It’s all coming together for the Fort Ward bakery restoration – early summer 2019 update

FORT WARD, BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, EARLY SUMMER 2019: We’re moving so far, so fast on restoration of the historic Fort Ward bakery (our future community hall), we’re well behind in the news. So here’s a robust “catch up” edition. If you follow our up-to-the-minute-ish reports on Facebook, some of this will look familiar. If you don’t, please settle in for our latest adventures, with more to follow very soon.  

TWO GLEAMING NEW SANDSTONE SILLS – AN ACT OF HISTORIC VANDALISM, FINALLY RIGHTED: Nobody knows who knocked the nose off the Sphinx. Some blame Napoleon’s cannoneers for taking target practice at the mighty stone lion during the French campaign in Egypt in 1789. (One downside of empire: eons after your empire has crumbled, you’ll still be blamed for absolutely everything.) Others fault Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr, a 14th century Sufi iconoclast, while others say the nose was chiseled off centuries earlier still.  All we really know is that someone, somewhere in time, beheld the Sphinx and decided to flatten its face.

Similarly lost to the ages: whoever smashed away the front edges of two marvelous sandstone sills on the north face of the Fort Ward bakery. It might have been the Navy when they tacked a small barracks onto the building during World War II. Or it might have been later owners, who converted the building to a home and replaced the Navy’s addition with a carport in the 1960s or ‘70s.

Those sills – which protruded all of 2 inches from the face of the wall – were deemed an unacceptable nuisance. And so the front edges were hammered away, leaving jagged ruins. A desecration not on the level of the Sphinx, perhaps, but still an egregious one … one we’ve now made right. As we move into the late phases of the bakery restoration, a longtime dream is finally realized: two new sandstone sills, harvested and hewn just for the bakery. They look great.

A few years ago when we started seriously scoping the aesthetic details of the restoration – windows, doors, defining elements people were really likely to notice – we consulted with the historic preservation folks on this particular architectural question. Should we track down real sandstone replacement sills, or go the easy route of cast concrete reproductions?

“If you can afford it, get the sandstone,” they said. “It’s the authentic way to go.”

We decided to splurge.

What you should know about sandstone sills: They’re not cheap, and that’s if you can even source them. So thanks to Masonry Restoration Consulting for getting these stones harvested from a mostly dormant quarry near Snoqualmie and shaped by master carvers there.

True, they’re a somewhat lighter shade of grey than the originals – but then, it’s not like you can just run over to Home Depot and order blocks of sandstone in any old hue. You get what you can find, what the quarry’s precious veins offer up. Give these sills some time and weathering, they may darken up. If not … eh. Without a century of patina, they’d stand out in any event. We’ll gladly bask in the gleam.

Anyway, PJ and Eric from MRC rolled in recently with the stones on their flatbed truck and with a front-loader in tow. After months of anticipation, it was a big moment. The windows’ rough openings (one to the future hall’s kitchen, the other to a restroom) had been prepped months ago when the old damaged stones came out. Installation was the delicate matter of lifting each weighty stone high on the loader’s forks, massaging it into the narrow recess, then inserting an ad hoc system of doweling and shims to get the stones level. A thick bed of mortar was then troweled into the gap beneath, and the openings later trimmed out with grout.

We’re pretty proud of this detail – magnificent new sandstone sills! – and we hope they reflect an “extra mile” approach to the bakery restoration and our pursuit of the accurate and true. Of course, we’d rather have not had to do this at all. So we leave you with this challenge.

Friends and supporters, if you would like to make one more contribution to the Fort Ward Community Hall project, please: invent a time machine. Then beam your way back through the years to the exact moment when whoever it was stood poised to smash the bakery’s precious original sills to smithereens, and GRAB THE HAMMER. Dispatch the fellow to some other, more productive task, like mowing the Parade Ground with a pair of scissors. Something, anything to distract him from the wanton destruction of one of our beautiful little bakery’s signature features.

Back in the present, you will have saved us a lot of time and money. And you will have invented time travel – bonus! So when you’re done saving the bakery, you can go even farther back and maybe save the Sphinx’s nose too.

THE HEATING MAN COMETH – WE’RE VISITED BY OLD FRIENDS & REVISIT A FOUNDATIONAL PLEDGE: One of the more humbling aspects of life these days is reflecting on the many friends who’ve stuck with our project since the beginning.

We’re thinking of those folks who pledged money at the outset, back in 2015-16 and even earlier, when the Fort Ward Community Hall wasn’t much more than a dream and a slide show on our neighborhood history. A darn good slide show, and four neighborhood kids who could tell the tale with verve, but still. The idea of restoring the century-old bakery for public use, as amateurs and volunteers, starting from zero … well, that must have looked like quite a reach. We needed to find folks who would really, truly believe.

