One of Bremerton’s most historic and picturesque streets
won’t become Navy property anytime soon — though word was it could
Rumors have been circulating on Gregory Way — which runs
parallel to the edge of the Navy’s Bremerton base and the Puget
Sound Naval Shipyard — of a federal takeover.
Mary Whitney, whose family home has been on the street half a
century, said she’d heard the Navy was interested in expanding its
buffer with the city. I started looking into the claim myself, and
while it is entirely possible the Navy discussed the option, the
Navy officially went public with the rumor being a “myth.”
I also confirmed that with Navy Spokeswoman Silvia Klatman.
“The rumor that the Navy would like to purchase Gregory Way
property as a buffer has been circulated for a few years and was
addressed most recently in the Joint Land Use Study,” Klatman told
me. “The Navy currently has no plans or funding requests to
purchase property on Gregory Way.”
If you haven’t visited Gregory Way, you’re missing out on a
beautiful trek through venerable architecture and formidable
trees. Heidi Witherspoon, who wrote a story for the Sun about
the street’s revival in 2001, described it this way: “Craftsman
bungalows mingle with Mediterranean stucco villas and English-style
brick cottages.” There are also towering conifers that date back to
the city’s roots.
Bremerton is a city rich in
history. I wanted to create a single post that would
cover its most pivotal events. I intend this synopsis to be a
living post; that is, I offer anyone a chance to offer his or her
two cents on how it could be made better — and most importantly to
me, more accurate. Please share it with your friends and neighbors.
We’re all in this together.
Bremer, a German immigrant and Henry Paul Hensel, a
jeweler, saw opportunity in Wyckoff’s purchase. They bought up the
land, sold some of it to the Navy at $50 an acre and ultimately
developed the beginnings of Bremerton.
The shipyard sputtered at first during a nationwide
depression but got rolling after Wyckoff and others worked to get
another $1.5 million from Congress by 1901, when the city was
officially incorporated. The same year, nearby Charleston
established a post office, the beginnings of a bustling commercial
district there. The postmaster, who also owned a mill near what is
now Evergreen-Rotary Park, started burning refuse from the mill in
what became the city’s first source of electricity.
Bremerton has been known for its rowdy bars through
but its earliest era may well have been the roughest. By 1903,
the town had 16 saloons in a city of only 1,200 people. The Navy
threatened to leave Sinclair Inlet until Alvin Croxton, the town’s
first mayor, did something about it: he led the charge to close
Even before Bremerton, a community was building
around a mill on the shores just north of present-day Manette.
William Renton established a saw mill in 1854 at Enetai Point,
but it burned down 16 years later, after Renton sold it and
established a mill at Port Blakely on Bainbridge Island. Still, a
town grew there and in neighboring Tracyton. In 1916, a ferry was
established between Bremerton and Manette. Two years later, Manette
was incorporated into the city, and Charleston followed in 1927.
What was created was a city on two peninsulas, finally linked by
the Manette Bridge in 1930.
As it has throughout history, Bremerton has ebbed and
flowed like the tides with the country’s war efforts. Following the
first world war, the city started to languish until its biggest
boom of all came with the second. The population here exploded from
15,000 to 85,000, as
Westpark, Eastpark and Sheridan Park were built in an effort to
provide enough housing. An African American population grew as
well, but was confined to Sinclair Park in what is now the West
residents like Lillian Walker fought against the de facto
Barrage balloons surrounded the city in case of an attack by
Japanese warplanes, blackouts were held and “victory gardens”
became popular. Women working in the shipyard gave rise to the
cultural icon “Rosie
the Riveter.” Even after the war, it was allegedly a local
resident who told President Harry Truman to “Give
’em hell,” while at a speech at Fifth and Pacific.
The post-war years saw Bremerton decline from its war
boom but maintain its status as Kitsap County’s commercial
hub. Olympic College was
created by the Bremerton School District in 1946, and was
eventually taken over by the state. The Casad Dam, named for the
visionary head of Bremerton public works was completed in 1957, and
its Union River headwaters still provide
the city’s water supply today. The Warren Avenue Bridge was
completed in 1958, offering a second link to East Bremerton.
Ed Bremer, last surviving member of the founding
family, attempted to keep Bremerton as the commercial center of the
county. But his efforts would backfire: Ron Ross, developer of the
Kitsap Mall, sued successfully and won a $2 million judgement for
impeding an attempt by Ross to build a mall near Wheaton Way and
Efforts in the 1990s to restore Bremerton’s downtown
were hit-and-miss. There were victories, including the restoration
of the Admiral Theater
and the construction of the new Bremerton Transportation Center.
