PORT TOWNSEND — One of the city’s familiar landmarks, the “Old Blue” visitor center on Sims Way, was demolished Thursday to make way for the newest city park to be known as Gateway Plaza.
Employees with the Port of Port Townsend tore down the long-abandoned structure that had served as the visitor center from the mid-1990s through 2008. Volunteers from Naval Magazine Indian Island will offer their assistance today to remove debris from the site.
Given the condition of the building, most of what could be salvaged had been removed, officials said. That includes the windows and hardware that will be repurposed by the port.
Jim Pivarnik, the port’s executive director, said the building was in rough shape with holes in the roof and a lot of water damage.
He said the port had been interested in moving it to Boat Haven, but the expense of the move and the extensive rehabilitation would be too expensive.
Tim Caldwell, former executive director of what is now known as The Chamber of Jefferson County, said the structure originally was located in the pocket park known as “Gateway Park” at the corner of Sims Way and Kearney Street.
“The building was moved to its present site in 1990 or so,” Caldwell said. “Port Townsend High School woodshop teacher Jim Gunthrie had his students add on restrooms as a class project.”
Caldwell said the building, flanked by the longstanding readerboard, was a busy place, especially in the mid-’90s.
“We had 70,000 visitors a year stop by,” Caldwell said.
“There was enough room for people pulling trailers to stop, and we had restrooms. Back then, we kept track of all of the hotel vacancies and made referrals. We had one and a half paid staff, 30 incredible volunteers and were open seven days a week.
“We could see the writing on the wall,” he said. “With the advent of GPS and websites, the concept of a visitor center had changed, and travelers’ information gathering was being done through other means.”
A new visitor center was built in the park-and-ride lot at the Haines Place Transit Center in the mid-’90s, and “Old Blue” was mothballed. That center was replaced in 2015 when the chamber and visitor center moved into the former Northwind Arts Center building on Jefferson Street, adjacent to “Old Blue’s” spot.
Arlene Alen, the chamber’s executive director, said the building had been available “free to a good home” for a long time.
“There was some genuine interest shown but was just too expensive to move,” said Alen, who also is an architect. “The original construction was great, and parts of it were built really well as shown during this deconstruction. The port and Indian Island were gracious to step up and deconstruct this building.
“It was a welcoming spot and, until the modern age forced different needs on visitor centers and they needed more space and be ADA-compliant, it was easier and safer to migrate into a different type of facility.”
Alen said the city continues to serve visitors, many of whom end up moving to it.
“The fact they are building the Gateway Plaza, to take that little “Old Blue” and turn it into another special welcome to the city of Port Townsend is pretty special,” Alen said.
“It’s going to be a great park, and it’s going to be a great vista with a sculpture. It will be a real draw to get people into the visitor center across the street to utilize the technology we have here. It will provide an even better welcome for people.”
“It’s hard to watch a building be deconstructed,” Alen said. “That building that welcomed thousands of people to the community will be remembered fondly by those who worked there and those who visited Port Townsend.”
Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].