Folks like Curt Carlisle of Bainbridge Heating & Air, who stepped up with a foundational pledge that made us think we might really pull this off – and stuck with us until we did.

It started summer 2015. Curt had recently installed a modern, ductless heat pump at Station S, and for the first time since the Navy was paying the heating bills, this beloved, drafty old pile of bricks we call home was habitable in winter. Comfortable even! The ancient basement furnace could finally be retired, and dependence on Big Oil cut forever. So when it came time to scope HVAC for the bakery, of course we thought of Curt and his miracle heat pumps. Good for one old pile of bricks, surely good for another.

We recall the sunny morning when Curt met us at the bakery for a walk-thru. We had done exactly no work on the building. Outside, blackberries had swallowed two lilacs and a cherry tree whole; inside, it was dark, dank and still perfumed with Eau Du Chien from the previous renters. A real mess. Picturing the bakery as a vibrant hall, alive with energy and music and laughter and love like Seabold and Island Center halls, that took a fertile (maybe febrile) imagination.

We explained the concept, probably in too many words. Curt walked around the room and scratched his chin. Maybe he didn’t, but it’s a device we hack writers use to convey “deep in thought,” so go with it.

“You could put a unit there,” he said, pointing high on a wall, “and maybe another one there,” the scenarios playing out one into the next.

We headed back out to the driveway, and it was time for The Pitch. Obviously, we said, we don’t have any expectations, but you should know that we’ll be tax-exempt, so any local businesses that want to support the project can get –“

“I’ll tell you what,” Curt said, “I’d like to give you a system. If you pay for the electrician, I’ll give you the equipment.”

Wow. We were hoping for a discount, sure, but … free? Thank-You seemed wholly insufficient, but a trio from our Fort Ward Youth Board – Stella, Marina and Kate – ran over for a publicity photo with Curt.

“When do you think you’ll need it?” Curt asked.

“Oh, before too long. Later this year,” we said, confidently. Optimistically. Blindly.

Reality soon set in. And really: we’d barely raised any money, we were just getting started with architecture and engineering, and anyway how could we imagine it would take a full two years – TWO YEARS – to get our permits through City Hall … not for some big, ugly, for-profit development, but to renovate a tiny historic building as a gift to the community. TWO YEARS.

…But as Bette Davis once said: Don’t let’s be small about such things. What’s past is past. What matters is the present, and suddenly here we were in spring 2019 – almost four trips around the sun since Curt’s pledge – and we were finally ready for heating.

Now, we were painfully aware that A LOT of time had passed, and circumstances change, so if we’d sailed into the “pledge sunset” we would totally understand. We wrote out a check with a big number.

“No, I’m committed to this,” Curt said – no hesitation. “It’s my gift to the Park District and Friends of Fort Ward.”

Like we said: humbling.

Curt and his crew rolled up in June to install the first half of the system. Our Youth Board alums are off on their college adventures, but by chance Kate – who just completed her junior year at UW, proving time does fly – was home for the week and agreed that yes, it would be fun to restage the original photo.

A quick setup, a handshake, smiles, a click of the shutter and … we welled up. For a simple image, it has a remarkable depth of field.

Then Paul and Colton, Curt’s sturdy aides de camp, rolled out a powerful dual-compressor unit and trundled it across the yard to its new home. Scott from Henden Electric wired it up, and just like that, the soon-to-be Fort Ward Community Hall was on its way to clean, efficient and abundant heat. By donation.

Curt’s team will be back to install the inside units soon, once we’ve got paint on the walls and the dust tamped down a bit. But just look where we are.

Thank you, Curt – for your support for parks, for preservation, for community. For believing in us from the start. We are so grateful.

‘AT FORT WARD’ – THE BAKERY BECOMES AN OBJET D’ART, AND WE BECOME PATRONS: Historic preservation is an endless struggle between the locals who believe #ThisPlaceMatters (look it up), and the pillaging forces of Don’t Give a Damn, Get Out of the Way LLC.

Unfortunately, as we see in the uphill battle to save Seattle’s storied Showbox theatre, the forces of Don’t Give a Damn, Get Out of the Way LLC usually have more money. And when they look at a beautiful historic building, money – specifically, the chance to make more of it by knocking the building down – is all the forces of Don’t Give a Damn, Get Out of the Way LLC can see.

Which, we imagine, is why artist Amy D’Apice titled her new gallery show “Vanishing Bainbridge.” As a mixed-media study of the island’s older, smaller, more rustic homes, one could see these familiar landmarks giving way to generic McMansions on our rapidly suburbanizing island …. but we get ahead of ourselves.

Our story began as we wandered over to the bakery one morning in early June to see the progress, and the restoration team handed over a flier that had been dropped off a few days earlier. The handbill announced an upcoming gallery show at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, featuring works by artist D’Apice and titled “Vanishing Bainbridge.”

