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.
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?
A store called HWY 420 has
been up and running since October on Charleston Beach Road, but
alas, it’s just outside Bremerton city limits. Two other pot stores
are awaiting licenses in Bremerton as well, one just up Callow at
11th Street and the other in East Bremerton on Hollis Street,
according to city officials. Outside Bremerton, several stores have
already opened in South Kitsap and on Bainbridge.
Pacific Cannabis is the sixth licensed here in Kitsap. It’s been
a long time coming for Kristen Waters, its CEO, who formerly
owned an auto shop Port Orchard. She applied through the Liquor Control Board in November 2013
for the license.
The store’s decor includes boogie boards and an ocean wave
motif. Waters wanted the 500-square-foot storefront to have a “warm
and welcoming” feel, a contrast to some rather drab environs she’s
found at other pot stores around the state.
Her own entrance to the pot marketplace came through illness.
Waters endured chemotherapy a few years ago and it all but killed
her appetite (she’d prefer not utter even the name of the illness
from which she suffered). Down to 109 pounds, she tried pot and was
able to eat again.
“I never dreamed at 47 that I’d be into marijuana,” she
The store will offer a wide variety of edible pot products and
Tommy Chong’s brand. For now, their inventory is only building
up but staff expected to have much more in stock by Friday. A gram
on Tuesday was going for $12 or $13 and joints were selling for $9.
Waters plans to keep prices consistent and low as possible to be
The store’s hours will be 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday,
and 10 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Below, you’ll find a map of all recreational marijuana locations
by way of my colleague Tad Sooter, the Kitsap Sun’s business
I love a good bike ride around Bremerton, a dynamic city
where change is constant. Recently, I trekked all the way
to the Oyster Bay Chevron station —
you remember the story — from downtown. I made sure to fill my
trip with lots of interesting stops. Here’s my photographic
After the hard climb past Callow Avenue, you come to this
beautiful house flying the colors. I’ve always found the home very
Nearby is Forest Ridge Park,
with what I am presuming to be an old fire station. Anyone know its
My original destination: this
mural on the back of the Chevron Station, where I met young
artist Lue Brentwood. He painted this lovely scene after
vandalizing the wall. I plan to check back soon to find out what
will happen to the charges he faces.
I stopped by Bremerton City Nursery, on Adele Avenue, to check
out their new moss-lined “potstickers.” These innovative pots were
invented by the nursery. But more on that in a later feature.
Have you been to Spiro’s on Kitsap Way yet? I’ve heard nothing
but good things so far.
The famous Callow Avenue mural, at Pied Piper’s Emporium. I’d
love to know more about how it got there and the artist.
I was sad to see the Pour House pub on Naval Avenue closed at
the end of August. Sorry that I didn’t get a chance to write a
story about the place, too.
Yes, the Bremerton Evergreen-Rotary Park
Accessible Playground has been getting (much deserved) ink in
the Kitsap Sun of late. But have you seen the other side of the
park? The grass has grown in nicely at the
9/11 Memorial, over the top of the
old Chevron site. Next, the road you see here will be removed
and the park will ultimately be connected together — an sizeable
expansion of Bremerton’s busiest park.
For the third time, Callow Avenue will shut down
Saturday for a street fiesta. And while it’s not
officially Cinco de Mayo, celebrations of it will be in full
swing. I’m told there will even be candy-filled piñatas
hanging from firetrucks.
But there’s much, much more. The day’s festivities,
from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., will feature the Lucha Libre wrestlers, as
they are known, as well as a special guest appearance from Kevin
“Taskmaster” Sullivan, a former WCW world tag team champion.
He’ll be available to sign autographs, organizers said in a news
The lineup will feature the wrestlers at 12 p.m. and
3 p.m., live music by Alegres Del Norte and performances by the
Flokloric Dancers at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
The event is sponsored by the Charleston Business
Association, City of Bremerton, Kitsap Entrepreneurial Center,
Subway Stores and La Pablonita’s.
One of the things I love about Bremerton is the way
that, underneath its ruggedness, this is a community that helps its
neighbor. Look no further than The Charleston on Callow
where some Bremertonians are throwing a benefit show to help a
friend keep his house.
Gabriel Lee’s usually the one doing the helping, but this time,
his friends are coming to his aid. And once his friend Zac, who
books some shows at the Charleston, and Andy, one of the owners,
got the ball rolling, support poured
“It’s humbling and heart warming that my friends are doing this
for me,” Lee said. “They know I’d never ask, so they just said
‘we’re doing it.’ I’m used to being on the other side of it,
helping out others is what makes me happy.”
Lee said he’s getting back on his feet and has recently gotten a
new job, but said the show and his friend’s support is a huge
While many (myself included) have focused on what’s going on
downtown, people from other neighborhoods have sometimes complained
they’re being ignored. I think it’s probably verifiable that most
of my coverage has been of downtown, Manette and Westpark, with
scattered stories elsewhere. Heck, for a long time I did a lot of
stories about 950 acres near Bremerton National Airport, but that’s
pretty much over now.
When downtown got its flower baskets, they were greeted with
near universal praise. I say “near,” because I’m sure someone
complained, I just didn’t hear it.
Callow Avenue will get its own version. There were a couple
council members who voted for it, but expressed discomfort that
there is not a firm policy standard in city hall for how
neighborhoods get niceties such as these.
What Wyn Birkenthal, parks & rec director, and Beth Shea,
owner of a store on Callow, both said, was that putting up 28
flower baskets will demonstrate that someone cares about the