But gang violence and high crime still plagued the city, and in
1998, the city lost the famed World War II Naval ship
USS Missouri to Hawaii as a museum.
A tunnel funneled traffic out of downtown, a new
Manette Bridge replaced the old span and a 10-screen movieplex was
built. But Harrison Medical Center, with roots here
dating back to the early 20th century, announced plans recently
to vacate most of its East Bremerton campus for Silverdale. A spate
downtown apartment projects aims to bring even more people into
living an urban lifestyle in downtown Bremerton.
Special thanks to so many in helping me to put
this together, including Kitsap Sun’s archives, historians Frank
Wetzel, Fredi Perry Pargeter, Russell Warren and Ruth Reese, The
Kitsap Historical Society and Museum and its staff, the book
“Manette Pioneering,” historylink.org and others.
In this Bremerton beat blast, we journey to the end of
Pacific Avenue, in search of the city’s newest pop-up
store. (Spolier alert: We find it!)
In this week’s edition, you will learn:
1. What pop-up businesses are invading Bremerton?
2. Where can you spot Santa this Friday?
3. What cuts are the Bremerton City Council planning to make?
4. Where will Bremerton’s newest arcade be located?
5. Where can I take a free Bremerton history tour Saturday?
As always, let me know what you think. Oh, and see you Friday at
Winterfest, Magic in Manette, and more!
In 1962, as the universe converged on Seattle for the Century 21
Exposition — better known as the World’s Fair — Bremerton’s Rotary
Club pledged to build a new park as part of a statewide
beautification program to compliment the Seattle festivities.
A total of $2,369.32 was spent over two years to create a
park next to the old toll booth for the Warren Avenue Bridge, later
inhabited by the county’s 911 dispatchers.
“Thousands of hours of work, contributed freely by the
membership, has resulted in beautifying a spot which had been taken
over by Scotch Broom and weeds,” Rotary officials wrote in city
A contest was held to name the new park. The winner was
a Mrs. Benny Getschman, whose husband was a
Rotary club officer in the 1960’s. Sadly, I could not find
documentation of her inspiration for the park’s name. But in
one reference, it appears the park’s name is also spelled “Rotor,”
suggesting to me it was a nickname Rotarians used, frankly, because
the park’s name just rolled off the tongue a little bit better than
Keep in mind that the park in those days was
just the upper portion. Lower Roto Vista park came later, in 1996,
Puget Power & Light company, which owned the property on the
waterfront by the bridge, decided to hand it over to the city for
another pocket park.
Today, you can view the state’s largest colony
of pelagic cormorants as they nest under the Warren Avenue Bridge
Going to Evergreen Upholstery on Burwell Street is like
a trip back in time. Not only has the store seen Bremerton
through the decades — it’s been in the same spot since 1955 — but
owners James and Joanne Welch have a passion for the city and its
The first Manette Bridge opened in 1930; here it is under
construction and, once built, is its toll booth — complete
with brick fireplace. The bridge was tolled twice; once at its
inception and later when the Warren Avenue Bridge opened.
Some of you have lived here long enough to remember the
pool at Evergreen-Rotary Park. But what about the pavilion? The
park originated at the northernmost section that exists now, so I
am guessing that’s where this pavilion was.
Also, something else I find interesting is how much the park has
grown over time. And by grown, I mean has protruded out and over
the Port Washington Narrows. If you notice, what we now call
Smith’s Cove used to be Smith’s Bay, according to this circa-1960
map. The waterline appears to come all the way up to Sheldon
Boulevard. My guess is that much fill went into the water but if
anyone has a more thorough explanation, I’d love to hear it.
Building 50: THEN
Building 50: NOW
The Navy built Building 50 within the first five years of
the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard’s existence, in 1896. In the
above photo, it’s the one on the right. It was first a
headquarters for shipyard commandants. The building moved
around until finally settling down in 2007 to house the
Puget Sound Navy
Museum, next to the shipyard and ferry.
The Elks Lodge: THEN
The Elks Lodge: NOW
Bremerton’s brick-lined Elks Lodge has long since been converted
to housing for the Max Hale Center. But I had no idea of the grand
staircase that once greeted visitors. Those stairs would be removed
when the Pay Less store moved in, occupying a white cube of a
building that still exists today.