With the flier was a photocopy of an original portrait of – !!! – the Fort Ward bakery. What a delightful image, and what a fleeting moment in time it captured: mid-2018, just as our restoration was getting underway. Sometime after April, when we took down the carport, but before September, when we started peeling away the tacked-on porch. But how? When? Had the artist set up an easel in the front yard for a few days and no one noticed? True, we weren’t working on the building much during that stretch, but it was as if this amazing portrait had appeared out of the ether.

The flier announced the artist’s reception and talk would be June 7-8. Fie! We had already made plans to go to Wenatchee that weekend for a Kidney Reunion (your correspondent and his new one, with the guy who generously offered it up) and to see the sights. If we were big-time art collectors, we could have dispatched some proxy to the gallery opening to snatch up “our” portrait as the velvet rope dropped. Not being such, we could only hope it wouldn’t sell before we could get back to the island and rightfully claim it.

Monday after the opening proved overwhelming in its busy-ness, and we didn’t make it to the gallery until Tuesday afternoon, just before closing. A few punters milled about, but it was late and the footfalls echoed.

Lining the gallery we saw, in portrait after splendid portrait, so many warm, familiar facades from around the island: farmhouses, cottages, humble cabins and timeworn storefronts, quaint, modest and increasingly out of step with today’s NO HOUSE TOO OSTENTATIOUS development ethos. It was easy to imagine that these treasured homes would indeed vanish from the landscape soon, and with them so much of our island character.

“What do the red dots mean?” we asked the young woman minding the counter.

“Oh, that means the painting has sold.”

The heart raced. Seriously, there were a lot of red dots. The artist had struck a chord. And then we found it, right between an Ericksen Avenue cottage and a Falk Road rambler: “At Fort Ward. Mixed media. Amy Williams D’Apice, Bainbridge Island and Chiangmai, Thailand.”

Our breath caught, the moment hung suspended in time and … no red dot! How many heedless patrons had breezed past this very work and failed to recognize its obvious brilliance, its unsurpassed beauty, the sheer, unassailable fact that its subject – the Fort Ward bakery – was the most sublime of the bunch? Philistines, all.

Or maybe they just liked the ones from their own neighborhood.

Whatever. They didn’t buy it. We did.

We also picked up two sketches that showed the work in various stages of conception. You may see these on display at the Fort Ward Community Hall someday soon.

We made it a point to get a shot of gallery assistant Breanna as she affixed the blessed red dot: SOLD! to the gentleman in the black hoodie. We didn’t really foresee a ring of international art thieves stealing into the gallery through the skylight by moonlight to make off with it, but neither did we want to come back and find it had been sold again by mistake.

We left “At Fort Ward” hanging at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, where “Amy D’Apice: Vanishing Bainbridge” ran through June 30. It was a marvelous show, an important one, and we hope you saw it before it closed.

To the fate of Amy’s other subjects, those wonderful old homes that bring so much character and charm to our island landscape, time alone will tell. We hope they find preservationists and patrons of their own to carry their architectural heritage – our heritage – forward into the future.

As to Fort Ward’s beautiful little bakery: it won’t be vanishing anytime soon. Because dammit, this place matters.

A NAME IN THE RAFTERS – HERE’S TO YOU, GEORGE SPRINT: For as long as humans have trodden the earth, we’ve felt the impulse to leave some record of our passage on any handy canvas. From the cave paintings of Lascaux to the hieroglyphics of Egyptian temples, Mayans carving glyphs into monuments at Palenque or kids swooping in behind the cement truck to sign that gleaming new sidewalk – Kilroy, you know, was here.

And on Sept. 23, 1945, George Sprint was HERE. We know, because he scrawled his name in the rafters of the Fort Ward bakery. Which makes a certain sense: the building was by then a Navy power station, and the 1940 census records show that Sprint was an electrician’s helper at the Bremerton shipyard. So Naval Radio Station Bainbridge needed some electrical work, and George got the order.

What moved him to write his name in the rafters is anybody’s guess … maybe nobody was looking? But so he did, and when we tore out the last of the bakery’s sagging old ceiling, there he was.

The discovery was timely, as the final round of interior demolition revealed more evidence of the building’s years as power station for NRS Bainbridge. Two concrete slabs (long hidden under a 1960s-era raised floor) were fully revealed, platforms for the big generators that powered the work of radiomen and WAVES eavesdropping on enemy communications from across the Pacific. Channels in the floor once held the lines and conduit that served the generators, presumably piping fuel in and electricity out. The slabs are now sliced up and gone, and the trenching filled – all to be covered soon by a new hardwood floor – but we document these elements here for history and posterity.

Now, as we begin reconstruction, the hall’s interior space has taken on a new sense of scale and dimension. We can appreciate, finally, what a grand space it will be for classes, receptions, Scout events, or anything else the community uses it for … majestic 12-foot ceilings and all.

