.
The Vosslers, who live in Hockinson with two teenage daughters, previously restored a 1934 farmhouse in Woodland.
“We’ve done old houses and we know how much work it is,” said Erica Vossler, 39. “I knew in my heart if we walked in we would buy it.”
The Vosslers purchased the home from the Glenn family, who shared a similar desire for maintaining historic homes.
“They knew our passion for renovating and keeping old houses period appropriate. We didn’t want to see this house go anywhere. It’s a monument to the community, but it’s always been kind of hidden,” Erica Vossler said. The Vosslers felt a special obligation after observing the interior of the mansion for the first time.
“When we walked in… it felt like a responsibility. We had to do it... there really wasn’t a choice. It’s important that we keep historical homes here,” Erica Vossler said.
Seaview home has historic ties to former Portland businessman
The mansion — with its secluded oceanfront setting and easy access to Cape Disappointment — was seen as an ideal gathering place for special events, small groups, family reunions, weekend getaways or weddings, Erica Vossler said. It’s likely that the original builder and owner, Theodore B. Wilcox, used it as a summer home or retreat.
“I imagine a lot of entertaining happened here because of how it was designed. The first owner had servant quarters and a stairwell. They built it so they never had to see the help while they were entertaining,” Erica Vossler said. Wilcox, a former prominent Portland businessman, is described as a “captain of industry and magnate of the China flour trade” in Oregon historical biographies. Wilcox lived from 1884 to 1918, only enough to enjoy his Seaview home approximately 12 years after construction.
“This was definitely his beach cottage,” Erica Vossler said, adding that his former estates in Portland rivaled the size of hospitals, including some now on the National Register of Historic Places.
“His other homes in Portland are really over the top, like mansions that are now hospitals. He was one of the top businessmen while Portland was booming. He started getting wheat from the Gorge and milling it in Portland, starting the largest Portland flour mills, then ultimately trading with China.”
Bankrolled by his successful businesses, Wilcox built sprawling estates. His mansion in Seaview still has the solid bones and some special quirks evident of the period it was built.
“They didn’t have indoor plumbing when they built it. Somewhere along the line they put in bathrooms. It’s not like modern bathrooms with a toilet, shower and a sink. They’re broken up. So you can have fewer bathrooms but more people can use them. It’s smart,” Erica Vossler said.
Fortunately, some of the most intensive remodel work had been started by some of the three previous owners, and the Vosslers relied on friends and family to help address any immediate issues.
“When we bought it the electrical, plumbing and insulation had been updated. There was a lot done. The main thing we had to do was just restore the historical character and not mess it up,” Erica Vossler said.
Any boarded up or broken windows were replaced with exact-era replicas installed by family members. The family involvement has been the Vosslers’ favorite part of the process, they said, whether it was patching holes in the walls or pulling carpet.
“So many people have come out and helped. My sister caulked all the boards before we painted. It was days and days of caulking and sanding with our loved ones coming to help. When everything was shutdown for COVID-19, we had family come and help,” Erica Vossler said. “It was just a lot of elbow grease. It really just needed to be polished.”
Even with free labor, the material for restorations came with a significant price, rivaling the cost of a new home.
“To fund a restoration isn’t cheap. A normal pane of glass is $50 but ours is $500. How many people out there are going to want to do that rather than tearing an old house down and building a brand new one? It’s a lot cheaper to build a brand new house,” Erica Vossler said.
“Not counting the mortgage, we invested $250,000 at least.”
To help offset the cost, the Vosslers had been counting on renting out the mansion over the summer months but were met with rental moratoriums and COVID-related restrictions.
“As soon as we put money down, we found out about the moratorium meaning no short-term rentals in Pacific County, basically. It was kind of a hard pill to swallow, but we thought it was only temporary until they figured out how to tax it. Then COVID hit and that moratorium stayed for a long time. We were ready to rent July 4th, but we couldn’t. That hurt. Eventually the county opened it up after Labor Day weekend,” Erica Vossler said.
Sparing the home from falling into disrepair or further development has been a driving force for the Vosslers, who are hopeful more will come to experience the special setting that Seaview Manor has to offer.
“Should it fall into a developer, it’s zoned for fourplexes and fiveplexes and I couldn’t imagine that happening,” Erica said. “It would just be devastating. Most of the community hasn’t seen this house. But those who have know it has to stay.”