ALDRICH’S

CATEGORY: MORE PORT TOWNSEND

In the early ’70’s, when I first started working on our house in Port Townsend, the place where anyone could buy anything was Aldrich’s Market.  It was only three blocks from what would be my home for twenty five years.  It was the oldest grocery store in one of the oldest buildings in the State of Washington.  Fred Aldrich, who was the last of the Aldrich family that had started the enterprise in 1895, was a tall, nice looking, pleasant elderly gentleman.  He always went out of his way to find any item that a customer wanted, even if it meant rummaging through the jumbled mess in the basement. 

Aldrich’s had once been a fully stocked general store.  When I arrived, it mainly sold groceries, but there were still furniture items and appliances on the third floor and some left-over hardware in the basement. An elevator had been installed and anyone was allowed to rummage anywhere in the building except the second floor, which was a mezzanine office overlooking the main store.   If an item was found that one wished to purchase, it could be bought for the original price with the original price tag still in place.  It was where I purchased a rippled glass wash board for 75 cents and a school-room light to illuminate my kitchen counter for 2 dollars.

In 1983, the store and building were purchased by John Clise, an expatriate from Seattle where he had managed the famous Pike Place Market.  John cleaned out the whole of the Aldrich building.  He changed the store by bringing back the old atmosphere and making clever use of antique objects he had found in the building.  That is when he asked me to design an apartment for him at the back of the third floor.  It was the beginning of seven individual jobs I would do for him.

The third floor had existing amenities.  It is hard to say which was the most serendipitous: the view, the space itself, the plumbing or the furnishings. 

The view was to the east and, because of its elevated position, was one of the best in Port Townsend.  It was of Mt. Baker and the North Cascades across the water where Port Townsend Bay meets the Straight of Juan de Fuca. 

The main part of the apartment space John had chosen for himself was a 25’ x 25’ room that had previously been used for electric appliance repair. It had 14 foot high ceilings and a wood floor just discernible beneath the grime. 

The plumbing was a practical amenity.  There was a toilet room large enough to turn into a bathroom without moving any walls.  The fact that there was plumbing at all was a great bonus.

The “furnishings” were pure luck.  Across part of the east wall, which was the wall that faced the view, was a sturdy but battered and dirty workbench.  It was about 16 ft. long, three feet deep and three feet high.  There were large drawers in a horizontal row beneath the counter top with electric outlets between them every four feet set above 2×4 legs.  Across the bottom was a continuous shelf.  On another wall were two 6 foot long x 5 foot high “egg crate” shelf units that had been built to hold motor parts.  By “egg crate” I mean the shelves were made of 1×12’s set one foot apart and divided vertically into one foot sections. 

In keeping with John’s penchant for re-using old things he found in the building, I suggested we move the work bench and the egg crates and use them to form the main part of his kitchen.  He happily agreed.

John did much of the work himself.  First he refinished the floor which, like almost everything else in Port Townsend, was beautiful vertical grain fir.  The layers of dirt had probably served to preserve it.  Then he cleaned the work counter, painted it a blue-gray and surfaced it with tempered masonite.  We moved it to the north wall with a refrigerator at the west end.  A sink was set into its surface beneath an existing window.  He painted the “egg crates” white and set them on top the counter to serve as open-shelf storage units.  John was 6’-5” tall so he could actually reach things set on the top of these units.  Instead of making doors to fill the space below the drawers, we used curtains made of blue and white canvas ticking.  They looked really nice set within the blue gray framework.  An island containing the range, with a pot rack above it, completed the kitchen.  It was all very economical and looked like it belonged with the building.

Another serendipitous thing was that the building had a one story addition along the entire east side, which as before mentioned, was the view side. Its roof was about three feet below the floor of the apartment.  I had my engineer check to make sure it would support the weight of a deck.  He looked it over and then started laughing because it was so over structured it didn’t need any reinforcing.  So I designed a three-level deck outside the apartment.  The top level was even with the apartment floor.  The middle level, which had a hot tub set into it, was two steps down, so that the upper deck formed a ledge for sitting around the tub.  The lowest level provided a place, hidden behind the existing parapet and the deck railing, for tub users to take off their clothes.

I designed a unique railing.  It was made of vertical 1×4’s spaced 3 ½” apart: the width of a 1×4.  Immediately inside this railing was an identical second railing on slides.  When it was closed the 1×4’s of the sliding section covered the spaces in the main railing making a visual screen.  The hot tub was set near it, so that John could close the rail, get undressed in privacy on the lowest level, and when he was in the tub, open the rail so he could enjoy the view while soaking.

After the deck was finished, the next step was to install two pairs of extra high, one hundred year old windows in the east wall of the apartment with French doors between them.  There was enough room at the east end of the kitchen for a dining space in front of one set of windows.  The rest of the room was the living space.  Furnished with John’s unique furniture, it looked like it had been there since the building’s beginning. 

Soon after his apartment was finished, John rented the rest of the third floor to the Abundant Life Seed Company.  Again I designed the space.  The seed company had its own east side deck and an exterior stairway.  The space between the Abundant Life deck and John’s deck was made into a garden with potted plants covered with mounded bark and gravel paths.

Several years later, John got married and we built a new east-facing bedroom with its own bathroom and private deck.

In 1996, John sold the building and retired.

Seven years later, August 4th, 2003, in the middle of a hot, dry summer, two teen agers were playing at night with cigarette lighters in the alley north of the store.  They accidentally set fire to some trash on the sidewalk which in turn set the building on fire.  It was completely destroyed.  Fortunately no one was in the building at the time.

What a sad ending for one of the most loved landmarks in Port Townsend and the oldest grocery store in the State of Washington!