The restoration masons have completed their work, cleaning up interior window openings, archways and voids. Casey from Port Madison Wood Floors paid a call to advise us on fairing the concrete slab the building sits on for the new hardwood floor. Scott from Henden Electric has rewired the top half of the building.

Willy Doyle, Park District carpenter, set up shop to frame the openings into which we’ll slot custom, period correct wood windows from Pella. Big thanks to Leah Applewhite of Realogics Sotheby’s for letting us into the old quartermaster building next door (now for sale!), to measure original window frames to model for this critical work.

Site manager Casey Shortbull of Bainbridge Parks has framing of partition walls underway as the kitchen, restrooms, office and storage space take shape. Random fixtures like ceiling fans, sinks and premium-grade hinges (for the massive doors) have been showing up at Station S, where they await deployment to the bakery. And the new ceiling … we got about 20 percent of it sheetrocked before we waved the white flag and called in Moran Painting to finish the job. And what a job they did. It’s hard to take an interesting photo of a ceiling, but take our word that it looks fantastic. The new crown molding too. Amazing work, and we can’t wait to show it off.

Of course, with the new ceiling covering the rafters, George Sprint’s name is once again hidden for the ages. But while he may be gone, he’s not forgotten. Here’s what we know (with thanks to Alicia Arter, our neighborhood genealogist): Born 1901 in Montana to German immigrant parents, and made his way to Multnomah, Oregon. Married April 18, 1925, to Violet Easter in Chehalis, the Hon. RC Beaufort, Justice of the Peace, presiding. Had a son, Samuel (b. 1931) who served a brief tour in Korea. After that…? We’re still digging. Perhaps there’s a descendent around here who can fill in the rest of the story.

Maybe a hundred years from now, when the bakery gets its next renovation, George Sprint and his moment-in-time mark on Naval Radio Station Bainbridge will be discovered anew. And those who come after us will again marvel, and wonder.

AFFAIRS OF SLATE – ONE FINAL WINTER’S TALE: When it came to roofing Fort Ward’s 1910-era buildings, slate might not have been the most convenient choice. Historically quarried in Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont and Maine, those rough-hewn, jagged-edged black tiles must have crossed the continent to reach the Pacific Northwest. On the other hand, slate’s functional qualities are legion: it sheds water like a duck’s back. It’s fireproof. Properly maintained, a good slate roof can last a century or more. Try getting a guarantee like that from your next roofer.

And darn it, a slate roof is a thing of beauty. Slate looks great. Which is probably why many owners of Fort Ward’s historic homes have guarded their vintage roofs jealously. By our count, we still have at least a half-dozen slate-roofed buildings in the neighborhood, including our beloved little bakery.

The excellent “Architecture of the Department of Defense: A Military Style Guide” reminds us that slate roofs began appearing on American fort buildings during the Second Empire period (1860-1895), and carried over into the Colonial Revival style of the early 20th century typified at Fort Ward. Standardized plans meant standardized materials.

Slate’s rarity hereabouts means a good slater is hard to find. And like masonry, slating is an artisanal craft – piecing together individual tiles in a snug, attractive (and water-shedding) pattern. You can’t send just anyone up the ladder to romp around on those brittle slopes. A slater must, as Gilbert and Sullivan would have it, steal with catlike tread. Know the tools. Know the techniques. Know slate.

The slater’s craft is also a cerebral pursuit. There’s no gang of bruisers rolling miles of tar paper across the roof and slinging bundles of 3-tab shingles around (WHOMP!), no staccato BAP-BAP-BAP of the pneumatic nail gun. A slate roof is a puzzle, each piece laid with deliberation and care.

Fortunately, when we found the bakery’s roof had a few leaks, we also found Don from Hanley Construction. With a good 30 years’ slating experience behind him – most recently patching up the Bloedel Reserve’s historic main house – Don came up from Vashon Island to lend his skills to our restoration. Besides replacing damaged and missing slates, he fashioned new copper flashing for the “hips” where the roof’s various planes intersect. Neat work!

The replacement tiles date to the early days of the fort, and have followed a circuitous route around the neighborhood. Some years ago, when the Fort Ward guardhouse (corner of Evergreen and Fort Ward Hill) was being restored by a local builder, the owners chose to switch from slate to asphalt shingles. Preservation-minded neighbors salvaged hundreds of the discarded slates – no small task given their fragility and weight – and trucked them to the other end of the Parade Ground, where they’ve been stored at Station S and the 1940s-era Navy cottage next door. The slates used for our bakery patch-up were donated by the Dennons, who inherited them with purchase of the cottage and offered them up for our project. Thank you, Daniel and family!

Slater Don was soon off to other projects, and with some good rains behind us since his visit, we can confidently say he did right by our bakery’s beautiful, historic slate roof. Now we’re at work inside, snug and dry.