The Kirkland Cannery

“Yeah, I could see that,” I thought to myself as I stood under the rich reddish rafters of the almost 80 year-old building. I could picture farm-fresh flowers and laughter lighting up the whitewashed main hall once again, sunbeams dancing through the Depression-era windows as footsteps clomped up and down the stairs. Inwardly I smiled.

People were discussing what could be done to save the building and someone had just suggested that it become a public market. Many in attendance had grown up buying fish from the cannery or canning their own food in it. But who would pay for it? That’s always been the two million dollar question, and its answer will decide whether or not the land gets used for more soulless, Twilight Zone-esque cookie cutter condos.

The cannery building in Kirkland, Washington was built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and was a functional business until 2001. Thanks to the Kirkland Heritage Society and the building’s owner, I was finally able to tour the inside of it. It was something I’ve wanted to do for years. From the outside you can just smell how much history is contained within its walls.

That the public was able to come together to discuss the cannery’s future onsite just days after the death of Bob Burke, one of Kirkland’s biggest advocates of historic preservation, seemed fitting. And just the night before, only two blocks away, an even older house was just smashed down into rubble to make room for something newer and shinier. I watched it fall along with a neighbor whose own house and mother’s former house, structures nearing 100, still stand nearby.

Initially I couldn’t figure out how to get into this building until someone called to me from the front porch and gave me directions. The inside is a small maze of rooms and steps and pillars and windows whose curious twists and turns extend to the exterior. It’s the kind of building kids fantasize about growing up in after reading about mansions with secret chutes and passageways except it’s less glamorous and more industrial.

You can read more about the history of this building here:

Kirkland Cannery (City of Kirkland site)

Kirkland Cannery Building (City of Kirkland site)

Joint effort seeks new uses for Kirkland cannery (Seattle Times)

Here are some snapshots of the cannery (taken with the permission of the owner). You can click on each of them to make them larger.

The exterior. This cool old building is like an island of tradition in a Seattle-area sea that’s looking increasingly urban and Californian.

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An oyster recipe still tacked to the wall.

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The doorway that reminded me of a car wash even though it could easily be used in a I Know What You Did Last Summer-type movie.

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Stencils for labeling, hung merrily in a row.

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Old equipment still stands at the ready to feed the masses.

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The main hall and some of its guests. While I’m glad so many people turned out, it always bothers me that events like this are sparsely attended by the under 50 set. The ultimate fate of such buildings is often going to rest with us Generation Xers and our offspring.

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The writing on the wall. In my experience old buildings almost always have secret graffiti from days gone by. These were the obvious scrawls.

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Looking down one of the staircases that appeared to be made of hand-hewn timber. Many of the beams were made out of rough old wood like these too. And they don’t make bricks like these anymore.

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One of several cheery signs encountered along the way.

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Another secret staircase with old signage tacked along that beam.

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The plaque on the front porch showing the building’s origins. It’s the last remaining WPA structure in the city.

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The beautiful, distinctly ’30s-style ceiling.

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And finally, a fairly modern sign that’s seen better days but still conjures up residents’ memories of bringing their catch here to be preserved for rainy winter dinners.

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Thank you to the owner and the Kirkland Heritage Society for arranging for this tour. Whatever happens to this building, it’s important for the public to know its story and appreciate its part in Kirkland’s history. I sure hope that the citizens come together to save it.

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Update, 12/29/14: Great news! Last night I received word that the Cannery has been purchased by a local nonprofit called the Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation evidently intends to restore the building and might even allow use of the space as a fundraising venue.

From bits and pieces I found online, the Bradley Foundation is registered in Bellevue and appears to be primarily involved with supporting issues that affect children and seniors. It will be interesting to find out more about their mission.

Currently there’s a banner on the front of the building thanking the Pound family for taking care of the building for so long– Thad Pound is the seller and has worked hard to preserve the building along with others like the Kirkland Heritage Society. Shake that man’s hand when you see him.

The KHS was hoping this iconic building would become a museum, but the fact that it’s being preserved at all given what the real estate’s worth is a major victory. I hope the new owners will choose to preserve many of the quirks and not paint over the literal writing on the wall. The grand dame of Depression-era buildings in Kirkland should not be all scrubbed, shiny, and new. It is largely in her imperfections that we find her true beauty and intrigue.

As other online articles have pointed out, many locals are relieved this structure will not become the local Pot Palace or Cannabis Edifice as it sits in an area zoned for some marijuana businesses. It would seem disrespectful to have the building where families traditionally sashimied their salmon or canned their crabapples busily harvesting hashish.

Rob Butcher at the Kirkland Views blog has a great piece on the Cannery sale complete with wonderful illustrations. The Seattle Times also made this front page news today, Change of ownership to preserve historic Kirkland cannery.

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©2013 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

5 thoughts on “The Kirkland Cannery

  1. As a correction the Kirkland Cannery was not purchased by The Bradley Foundation rather it was purchased by Carl Bradley as an individual. The goal is to preserve the building. More updates will be available as time goes by.

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    1. Thank you for the correction– and for purchasing the building! I’d love to know what’s going on with it and often drive by to see what’s new. I’ve also wanted to put you in touch with Chris Moore of Preserve Washington, http://preservewa.org/Default.aspx, as he’s very in the loop with all the entities that assist property owners engaged in historic preservation. If there’s a good way to contact you, please post another comment and I won’t post it publicly. I’ll copy the contact info. and delete it. There’s another reason I’ve wanted to talk to you as well. I’m thrilled that this is being saved for future generations.

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  2. I lived in Renton and Redmond in the late 1980’s, and worked in Bothell. My friends and I used to go to the Kirkland Cannery to buy delectable smoked salmon treats includigng my favorite, squaw candy. Sad and unbelievable that a beautiful building with such a unique history may soon be gone.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. I’m not sure what’s going to happen to the building yet. And I hadn’t heard the term squaw candy before, but oh does that look good… Let’s hope that somehow this building will yet be saved.

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