Fort Ward center rises from historic bakery building

The sound of clicks and children chattering filled the main room of the Fort Ward Community Hall during an afternoon summer camp July 3 that focused on creating things with Lego bricks.

The sounds were far different from the baking of bread from years ago, but it was the sound of a new generation using the building.

Kristi Walker, director of Bricks 4 Kids, was leading the campers in making things with Legos. She said she liked the remodel of the old bakery with areas for the kids to run around outside. “This is a lovely space,” she said.

For years, Fort Ward needed a community building on the south end of the island to host meetings, celebrations and classes. Nothing was available, except some dilapidated 1910 Army buildings at Fort Ward, until some enterprising teens canvassed the neighborhood in 2014 to raise funds that brought the community together and started the long process to repurpose the bakery building.

Since its construction in 1910, the 910-square-foot, red-brick building has served many purposes. The bakery provided bread for the Coast Artillery Corps garrison at Fort Ward until 1928 when the fort was put into caretaker status. In 1938, the Navy reopened the fort as Naval Radio Station Bainbridge Island and repurposed many of the old buildings for a radio school to train personnel in Morse code and communications. But, its real purpose was to conceal the fort’s top-secret “Station S” listening post to intercept Imperial Japanese military and diplomatic radio traffic in the Pacific.

The bakery transitioned into a power station and housed a giant diesel generator that sent high-voltage current around the base to support the hundreds of radio tubes at the radio intercept center, which famously intercepted Tokyo’s “14-part message” en route to the Japanese consul in Washington, DC on the eve of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

After World War II and until 1958 the building continued to serve the Navy, but then Fort Ward was closed. Eventually, the waterfront area became Fort Ward State Park, the rest of the land and old buildings were sold, and the Fort Ward bakery became a private home.

As the neighborhood grew, so did interest in preserving the old bakery, and in 1976 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In the 1990s, neighbors and preservationists set out to preserve the parade field as a public green space and to repurpose one of the old military buildings for a community space. In 2002, the 3-acre Parade Ground Park was created, and then efforts turned toward finding a building that could be used for a community center.

When the former bakery was put for sale by homeowners in 2007, the Kitsap County (Fort Ward) Sewer District No. 7 purchased it for a community hall, but it would take several more years before the adaptive reuse of the building could begin.

Inspired by the fundraising efforts of four high school students who raised $10,000 for the restoration, the Friends of Fort Ward formed and began securing grants, and the BI Metro Park & Recreation District committed to renovating the building and adding it to the district’s collection of historic gathering halls for community use.

When the restoration work began in 2018, decades of add-ons, renovations and decay had to be tackled. As the demolition and construction took place a Fort Ward neighbor read about the project in the newspaper and realized he had the original front doors of the building and two curved fanlight windows. He had salvaged the pieces from a shed near the bakery where they had been stored since the 1960s. He gave them to the project.

After many years of work, neighbors, contractors, local agencies and friends gathered recently to celebrate the restoration.

Tommy Smith, a 2021 Bainbridge High School graduate and camp counselor said he liked the space. “This is one of my favorite buildings that we do camps in.”