Today marks my 10 year anniversary at the
Kitsap Sun. It’s a milestone that I’ve been thinking
about a lot lately. I’ve witnessed a dramatic transformation
in journalism this past decade. Not all has been positive: the
newsroom staff is half the size it was when I got here, reflecting
an era of massive media consolidation. (That’s
the nice way to put it). But I am also part of a new
era, where the most creative and industrious minds will prevail in
an age where anyone can publish a story.
I wanted to take you back through this decade, for a
trip through the stories that fascinated me most. Many of
these, you will notice, are from my first seven years on the job,
when I was the Sun’s crime and justice reporter. But Bremerton, as
home to the Sun and those I’ve covered, has always played an
1. After 62 years, death comes six hours
Amazing stories that are told on the obituary page
nearly everyday. So I was especially curious when my editor, Kim
Rubenstein, came to me with a rather unique one: A couple whose
obituary ran together, in the same article.
I phoned the family, wondering if they would be
interested in telling their parents’ story. It’s a phone call that
never gets easier, having to call someone coming to terms with
death, but it’s a call I feel is a newspaper’s obligation. In doing
so, I’ve always tried to explain I’d like to give the community a
chance to know the person they were in life, and if not, they were
free to hang up on me. Everyone grieves differently but some people
view the opportunity as cathartic.
In this case, the family was thrilled and invited me
to their home in Kingston.
I learned of a
very special love story — a couple through 62 years of marriage
did everything together. Everything. Even getting the mail.
It’s a story that not only touched me emotionally, but
apparently others as well. Few stories I’ve ever done attracted
broader attention. I got calls, emails and letters from all over
the country, and was even interviewed by the Seattle P-I about
2. The CIA is doing what in Washington
Undercover police officers have their identities
concealed for a reason: they are often conducting sensitive, and
sometimes high risk, investigations that warrant it.
But what about when police chiefs, who use their
government issued vehicles mainly for the purpose of driving to and
from work, start using those undercover license plates?
But nothing could prepare me, months after the
initial story, for a call from Austin Jenkins, NPR reporter in
Olympia, who’d been hearing testimony in the State Legislature
about these license plates and changes to the program.
Later, the DOL would backpedal and say that they had
no authority to release information about those “federal agencies”
that have the licenses. But it was a fascinating discovery, an
amazing story to work on and I am glad
we were able to help bring the program to transparency.
3. The Pentagon’s calling, and they’re not
Ever wonder what it’s like to have The Pentagon angry
with a story you did? Well, let me tell you.
Through a public records request, I got hold of a
Navy document that reported he’d received an honorable
discharge from the Navy — something a former Navy JAG told me was
unheard of following a sex crime conviction.
We ran the story.
The following Monday, The Pentagon called.
“Your story is wrong,” I was told repeatedly. “Are
you going to correct it?”
“How is it wrong?” I asked.
I couldn’t get an answer because those records were
private, I was told.
“So how can I correct it?” I wondered.
Round and round we went, for what felt like an
eternity. Newsroom meetings were held. I freely admit it does not
feel good when the Pentagon is not happy with you.
Eventually, others at The Pentagon and the local base
released information that showed the man had received an “other
than honorable” discharge. To this day, I am uncertain why I
saw reports that contradicted each other.
4. Burglary victim becomes the
Imagine coming home from a trip to find your home has
been burglarized, and yet
you’re the one getting hauled off to jail. That was the
situation Luke Groves faced in 2009. A felon, he’d broken into a
school in Shelton at 18, and now, at 37, police found his wife’s
guns in their Hewitt Avenue home.
Prosecutors, who charged him with felon in possession
of a firearm, had offered him no jail time in exchange for his
guilty plea. But Groves took the case to trial,
was convicted, and could’ve faced years in prison over it.
The case was one that former Kitsap County Prosecutor
Russ Hauge and I had butted heads about. He felt we’d cast the
prosecutor’s office as the bad guy in a case which they could not
just “look the other way” on a weapons charge.
I followed the trial from start to finish, including
Hauge himself handling the sentencing — something I can’t
recall on an other occasion in my seven years covering the court
system here. Hauge told the judge that Groves should ultimately get
credit for time served for the crime, and Groves was released.
