Kate Lucas was taken aback when the portrait photographer she
hired pointed at a crumbling, graffiti-covered building and
suggested that she and her family climb inside.
“I didn’t like it when I saw first it,” the Arizona resident
said while the photographer lined her family along a wall exploding
with spray-painted color. “But now I’m inside. I think it’s a work
of art. I think it has stories to tell.”
The concrete building is the most prominent feature of south
Harbor Park. Built in 1907, it housed a power generator for a
lumber mill that was several times larger (see the photo
For decades, islanders have debated its future. Some wanted it
torn down on both aesthetic and ecological grounds. Some wanted it
preserved as a reminder of the vast Port Blakely mill town that
made the harbor one of the busiest on the Puget Sound. (I explored
the future planning for the building and its surrounding park in a
recent story that subscribers can read
In this archival photo of the Port
Blakely lumber mill, the generator building is the pale one between
two larger buildings. The inset photo in the left corner shows the
generator building today. Photo courtesy Jerry Elfendahl.
Few saw value in the building as an ever-changing canvas for
graffiti artists. That appears to be changing.
When I stopped by the park recently, every visitor I ran into –
eight in all – were there for the graffiti. The Lucas family’s
photographer, Tricia Kurtzman, regularly brings her clients to the
generator building because it provides a visually-compelling
Bainbridge photographer Philip Meadow had a
gallery show devoted to the building a few years ago.
“Although some people may find (graffiti) to be somewhat
unfitting use for such a piece of history, it has to be said that
the young people that are attracted to this location remain
respectful in their own way,” he said in 2009.
After Kurtzman and her group finished up, a Seattle
photographer, Conner Lyons, stepped in. Lyons had pedaled his bike
from the ferry just to visit the building. He used to make the trek
regularly with his graffiti artist friends when he was younger.
He said the building is a regional draw for graffiti artists who
want their work seen by their peers. Artists regularly hop the
ferry or drive up from Olympia and Tacoma to make their mark.
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