Spring Street buildings to rise from the ashes after 2022 arson fire

Speaking of rising from the ashes.

Progress is being made on two of the three buildings destroyed by an arson fire on April 7, 2022, at the corner of Spring and First Street, deep in the downtown core of Friday Harbor.

40 Spring Street

The building most recently associated with Crystal Seas Kayaking has a solid foundation built and designs on returning to nearly the same look the building had prior to the blaze. Although modern materials will be used in construction, and all the current codes followed during the project, the look of the facade will retain much of the character the old building had for over a century.

40 Spring Street—as it is called—has a rich history dating back to the early 1900s.

Islanders could get a shave and a haircut at the barbershop. Or catch a silent film or vaudeville act at the Star Theater, the town’s first cinema and vaudeville stage. Along with the theatre, Alfred G. Middleton ran a small store in the building, the early predecessor of today’s King’s Market. The Middleton’s also built and operated the Fribor Theatre in 1915, now the Palace Theatre, but that’s another story.

The 40 Spring Street building once housed a warehouse and mercantile, and its prime location is no accident as it was among several buildings owned and operated by Joseph Sweeney, one of the first land speculators in Friday Harbor. Sweeney’s properties were primarily along the waterfront and located at the center of the early developing commerce of the town and newly formed county seat.

According to records obtained from the Town of Friday Harbor, “40 Spring Street, and the people, commerce, and important entertainment venues associated with it, played an important role in the development of Friday Harbor and the history of businesses we still enjoy today.”

Following the destructive arson fire of April 7, 2022, the current owners of 40 Spring Street are actively engaged in rebuilding the structure.

A recent Town of Friday Harbor Historical Preservation Review Board staff report states the applicant has demonstrated the intent to replicate the feel of the building as it was prior to the fire.

The 40 Spring Street design replaces the shingled false facade with a more traditional facade, while still retaining the look and feel of an older building, complete with a balcony, but using modern materials to rebuild it.

The design includes French doors on both the top and lower facade elevations, a combination of lap siding and shingles, a balcony with traditional railing in a simple traditional pattern of thin baluster members and thicker squared wooden posts and railing above the solid sides of the balcony, with black composition/architectural shingles on the roof.

The site plan also includes a boardwalk alongside the building shared with the future King Family Investments building, located immediately to the west of 40 Spring Street. The owners state “we will be working more on the design of this feature once their building design is further along so that the design compliments both properties.”

When complete the building will once again house Crystal Seas Kayaking, San Juan Excursions, San Juan Property Management, a t-shirt shop, and include three one-bedroom apartments “designed for flexible uses… seasonal, long term and short term.”

50 Spring Street

While ground has yet to be broken on the new King Family Investments building—currently referred to as the Windermere building—when built it will have a more modern look while still addressing the Friday Harbor Historical Review Board’s recommendations.

The building once located at 50 Spring Street was known historically by various names over its 142 years: the Bay View Hotel, The Douglas Hotel, and the San Juan Inn. It continued as lodging until 2006, when it was rehabilitated for use as the office of Windermere Real Estate.

According to author and local historian Mike Vouri, the building was built in 1880 by William Douglas, the brother of John Douglas Sr, aka Jack Douglas, and thus named the Douglas House.

Vouri said of all the buildings, it was the old Douglas House that was the most tragic to lose. The distinct peaked roof can be seen in the earliest photographs of Friday Harbor. James Ross bought the building in the 1890s, naming it the Bay View Hotel. The Bay View served as a wireless office and housed the town telephone switchboard for United Wireless Telephone Company.

Ross eventually sold the building to Patrick Welsh, who renamed it the Tourists Hotel Annex. The hotel had a bit of a wild west reputation. In 1907 headlines around Washington State announced that the sheriff was forced to clamp down on the hotel for operating a backroom saloon and illegal gambling.

Later it became a milder hotel, named the San Juan Hotel. Vouri said he stayed there when he visited Friday Harbor for the first time. The rooms, he said, were classic-styled hotel rooms with brass beds and washbasins. Guests had to traipse down the hall to use the bathroom. “It was very cool,” Vouri said with a smile. The San Juan Hotel continued to operate as a historic hotel with original furnishings until 2005 when it was transitioned to the Windermere building.

According to a December 14, 2022, Town of Friday Harbor staff report, town staff recognize that rebuilding in this former historically significant and very public place is challenging. They also acknowledge that the purpose of the historical preservation program is not to mimic buildings that are no longer standing, rather to preserve Friday Harbor’s sense of place. To do so, the town report continues, new construction should incorporate the architectural character that is site-specific to the immediate location since character, design and materials changed from block to block as the town grew over time.

Based on recent designs submitted to the Town’s HPRB, the new building will include recessed entrances, wood lap siding, transom windows, vertically oriented one-over-one paired windows and a private path between this and the adjoining downhill building (40 Spring Street).

The report states “the proposed design currently presents more as a contemporary building using contemporary elements, than it does a new building with familiar (Friday Harbor vernacular) architectural elements. It’s not that it is a bad design, but rather, that it could be found anywhere.”

The proposed three-story mixed-use building includes retail space, multiple real estate offices, and four two-bedroom apartments located within.

According to property owner Greg King, the project is currently in the engineering stage and may take several more months before construction can begin.

King hopes to break ground later this summer if all goes well. Citing the challenging economic times this country and county are currently in, with high-interest rates and ever-increasing costs for everything from materials to labor, securing the necessary financing and actually constructing the new building will be no small feat. King remains committed to the project, however, and looks forward to getting things underway as soon as possible.

File photo
50 Spring Street, often referred to as the Windermere Building, is currently in the engineering stage of development, and property owner Greg King King hopes to break ground later this summer if all goes well.