Road Journals Blog—There’s something enticing about barns. With their high ceilings, shafts of light pouring in through windows above haylofts, and wood-planked walls, barns have an air of authenticity rooted in place and history.
Gearhart’s most recognizable barn  sits just off Pacific Way and juts up against Neacoxie Creek—and has been recently rejuvenated to give it a new life as the center of the local community.
Dating back to 1890, the barn originally served as the livery for the first Hotel Gearhart, which burned down in 1913. (One of its subsequent iterations also burned, and the other was demolished.)
The barn remains the only surviving structure left from all three hotels.
Early last century, people would bring their horses and buggies by train to Gearhart and leave the horses at the barn. Forty horses could be housed here, with “valets” running between the barn, people’s homes, and the hotel, to deliver their mounts.
Once the hotel was gone the livery became a riding school, then a stable for patrol horses that roamed the beach, protecting against attack in World War II.
Fast forward to 2007. The barn—by then the oldest standing livery stable in Oregon—had fallen into disrepair, and was being used primarily as a repository for old cars, tools, and rusty junk. Shannon Smith, a Portland native who had summered in Gearhart since she was three years old, bought it—saving it from the demolition planned by the previous owners—then undertook extensive, year-long renovations.
“I wanted to do something wonderful with it,” she said, reminiscing about falling in love with the place as a child. “This was always a magic place for me.”
Her solution? Create an annual roster of activities and events to welcome the locals back into the barn’s fold. Starting sometime between June and August (depending on the weather), Smith will project movies onto the side of the barn two Fridays each month. She’ll provide folding chairs, and people can bring blankets for lounging. Treats will be sold, including gourmet popcorn with toppings like honey rosemary and parmesan basil that can be washed down with sodas in flavors such as cucumber, lavender, and rhubarb. Admission is free; the year’s theme is kitschy beach- and ocean-themed films like Pirates of the Caribbean, Jaws, and Beach Blanket Bingo.
In the works is a summer art festival planned for August, with music, poetry, and painting that Smith slyly named the Luna Sea Festival. Other events include a barn dance in September, complete with bluegrass band, and the annual Gearhart picnic, held there every Labor Day. The space is also available for weddings and parties.
Walk inside, sniff the hay-scented air, watch dust motes dance on the wood floor, and you can almost hear the long-ago sweep of horses’ tails against the barn stalls.
“I wanted a place where people felt like they’re taken back to their childhoods,” said Smith.
She speaks from personal experience, and in the process of her own journey has created a community space for a town steeped in history.
Amara Holstein wrote about Gearhart for the March/April 2011 Oregon edition  of VIA.
Photography by Amara Holstein (barn, event); courtesy of Neacoxie Creek (ponies)
This blog post was first published in April 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.