Spring 2020 update: Almost ready for our big debut

FORT WARD, BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – Spring 2020 finds us in a changed world, delayed a bit by COVID-19 but on the cusp of completing this six-year restoration project and dedicating the Fort Ward Community Hall for public use. Yay! In case you’ve missed our posts on social media over the winter, here’s some of what we did:

  • All original doors and windows back in place 
  • Windows trimmed out to historically correct specs 
  • Vintage lighting installed throughout the building 
  • Custom baseboards with a vintage profile added
  • Louvres covering exterior vents 

For your reading enjoyment, a few new tales from restoration of the soon-to-be Fort Ward Community Hall:

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER: WINDOWS WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS – In industrial manufacturing, “fit and finish” is the final measure of success. “Fit” refers to how well the object’s various components mesh – no loose play, unsightly gaps, annoying rattles or niggling squeaks – while “finish” measures the ineffable qualities of elegance and refinement, how fully realized the designers’ vision has been brought forth into the world. That is, how close that automobile, piano, wristwatch or whatever gets to the Platonic ideal of whatever it’s supposed to be.

We’ve reached the “fit and finish” stage in the Fort Ward bakery restoration, or at least its immediate precursor: putting the final pieces together, reassembling the many components into a coherent, satisfactory and (we hope) graceful whole.

With Casey and Zach from the Park District construction team moving on to new projects, their colleague Willy has stepped in to bring the final details home. First on the punch list: inside trim for our beautiful new wood windows.
As we’ve written, we’ve tried to pattern these sorts of details on what we see around Fort Ward and our sister forts from the Coast Artillery Corps’ Endicott period (roughly 1890-1910). Some buildings are masonry, most frame, but there’s a consistent aesthetic from one to the next.

After more than a century, many buildings have seen changes to fixtures, trim and so forth as owners make repairs or update elements. But others are remarkably well preserved in their original look and feel, and we have a good stock hereabouts for reference.

Looking at window trim, we saw two general patterns. In masonry buildings like our 1910 bakery, trim tended to be contained inside the window opening itself. Whereas frame buildings from the same period, like the NCO quarters up the hill, saw the casings winged out around the window openings, complemented by elegantly moulded sills and aprons.

After some reflection, debate and a few fits and starts, we came up with a hybrid design that honors the period and reflects both looks: recessed trim around the sides and top of the window opening, with the refinement of a sill and apron below.

The sills required a thicker cut than the casings, so we turned to Edensaw Woods of Port Townsend, the mecca for local furniture builders and other fine woodworkers. Overnight, Edensaw custom-milled some beautiful 5/4 poplar in appropriate 1×8 planks. The extra thickness would allow for a period-correct ogee to be routed into the underside edge of each sill.

Willy holed up in the bakery by himself for a few days, and when he finally let us back into the building, all 12 windows were done. Easy! Which obviously it wasn’t, given that along the way he also milled his own quarter-round trim to suit the four or five different radii of the window arches.

Whatever the degree of difficulty: the trimmed-out windows look fantastic, and everyone says so. You will too.

What could possibly follow all this? Attention turns next to mounting the six inside doors (should be quick), crafting the associated trim (a bit more involved; see Windows, above), and getting the bakery’s complement of seven decorative transom windows into place. We’re pleased to say the first transom is already up, its graceful curve brilliantly copied from the original by the craftsmen at BARN and now ensconced over the southwest doorway.

Other pieces falling into place:

Vinyl flooring: The team from Shoomadoggie (seriously) of Poulsbo will be onsite next week to install vinyl flooring in the north and south wings. We have no idea how the flooring vendor came by that name, but they’re said to be really, really good. Thanks to Tina from OTWB, one of our project co-managers, for lining this up. Several cut-rate vendors backed out or turned up their noses at our job, so we’re glad fate led us back around to these folks.

Kitchen cabinetry: The kitchen modules are being assembled down the hill in John Steiner’s South Beach wood shop, to be ready for installation once the flooring is in, probably the third week of January. We’ve seen the first few cabinets and they’re super nice.

Sinks & fixtures: Waiting in line for installation after the flooring and cabinetry are in. The kitchen sink has been sitting here next to the Station S piano for about six months because, well, it had to sit someplace, and being cast iron is too heavy to move. It’s almost become a fixture here, but going to look better still under the bakery’s kitchen window.

Wall baseboard: There’s a good story coming with this – stay tuned.

Lights: Henden Electric will be paying one more visit to put up the kitchen lights, add a wall switch in the office space, and round out a few more details.

Appliances: selected. Recall that this was originally an Army bakery, so for now let us just say that if someday soon you want to teach a community baking class, we have your kitchen.

Painting: almost done.

Signage and interpretive stuff for the walls … yikes! We’d better get moving on this….

Anyway, we only have a few more of these project missives left – a rare instance, given our profession, in which running out of things to write about is actually a good thing.

