From its small, humble beginnings in 1921 to more than 200 members today, the Longbranch Improvement Club is celebrating 100 years of supporting the Key Peninsula community — albeit a year late.
While COVID-19 put the kibosh on plans for the club’s true centennial in 2021, members took advantage of the extra time to plan a summer-long celebration this year, concluding with a weekend of free festivities August 27 and 28.
“We’re grateful for having been here for the last 100 years, and we’re making sure the KP community is welcome and having a good time with us,” said Kelly Guenther, the Longbranch Improvement Club’s president.
Centennial events kicked-off July 16 and 17 at Longbranch Marina, one of the club’s two homebases. The community experienced a piece of local maritime history when the steamer Virginia V carried nearly 100 passengers from Foss Waterway in Tacoma to the marina. Later that night the ship was the venue for a “Step Back in Time” party. The steam-powered wooden ship, a National Historic Landmark vessel that’s also celebrating a 100th birthday, was originally part of the Puget Sound’s Mosquito Fleet — a ferry system connecting Longbranch to other coastal towns. The marina also hosted a party and boat parade around Filucy Bay.
August’s events take place on the clubhouse grounds and include cornhole, croquet and whiffle ball tournaments, hay rides, an antique car show and a barn dance with live fiddlers. There’s also a free BBQ picnic and centennial breakfast, but the club will accept donations.
The Longbranch Improvement Club also carved out a good chunk of space on the clubhouse property for a Centennial Community Garden. The garden is multi-use: a space for community members to test their green thumbs, an experiential learning site for students and a location for outdoor events. The garden’s main attraction is a red cedar tree that was planted in 2021. David Zeigler, the club’s former vice president and chairman of the centennial committee, said the significance is that red cedar trees were essential to the Pacific Northwest Native American culture. Much like the centennial celebration, it gives the present a connection with its past.
The club is proud to pay homage to its history, but Guenther said they’re also looking toward the future. They recently approved a five-year plan making more club-owned space accessible to the Key Peninsula community, even those who don’t have club membership.
“It’ll be a more equitable club,” said Guenther. “We’re continuing the tradition of helping in the community, while also returning to our roots of providing places to recreate and socialize.”
To do that, the club is making improvements to their facilities, and that upkeep isn’t cheap. The clubhouse has undergone many renovations since being built in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration as a gymnasium for the local schoolhouse. To maintain its rustic charm and its historic landmark status, it takes a lot of thought, effort and money to do something as simple as installing a security system. The timbered clubhouse remains one of the largest A-framed structures on the West Coast, according to Guenther.
The club also wants to improve the ecology around the Longbranch Marina by ridding it of the tires used on the floating docks. Guenther mentioned that “mooring rates will slowly go up” over the next 10 years to help with improvement costs, but it will still be one of the cheaper marinas for mooring.
Both Guenther and Zeigler said the key for the future of the Longbranch Improvement Club is new membership. The pandemic has created opportunities for more people to live on the Key Peninsula year-round and that means more potential club members. Memberships start as low as $25 per year. “To continue having a living, thriving community organization, we need more youth and younger families involved,” Guenther said. “The more we’re able to give the community, the more the community will be willing to give back.”
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