Looking Back: A building fire in summer 1977 and some other Edmonds history

Alfab and Pointer Willamette building. (Photo courtesy of Edmonds Historical Museum)

Publisher’s note: This story was originally posted on Saturday, Aug. 22. We are reposting it Aug. 24, along with a few others, so that they will appear in the next daily newsletter. Due to a technical glitch, that newsletter did not go out on Sunday, Aug. 23.

Like me, some of you may have memories of the Pointer-Willamette Co. building at the foot of Dayton Street on the southwest corner of Admiralty Way and Dayton. It was certainly not the most attractive building in Edmonds, but a lot of the town’s history went up in flames when most of the building was destroyed by an out-of-control fire during the early morning hours of June 22, 1977, while some residents were soundly sleeping in their beds.

At first unnoticed, the fire raged through the old wood section of the building. Edmonds Fire Chief Jack Cooper said that the earliest warning of a fire was just before 3 a.m. when an Edmonds police officer reported that flames were visible on the waterfront. By the time that first alarm was called in, the fire was already consuming the building, and when the fire units from Edmonds and Lynnwood arrived on the scene, most of the building was already ablaze. People living on the hill above Edmonds said the western sky was lit up like a bright sunset. It was reported that the fire was seen as far away as Seattle and Kingston.

As bystanders arrived to check out the action, the fire crews battled the blaze with its the intense heat until about 6:30 a.m., when the last flickering flame was extinguished. Mop up work then continued into late in the afternoon. The only section of the building left standing was the original reinforced concrete structure, which had been built in 1927 for use as a lumber business.

The Edmonds Tribune-Review reported that the heat from the fire was so intense, the steel beams in the building were bent out of shape like pretzels, power poles near the building were set on fire and the live wires crackled as they fell to the pavement — and tires on vehicles parked nearby melted. Luckily, Alfab, the aluminum fabrication company located in the Quonset hut directly across the street, escaped damage from the flames.

The building was owned by the Port of Edmonds, and business tenants situated in the building at the time of the fire were Craig Selvidge’s Craig Craft Boats; Edmonds Yacht Sales; a warehouse for Bayside Furniture; and LaFarge and Egge Co. Three of the businesses were completely destroyed, and LaFarge and Egge suffered major damage. The first estimate of the amount of loss was at least $1 million, and the fire was thought to have been caused by a problem with the wiring in one area of the building. Various other businesses and individuals had items stored in the building, and those were a complete loss. My husband Fred and I had a few of our personal boat-building items stored there — we lost those.

Joe Price, caretaker for Craig Craft, was asleep in his apartment above Bayview’s warehouse, when he was awakened by the crackling sounds from the live electrical wires. When Mr. Price got up to check on the disturbance, he discovered Craig Craft’s office ceiling was on fire. As he told reporters, he then grabbed his pet parrot, and fled to safety.

A. M. Yost & Sons Lumber Co. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

The history of the building goes far back, 93 years ago to 1927, when John E. Yost built the northern-most section (the cement part) to operate the family’s business, A. M. Yost & Sons Lumber Co., at what was then the corner of Dayton Street and Yost Road — the road was later renamed Admiralty Way. John Yost served as manager of the company.

The shingle mills along the waterfront had sustained the economy of Edmonds for decades, and with their decline, new industries, mainly manufacturing plants, took their place and actually increased employment and payrolls. A major one of those new businesses arriving to fill the void being left by the closing of the mills was Pointer-Willamette Co. of Portland, Ore., in 1942.

The Yost family’s lumber company had been a major business on the Edmonds waterfront until March of 1942, when Pointer-Willamette Co. arrived and took over the location of the lumber company, which was closing its business. Pointer-Willamette announced that it had a contract to build steel barges for the U.S. Army and that it would be employing 35 to 40 local men for at least four months. Following completion of this work, business picked up as more contracts were awarded, and the company constructed a wharf, and also made additions to enlarge the building in order to handle the increasing government wartime work.