So let us say on this second-to-last day of 2019 that if you’ve not yet made a donation to the historic bakery restoration and still want to see your name on the wall somewhere (or you just enjoy our little project updates and want to say “thanks for all the mildly diverting reads”) now’s the time!

We’re not finished – not quite! – but the finish is looking fine, and so far everything fits. Nicely.

AND THERE WERE LIGHTS – Open pretty much any home lighting catalog these days and you can find “barn lights” as a popular style. Today’s faux vintage was yesterday’s new.

The style apparently dates to the 1920s, popularized when a proliferation of warehouses, factories, stations and other public spaces demanded a rugged and utilitarian fixture designed to focus light down on the activity below. Their hallmarks were the distinctive broad-flanged bell and a robust porcelain enamel finish, usually white or green.

Naturally, barn lights turned up at period forts, illuminating the barracks, mess halls, guardhouses, warehouses and – the pictures prove it – top secret communication centers at Naval Radio Station Bainbridge, our own little Fort Ward. So in restoring the bakery building, it seemed like a good style to follow.

The guys from Henden Electric spent an afternoon onsite the other day. By the time they left, wall outlets were juiced up and wall heaters properly ensconced, ceiling fans were awhirl, Exit signs glowed their cautionary red, and you could flip a wall switch and actually make something happen.

Like turn on the lights.

It’s been about a year since the bakery was internally lit. Restoration necessarily entailed stripping out the old fixtures and totally rewiring the building, a process that’s unfolded over months. We got enough done to restore outside lighting a while ago, but inside we’ve had exactly one wall outlet for power tools and that’s it. So this day marked a milestone. We had lights!

One of our goals in the restoration has been to reuse as many vintage fixtures as possible, to save money (not insignificant, if you’ve priced home lighting lately) and for the sake of authenticity, that old-timey gestalt. There’s something profound about the idea that lights that once burned at the old Fort Ward might now burn at the new.

All of the lights we’re reusing were salvaged from the fort of yore – our historic neighborhood, before new development came — when crumbling old Navy buildings still dotted the landscape and the enterprising scavenger could avail themselves of treasures galore. Old lights? We’ve got ‘em. Most have been stored in the basement of top-secret Station S for years, just waiting for this moment to come along.

We’re proud to say that of the 21 ceiling lights arrayed throughout the refurbished bakery building, 13 will be vintage Fort Ward. The complement is thus:

South wing (utility room, Sewer District office): Six 20-inch barn-style lights, probably 1940s vintage, that we inherited with the building. White enamel finish. We had to polish these up quite a bit, that is, scrape off epochs of caked-on ceiling grime (this was, we can report, a relentlessly foul task), but they’re looking pretty good now. We’ve done a little touch-up with some vintage white Rust-Oleum as needed.

North wing, hallway and restrooms: Four 12-inch Ivanhoe barn lights salvaged from the old fort and donated by the maven of Station S. Again, probably World War II vintage; our research suggests the Ivanhoe Lighting Co. was founded in the 1930s, and the trademark is still active. You can’t necessarily tell when viewed from below, but these lights are still their gorgeous, original green enamel, and they have the old Ivanhoe labels still on them. Provenance!

North wing, kitchen: We have a special plan here, if we can engineer it right: a trio of ornate, vintage glass fixtures, once again salvaged from Ye Olde Fort and kept in trust for many years in the Station S vault. We’ve had about 20 of these sitting around in the basement for ages, and these three will look great in the bakery. One of our volunteers is devising a custom ceiling stem mount for the application.

Main hall: Two rows of four new barn-style lights (eight total) with 16-inch bells, black, suspended from 12-inch stems. We thought about using salvaged lights in this hall, but by now our stock was running short, not all of our remaining lights exactly matched, and anyway it made sense for the lights in this space, among all, to look uniform and smart. These new lights look …. pretty okay, albeit of a lighter-gauge metal and a more pedestrian finish than true vintage. Heaven knows we’re not in the habit of talking down our own project, but if we have some extra cash at the end of the day, we might swap these out for something closer to vintage. We’ll see. No one should complain in the meantime.

Anyway, big thanks to our crafty electricians for bringing the bakery back out of the Dark Ages. There’s still a little tweaking left to do; the restroom fans seem to be permanently “On” right now, and one of the new lights came out of the box missing essential parts so we’ve had to order another.

Even so. We’ve always pictured the Fort Ward Community Hall metaphorically aglow – radiant from the inside with the good cheer and bonhomie of community, family and friends.

Now, for the first time in a while, it’s not a metaphor. We actually do have lights.

The sun was going down early at this point, so we turned every single one of them on, went out to the street and looked back to watch the windows shimmer.

VISITING THE LOUVRES – Fort Ward’s historic 1910 bakery has these big openings on the east wall. No idea why; they don’t appear in the blueprints, but the most common speculation is that they once vented the oven room — the giant ovens were on the other side of the wall, and it must have gotten pretty hot in there baking all that bread! But that’s just a guess.