The story started with a scanner call for a DOA (dead
on arrival) near the road in Olhava. I inquired with the police
sergeant, who told me that the death was actually a pretty
interesting story — certainly not something I expected to hear. I
headed north, parked, and followed a little trail into the woods
where I found “The Shiloh,” Christensen’s home among Western Red
It was a “meticulously organized world,” I wrote. “A
campsite with finely raked dirt, a sturdy green shed and a tent
filled with bins of scrupulously folded clean laundry and cases of
Steel Reserve beer.”
In the subsequent days, I learned all about his quiet
penned this story. Most satisfying to me was that Christensen’s
family had lost touch with him. Without the story, which thanks to
the Internet made its way across the country, his family would’ve
never found him. He got the dignified burial he deserved.
6. Heroin’s ugly grip on Kitsap, the
I’ve probably put more energy into covering the
opiate epidemic than any other single topic in my decade at the
I’ve received a lot of “jail mail” over the years,
and while there’s usually an interesting story, it is, shall we
say, not always one I would pursue in print.
When the letters started coming from Robert “Doug”
Pierce in 2010, I was skeptical. He was convinced that Kitsap
County had miscalculated his “good time” or time off for good
behavior, and that he was serving too long a sentence from his
current cell, at Coyote Ridge in Connell.
Now I will tell you I am a journalist and not a
mathematician. But the basic gist was that jail officials here were
calculating his good time by simply dividing his time served by
three, rather than tacking on an additional to his overall
sentence. The result was he would serve 35 extra days.
A criminal past can often haunts someone for the rest
of his or her life. That was certainly true for Ed Gonda, a man who
moved his family to Bainbridge Island and had heard it was a “laid
back, forgiving kind of place.”
His crime was a sexual relationship with a
15-year-old girl. He admitted to it, did time for it, paid more
than $10,000 in treatment for it — and had lived a clean life for
15 years, to include starting his own family.
But under Washington state law, he had to register as
a sex offender, though he was not a pedophile. And somehow, after
making friends at a local church and at his daughter’s school, word
“The news traveled fast, and people who they thought
they knew well acted swiftly,”
I wrote. “His daughter could no longer play with friends down
the street, he said. The church pews around them were vacant on
Sundays. They more or less stopped going out anywhere on the
“We’re treated like we’re diseased,” his wife told
It was the start of a
three part series I knew would be controversial, but I felt was
important. We want to protect all people in society, especially
children. But is there ever a point when we’ve gone too far and it
has infringed on the rights of those who have already done their
Let’s face it: Bremerton has a gotten a bad rap over
the years, following the demise in the 1980s of its retail downtown
core. An increasing violent crime rate followed, and in many ways
the reputation was earned.
When I was hired in 2005, the city had the highest
per capita violent crime rate. During my interview, which was just
weeks after two murders blocks from the Kitsap Sun’s office, I was
asked how I would take on the story. Aggressively, I said.
If you live in Bremerton, you know that each time we
do have a tragic, violent episode — even if far outside city limits
— it reinforces the stereotype.
But followers of this blog know better. There are
many positive signs of a community improving: Increasing ferry
traffic. Volunteers embracing parks. Home improvements being made.
We’ll see how long it takes for the rest of the world
10. Walking the story in
Any reporter will tell you that we spend a lot more
time with the story than what ends up in the paper. But what about
those people who want to know more, who
are curious for every last detail?
If you watch tonight’s Seattle Mariners game, you’ll
notice the team isn’t wearing its usual uniforms. In honor
of African American Heritage Night, the Mariners are dressing as
the Seattle Steelheads for the game, a team from the West Coast
Negro Baseball League.
Did you know that the most decorated vessel in U.S. Navy
history is perched right here* in Bremerton?
Next time you take a walk downtown — perhaps Saturday for the
Armed Forces Day parade — be sure to go to the entrance of the
Harborside Fountain Park. There, you’ll find the sail of the USS
Parche, a vessel highly decorated but largely unknown.
Why? As you’ll learn in the above video, the Parche did a lot of
spying in the Cold War years. While its missions are still
classified, some believe it was tapping telephone cables within
Soviet seas, unearthing a wealth of intelligence. Many details can
be found in the book “Blind
Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine
In any case, president after president praised the boat and its
crew just about every time it came home. As reporter Andy Binion
noted when the
sail was installed here:
The submarine earned 13 Expeditionary Medals, 10 Navy Unit
commendations and nine presidential unit citations, making it the
most decorated submarine in U.S. Navy history.
