MOCLIPS — Friday was the three-year anniversary of a day that still brings tears to Jess Owen’s eyes.
The grandson of the longtime owner of the Ocean Crest Resort and Restaurant chokes up when he recalls how his aunt Shari Curtright suited up with the District 8 Fire Department that fateful day when the view restaurant — its priceless artifacts and family heirlooms, its cherished collection of native baskets and renowned wine collection — went up in flames, with no way to save the cedar building.
Part of the restaurant was the home where his grandmother, Barbara Topete, had once lived.
Last Friday, however, also was a day of tears of joy as Owen and his wife Sara were overseeing the finishing touches of a multimillion-dollar rebuild of the restaurant that features perhaps the most breath-taking view of the Pacific Coast in the state combined with what Jess vows will be the same culinary class that set the Ocean Crest apart from just about anything anywhere in the region.
Original artwork was being displayed with special care by Barbara Bennett Parsons, who was providing silkscreens and other pieces from her father, the late Grays Harbor artist Elton Bennett (1910-1974).
“My dad did things for Ocean Crest that he wouldn’t have done for anyone else,” Bennett Parsons said.
Elton Bennett’s work often ended up at Ocean Crest because of a longtime family friendship, she explained.
“The charm of the family matron, and dad would do something for her once a year. It was supposed to be for my mother, and mother would put it up on the living room wall and Barbara (Topete) would come over,” she said of the longtime tradition of Bennett art being showcased at the resort. “Barbara always had the best eye.”
Some of the pieces include Bennett’s designs of early Ocean Crest folding brochures from the 1950s.
“We had a colored-pencil drawing of his that he did on black construction paper in the old building that unfortunately got lost in the fire. That was beautiful,” Jess Owen recalled. About 30 Bennett pieces were lost in the fire.
Bennett Parsons and interior designer Kathleen Williams (Design by Kathleeen Williams in Bellevue) were busy on Friday, the anniversary of the fire, getting the final details in place for what is likely going to be a mid-July opening. To Bennett Parsons of Hoquiam’s Farmers Market, Ocean Crest has the best view “on the planet.”
For Williams, the interior design, which was approved by the Curtright family at large, is a bit of a departure in that she usually handles high-end residential clients in the Seattle area. The idea is to have the decor of the restaurant fit right in with the natural beauty of the ocean, the beach, the forest and the hillside upon which it is now propped up by a series of fortified pilings.
The woodwork throughout also is done with the same detail by Specialty Wood Co. of Kent. The tongue-and-groove cedar in the walls and cedar shingles were milled from trees harvested off adjacent Ocean Crest property for the project.
Williams noted she grew up in the area “off and on” and even graduated from the old Moclips North Beach High School when her father was assigned to the Naval facility at Pacific Beach.
“My very first job that I ever had when I was in high school at 16 was as a maid at Ocean Crest,” she said.
Williams ran into Rob Curtright at a high school reunion after the fire and offered her services as an interior designer, something she has been doing for the past 30 years.
“Because I grew up here, I understand the beach,” she said. “I wanted it to be true to the area and not look like somebody did a hotel from Seattle.”
One of the artifacts saved from the fire is an Indian canoe paddle from yellow cedar, which was restored by Jack Backes of Ocean Shores, Sara Owen’s father. It is being displayed on the wall as guests enter over the front desk, where it also used to hang over the old entrance to the dining room and lobby.
“It is one of the few things that made it through the fire,” Sara Owen said.
With the artwork done, the dishes stacked up, the wine display ready to be supplied and food shipments on the way, the staff is being readied to begin operations again. Coty MacDonald is the new chef/cook from the Shilo.
“It’s exactly what we want here: Somebody who is creative and passionate,” Sara Owen said. “There is some stuff we can’t change, and people have been waiting for three years so they can have their favorites again. But we want Coty to be creative. Everything we do is from scratch, and everything is the best we can get our hands on.”
For the past three years, the Owens say they have been asked by someone “every single day” when the restaurant would reopen. They note it is a family business and the support from the community has been heartfelt.
“We had such a huge loss with the fire that it is very emotional for us,” Jess Owen said. “We realize that if people stop asking, then we have a problem. We are very blessed that they want us to come back and that they are rooting for us.”