Anyway, while the bakery’s outside walls are three wythes (vertical sections) thick, when these openings were bricked up sometime in the past, whoever did it filled in just a single wythe. And did a sloppy job of it.

We had the brickwork on the inside cleaned up to match the rest of the interior wall, but we figured we’d cover the outside openings with something at some point if we could just figure out what.

Perhaps …. louvre shutters… Yeah, that might look good….

Actually making shutters from scratch seemed pretty labor intensive and would take quite a bit of know-how. But someone out there does just this for a living, and so we found our way to ShutterLand of Leawood, Kansas. The fine craftsmen of ShutterLand built us matching pine shutters, 29 in. wide x 41 in. deep and shipped them out.

The shutters arrived last week, and today were unboxed for a test fit on the building. We had a moment of panic when we noticed the packing box was considerably longer than the shutters we thought we ordered … did we need to go back to Tape Measure 101?

But it turned out to be several inches of packing material at each end of the box. Phew!

The shutters are now in the Station S basement, getting a few coats of Benjamin Moore OC-68, Distant Grey, to match the rest of the trim. An elegant solution for a couple of holes everyone always asks about. We think they’ll look good — and the louvres will suggest “vent,” which is why (we think) the holes were there in the first place.

GETTING BACK TO BASEBOARDS – A great rug, it’s been said, can really tie a room together. In a community hall with a stunning new hardwood floor, no rug … so we’ll have to count on the baseboard trim to do the job.

And ours is indeed splendid baseboard – specially milled for our little bakery, extra tall on the wall and crowned with a historically accurate profile thanks to the neighborhood router bit.

Typical of Fort Ward’s 1910-vintage homes are their proud 8-inch baseboards, a nice architectural detail that seems to complete a room with or without crown moulding at the ceiling. You can find such baseboards in the historic NCO quarters on upper Parkview, classic buildings dating to the first iteration of Fort Ward as a Coast Artillery Corps redoubt and beautifully restored over the years by neighbors like our good friends and generous supporters Jay and Chris.

Some years ago, needing a length of new baseboard for his home restoration, Jay had a special router bit cut to match the vintage profile – a round-over notched with a somewhat wider “shelf” than you usually see. Since then, the bit has been passed amongst the neighborhood woodworkers whenever someone needs to shape some new trim, and the profile has turned up on baseboards, in doorways and who knows where. It’s a cool profile and a nice look.

The communal bit’s latest stop was the bakery, where baseboard would be the final detail – Are we really saying that? Final…? – in our long and (we hope) careful restoration.

Bit in hand, we ventured north to Port Townsend and Rain Shadow Woodworks, where miller and raconteur Seb Eggert sourced and milled twenty-one 16-foot lengths of nice poplar. One by one the raw boards were fed into the shop’s howling shaper, which cut all four sides and edges at once while adding a subtle “cove” on the back to help each piece hug more readily against the rough surfaces of the bakery’s masonry walls.

Finishing was the usual multi-day affair. First a primer coat with dry time, then a light sand to tame the newly raised grain, then a coat of Benjamin Moore’s excellent Advance product (OC-58 Distant Gray, satin finish), then the prescribed 16-hour wait (!) for the top-o-line B-Moore paint to cure, then another light sand, then one final finish coat for the perfect gleam … and then and only then, we had a stack of lovely baseboard ready for installation.

Willy from Parks made short work of the stack, trimming out the bakery’s main hall, the cloak room, office and storeroom. The ol’ power miter saw got a good workout with all those 45-degree cuts where the pieces mate up in corners, and Willy ran through quite a few tubes of Liquid Nails to help affix each plank to the brickwork.

But the finished effect is striking, melding floors and walls throughout the building into a cohesive whole. Weird corners and awkward transitions were, as if by magic, bestowed with grace. A bit of an extravagance perhaps (guess we could have just used something short, square, off the shelf and dull), but this fine baseboard is a detail we think people will appreciate, a final – final! – loving touch. .

Cost: extra. Time: extra.

Reward: super extra. The baseboard looks amazing.
And yes, it really ties the room together.

NEXT UP: We have two, maybe three little yarns left to spin in the saga of the Fort Ward bakery restoration – our 6 months of solitary confinement in the Station S basement, restoring those grand original front doors; the bakery’s new iconographic sign yet to be unveiled, a moment some 16 years in the making; and (finally) some really, really, big news that will cap this whole thing off.

GRATITUDE WHERE IT’S DUE: Special thanks from Friends of Fort Ward to a recent very generous grant from the Peach Foundation, and all of you who gave through One Call For All.  Thanks to you, we are about to unveil the fully restored Fort Ward Community Hall. 

 

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Willy from Parks restores the bakery’s original front doors and fanlight window, lost from the building in the 1960s but rediscovered throughout the neighborhood and now back in place.