In August of 1944, Pointer-Willamette was awarded a contract worth $1,000,000 to provide Navy lighters — the first one was launched on Sept. 1, 1944. A lighter was a type of flat-bottomed barge used to transfer goods or passengers to and from moored ships.

The Navy contract was completed ahead of time and was celebrated by Pointer-Willamette when the last barge was launched in May of 1945. The following month, construction began on a contract for eight large barges for the Army. However, when Japan surrendered in August of 1945, work was switched to crane barges for the Navy. By November, the Pointer-Willamette plant was converted back to its pre-war line — the manufacture of large logging trailers and other custom-made trailers. Future Edmonds’ mayor Paul McGibbon was in charge of the designing, and also for a time served as superintendent of the plant.

An advertisement for Skyhook.

In August of 1946, Pointer-Willamette announced another enlargement to the plant to provide for the manufacture of a special logging device known as a Skyhook, an aerial cable tram-car for reaching places not accessible by road. The Skyhook operated under its own power when on the ground, as well as suspended by cables. A larger model was designed for 1947.

Pointer-Willamette also obtained a government contract for the manufacture of submarine nets. In fact, the company remained a major employer—converting to peacetime manufacturing, and back again to defense production in the 1950s.  Along with other manufacturing companies, Pointer-Willamette provided several years of employment for many local young men, as they settled down following their return from military service.

In June of 1951, Pointer-Willamette moved its main office from Portland to Edmonds, because of the heavy volume of work being done at the Edmonds facility. The company also increased in size, installed a Quonset hut, and added a complete machine shop. In 1951, trailer work was at full capacity. Twenty trailers were delivered to the Longview Fiber Company and three to the St. Regis Pulp and Paper Co. in Tacoma, adding to the five already sent to St. Regis. At that time, Pointer-Willamette reported they had 130 men employed at their plant. In 1953, the company employed 200 men with a payroll of over $1 million.

On a separate path, with the ending of WWII, the city fathers had begun envisioning a different outlook for the Edmonds waterfront — one related more towards watercraft and boating, rather than the manufacturing industry. With that in mind, the Edmonds Port District was formed in 1948, and that began a cautious, but steady transformation of the waterfront to a more people-friendly environment in the future.

By the time the Port of Edmonds began construction of the Edmonds Boat Harbor in 1961, the waterfront was already beginning to reveal a new face. In addition, by December of 1961, Pointer-Willamette Co. was out of business and all of its assets had been liquidated. The building, plus the former Pointer-Willamette properties, was acquired by two local men who had personal plans for its development. However, in 1976, citing eminent domain, the Port of Edmonds acquired ownership of the land and the building by way of condemnation proceedings. The rest of the story is the evolution of the waterfront into what we see today.

There are not many of us left who remember the days when the shingle and saw mills dotted the Edmonds waterfront landscape, with the last one, Quality Shingle Mill, closing in 1951.

However, some current residents may remember some of the manufacturing plants before the final transformation. Very noticeable, there were the oil tankers, the wharf where the tankers docked, and the oil storage tanks on the Point Edwards bluff, as well as Unocal’s asphalt plant.

Besides Pointer-Willamette, some of the more visible manufacturing companies were: Edmonds Marine Ways, where Howard Anderson, Sr. and son built small fishing boats and cruisers; Blox, Inc., a short-lived concrete products plant; Schuster Soap Company, another business that didn’t last long; and Northwest Fur Breeders Cooperative, suppliers of frozen fish scraps for animal feed to company members — in 1994, its cement-block building was the last of the old industrial buildings to be razed.

Then there was: Merry Manufacturing Company, manufacturer of Ridd Laboratories’ popular Merry Tiller; Alfab, located in the Quonset hut, an aluminum boat fabricating company; LaFarge & Egge Co., (1962) supplier of metal parts for Boeing Company; Norsol Company, a crab pot manufacturer; and later (1981) Munson Manufacturing Co., boat builders, once located at the Harbor Square Business Complex.