There’s still some dispute about where
President Harry S. Truman first heard what would become his
perennial rallying cry: “Give ’em
Hell, Harry.” But don’t tell that to Douglas
Hudson of Bremerton.
He was there.
Hudson’s father took him to see Truman when the
president spoke from the Elks Club, on the corner of Fifth and
Pacific downtown, on June 10, 1948. Hudson was six. It was standing
room only down the entire block, “as far as I could see,” though he
was standing atop a newspaper box, he recalled.
“During his speech he paused to glance at his notes
when a man a short distance to my right, easily within 50 feet,
yelled out ‘Give ‘em hell, Harry,'” Hudson said. “I heard the man
as clear as a bell and recall Mr. Truman looking up in our general
direction as he said ‘I will, I will.'”
Hudson was confused by the man’s yell, which is part
of why he says it stands out in his mind. He even recently visited
Truman’s library and childhood home in Independence, Missouri and
asked about the phrase. The docent there could neither confirm nor
deny the claim.
He’s not the only one. Shelagh Venard of Bremerton
called to tell me her late husband, George, was there too.
“George used to say, ‘you know, I was there, I heard
it,'” she recalled.
“…according to archivist Dennis E. Bilger of the Truman Library
in Independence, Mo., the “Give ’em hell” rallying cry was first
heard five days later, during a Truman rally in Albuquerque,
That would explain why The Sun’s account of Truman’s Bremerton
rally reported that someone yelled, “Pour it on, Harry!” but made
no mention of the “hell” remark.
Another Truman Library researcher has said the catchphrase
originated in Grand Island, Neb., during a Truman campaign event
June 6, 1948.”
So, which is it? Nebraska? New Mexico?
Bremerton? Or perhaps somewhere else?
Fredi Perry Pargeter wrote in “Bremerton and PSNY”
that while the official recollection of newspaper reporters wanted
to avoid using a “naughty” word, hence the “Pour it on” reference.
(Editorial comment: I mean think about it — “Pour it on” …
“It is this author’s opinion that the newspapers and
those who officially recorded the President’s remarks that day did
not want to use the four-letter word in official transcripts or
In honor of president’s day, I brushed up on my Kitsap County
presidential history and found out some fascinating tidbits about
those rare times POTUS stopped
by. I was lucky to have a copy of historian and journalist Fredi
Perry Pargeter’s book “Bremerton
and PSNY,” which devotes a whole chapter to presidential
Here’s a rundown of the Oval Office occupiers’ visits and why
Rutherford B. Hayes: In 1880, Hayes came by
ship to Bainbridge Island, where he helped cut a 150-foot long tree
at Port Blakely Mill.
Teddy Roosevelt: Not long after the shipyard
was built, Teddy Roosevelt came to see it in 1903. Roosevelt didn’t
stay long — half hour or so — and thus let down quite a number of
onlookers who’d hoped to catch a glimpse of Teddy. But later on his
trip, he journeyed to Tacoma, where a man from Manette — who had
been a roughrider alongside Roosevelt — came to see him.
William H. Taft: Taft also visited the
shipyard, this time in 1911. During the visit, he apparently
remarked that Charleston, then an independent city, was simply too
close to Bremerton and that the two should be joined together. They
Franklin D. Roosevelt: No. 32 visited Kitsap
more than any other president. He came twice as assistant secretary
of the Navy and as president came another two times. The first, in
1942, was done in secret for war planning. The then Bremerton Sun
didn’t know about the visit until nine days after it had happened.
The second visit was public and Roosevelt made a speech aboard the
USS Cummings, a picture of which you can find prominently displayed
at the Bremerton Bar and Grill. He held himself up to appear
standing, though he was afflicted with polio.
Harry S. Truman: The Missourian came to
Bremerton in 1948 and gave a stump speech at the corner of Fifth
and Pacific. It’s widely believed, even by Truman himself, that it
was here someone shouted the phrase, “Give ’em hell, Harry.” While
it’s in dispute, I’d say let’s just go with it.
Bill Clinton: In 1993, the former Arkansas
governor brought together leaders from Asian-Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) countries on Blake Island. During the video we
made, I misspoke — in an effort to be more causal, Clinton brought
them all leather Bombardier jackets, not jean jackets,
according to the Washington Post.
Additionally, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter are both believed
to have come to Kitsap before they were president. And there’s a
rumor that even JFK stopped by. But that will take some additional