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THE NEXT GENERATION OF ‘COMMUNITY’: Government housing on Bainbridge is formally decommissioned

By CECILIA GARZA
Bainbridge Island Review Staff Writer
March 31, 2014 · Updated 5:07 PM
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Cmdr. Fred Sheffler of American Legion Post 172 prepares to accept a flag in honor of the more than 60 years of Bainbridge government housing. / Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review

Bainbridge Island has provided government housing for more than 60 years on John Adams Way, formerly known as Government Way.

Since the Atomic Age and Cold War, military personnel lived in the two rows of houses and played an intrinsic role in the Bainbridge community.

Their children went to Bainbridge schools, their families went to Kitsap churches, they had block parties and kids cut through their backyards on their way home.

The two rows of houses were formally decommissioned last week to make way for a new era of community housing.

This summer, the street will be transformed into the second phase of development for Grow Community, a neighborhood committed to sustainable urban development.

“When I was connecting what happened then and what we see happening now, I just picture the same kind of things happening again,” said Karen Vargas, a former military resident on Government Way.

The expansion, as Vargas put it, will welcome another generation of what has always been on Government Way: community.

“This is a model for how community should be … neighbors helping one another, where kids know each other, bringing community back to what it is,” Vargas said.

In a decommissioning ceremony Thursday, March 20, Vargas was one of several present at the old basketball court behind the little neighborhood to honor the history of the homes.

“There’s an aphorism,” said Mayor Anne Blair at the start of the ceremony. “Home is where our story begins.”

Like so, Government Way began as Suquamish tribal land, before the fir tree forests were transformed into farmland.

Families who were pillars of Bainbridge’s earliest days started on the block between Grow and Madison avenues.

The Moritani family began farming strawberries there. The Grow family traveled from Kansas and bought much of the land from Wyatt down to Eagle Harbor. Later they donated Winslow Green for one of Bainbridge’s first schools.

Dr. Frank Shepard and his wife, Charlotte, opened a clinic in their home on Madison Avenue. And Shepard Way was also home to the Japanese Community Hall where Kay Nakao of the Moritani family said, “Everything that happened, happened there!”

In 1955, it was transformed yet again into its latest form of community when the Capehart Act authorized private developers to build government housing.

“Those 16 little houses carry the memories and honor the stories of people who’ve been all over the world,” Vargas said.

House No. 373 was home to Tony Watson, a Navy diver who was on hijacked TWA Flight 847 in 1985 and honored for his heroism.

The neighborhood was also home to Peter Iwane Ohtaki, a 31-year Japan Airlines executive who has been an active contributor to opening trade avenues between Seattle and the Orient.

It was home to Gary Sakuma, who is now a pilot with United Airlines.

The neighborhood was also home to Brian Moss, who served on the USS Alabama submarine at Bangor. Moss died in the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon.

In 2001, a flag was hung on a garage door by a close friend of Moss. It hung there for more than a year in honor of him and all those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

During last week’s decommissioning ceremony, the flag was brought forward to also honor the neighborhood.

The expansion of Grow Community will not only be an opportunity for a new era of community but also a chance to remember the history of Grow Avenue.

The next two phases of construction will welcome a community center, an open green and neighborhood garden.

The community center and pathways, Greg Lotakis of Asani said, could also offer a place for memorializing Grow Avenue history.

Over the past few months, developers have brainstormed two ideas: timeline markers to go onto the pathways and landscaping or a storyboard plaque to be installed at the community center.

“Like all things, those ideas might evolve and we’ll ask for feedback from residents,” Lotakis said.

“We also don’t want to detract from what is going on at the (Bainbridge Island Historical) museum.”

Either way, Lotakis said, the hope is that it will welcome the greater community into the Grow project and vice versa.

“Kids, our children, the next generation, if we can teach them how to build community, they’ll take that with them their whole lives,” Vargas said.

 

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