The Key Peninsula Historical Society was awarded a $35,000 Pierce County Historic Preservation grant Jan. 31 after being ranked No. 1 on the county project list for its ongoing restoration of the 1893 Vaughn Library Hall located at the corner of Hall and Van Slyke Road NW.
Bart Wolfe, consulting architect and project manager for the hall restoration, and who also serves on the KPHS board of directors, testified before the Pierce County Council in support of its recent grant application.
The project, now in its final year of work under its 5-year building permit, made front page news after a driver smashed into the corner of the building and fled the scene, leaving behind a half empty bottle of liquor, an undrivable car, and thousands of dollars of damage to a completed corner of the building (“Historic Vaughn Library Hall Damaged by Car Crash,” January 2022).
Wolfe praised structural engineer John Hodge and general contractor Chuck West who both got right on it.
“We never learned who did it, but luckily the damage done was easily fixed and Pierce County signed off on the repairs,” Wolfe said.
One of the positive things that came from the accident was the public response. Insurance on a vacant building during construction is priced well out of reach for KPHS, but local people came through for the nonprofit.
“It was a real wonderful show of community support after such a horrible thing happened,” he said.
Neighbors gathered last October to watch the installation of the wooden pole that originally rose out of the building’s distinctive tower, with two different cranes operating to get the job done.
But what purpose did the tower and pole serve?
Wolfe said that when the hall was built in the 1890s there were few roads. Anyone coming to Vaughn likely came by water. The tower and the pole increased visibility from a distance on land and sea.
Most of the original building was built from trees cut onsite. The timber was moved down to Alfred Van Slyke’s (the original landowner) sawmill at the water, milled and returned to the site to become the floor joists and framing.
“Of course, that would have included the pole,” Wolfe said. “The bottom half of the original pole was still in the tower. Everything below the roofline they simply cut off when they put a shingle roof on it.”
That gave the restoration team the diameter of the original pole.
“One of our members has 15 acres on the Key and he said, ‘Let’s walk around and see if we can find a match for that,” Wolfe said. Once harvested, volunteers removed the bark and trimmed it down to a close replica of the original.
When originally constructed, framing was just beginning on the tower. Workers stood the pole into place and the tower was framed around it.
With several historic preservations under his belt from his practice in California, Wolfe said usually if he’s lucky there might be some black and white photos to give him an idea of what it once looked like. But when he and Paul Michaels, the co-project manager, peeled back layers on the interior walls, they found the original colors.
“We’re going to be able to restore this,” he said. “We found all the original windows had been removed but luckily we had photographs that showed us what they looked like. As Paul and I opened the walls up, we found all the original window openings. So, we knew exactly what size they were.
“The building is starting to talk to us and the stories it has told are brilliant.”
Once complete the hall will be open for public and private events for up to 200.
The KPHS museum will remain where it is and as Judy Mills, its former president, said, the Vaughn Library Hall will be the historical society’s “biggest artifact.”
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