Under a clear blue sky on a sunny summer day in Edmonds, July 28, 1980, not far from our residence, as well as our Alaska fishing troller moored at the marina on the end of J Dock, I stood and watched the men and machinery at work, as the remains of the fire-damaged Pointer-Willamette building was torn down and the rubble trucked away.  Standing there, I could not help but recall a bit of personal history. This original section of the building and I were born the same year—1927. Over the years, we both had seen a lot of changes take place in Edmonds.

The Landing, a restaurant and retail building, opened in 1981 to replace the Pointer-Willamette building. Today, the location is a busy place — still home to the very popular Arnie’s Restaurant, and a large variety of retail businesses and offices.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a former long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. Although now living in Anchorage, she occasionally writes about the history and the people of both early-day Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. She is also an honorary member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board.

 

6 Replies to “Looking Back: A building fire in summer 1977 and some other Edmonds history”

  1. Good stuff, as usual, Betty. A very informative article for those of us interested in the history of Edmonds.

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  2. I agree with Mr. Evans, a great story. Spending time on the waterfront and the beaches in the summer was a much different environment than we enjoy today. Thanks again, Betty, for helping preserve our History.

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  3. Edmonds was a really terrific place before it got discovered. I’m thankful I got to live here then as well as now. Mr. Wagner took our 9th. grade Mechanical Drawing class (at Edmonds Junior H.S, now the ECA) on a tour of Merry Tiller Manufacturing to show the process of going from drawings to machines. The waterfront was a vibrant place of commerce and jobs then. This was when we actually made stuff in America instead of just buying it from elsewhere. We lament that Edmonds has little tax base after we systematically and purposely dismantled it. The waterfront was a marvelous place where we went clamming, swimming off the float by the ferry dock (diving into the ferry prop wash), cut firewood and occasionally slept out on the beach in our sleeping bags. We caught sea bass (black rock fish) at night casting off the beach or in a small boat near Jim’s Boat House (where they wanted to put the connector and where the underwater park is now). It was an even better place then.

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  4. Betty, This was a life changer for me. One thing led to another. When Bob Pointer asked his son-in-law Jerry Howell to liquidate everything that he owned I bought the Quonset Hut with everything in it including the the giant lathe, the traveling cranes, the. enormous 440 volt transformer, welding machines, and some other stuff I can’t even remember. for $500. And that was before I even thought of Alfab. And of course the two men mentioned your article were Jack Bevan and me. I was building three skiffs at my home in Woodway. One for myself, and one each for Spuds Johnson and Allen Coles. Jane had kicked me out of the back yard, so I rented space in the Pointer Willamette building . $70 a month to build three skiffs. My father moved our family from Greenwood to Edmonds in 1935. The address of our new home was Box 666 Route 3, Edmonds, WA. That was a dirt road then. Now it is 84th Avenue West. At that time there were fourteen shingle mills on the Edmonds waterfront. Bob Thorstenson the VP ofthe PFI fish company in Bellingham, and he really got Alfab started by bringing Irvin Huby PFI’s plant engineer down, and then ordering ten skiffs. Bob had been a crewman with Jane’s uncle Spuds Johnson on the Patty J that Spuds had built in Bellingham in 1957. I had commissioned Phil Brenk to design a high speed purse seiner, and asked Spuds if wanted one too. By this time I had made a deal with Reynolds Aluminum to furnish all of the aluminum at a very low price. Spuds said sure. And that became the JOSIE J. My aluminum became skiffs. Soon after I sold seven skiffs in Canada. a huge fish deal later for me.

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  5. Greatly enjoyed the re-visit via the article. Lots of familiar names – both people and businesses. As I recall there were three boat houses in Edmonds; two north of the ferry dock (Edmonds and Jim’s) and one immediately south being Andy’s (Howard Anderson). We used Andy’s in part because Mr. Anderson worked some winters for my grandparents delivering home heating oil (Sater & Ridenour) at 3rd and Main. I recall stacks of submarine netting at P-W but was under the belief that they were nets used during WWII. I now know they could have been newly constructed product. Again, thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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