John Wallace Adams

John Wallace Adams, 82, architect and sailor, died June 8 at his Bainbridge Island home following a long illness.

Adams was born Nov. 11, 1919 in Seattle, son of a prolific Seattle architect, Harold and Elizabeth Adams of Rolling Bay. His dad designed Dr. Frank Shepard’s home-clinic in Winslow (across from today’s city hall) and grew ginseng commercially here. John’s grandparents lived across from the Manitou Beach dock.

John attended Rolling Bay School before his family moved to Seattle. During the Depression, they lived on Portage Bay aboard the 50-foot powerboat Margaret, named for his sister.

In sixth grade at Montlake School, Adams met Bill Garden, who would become a lifetime friend and famous naval architect. Garden recalls, “We were both boat crazy!”

Adams, Garden and Jack Kutz spent summers “in Port Madison messing around in boats. In 1934, we sailed every day, all summer long,” says Kutz. “We knew who all the old sailors were who jumped ship in Port Madison during the lumber mill days. We loved listening to their stories.”

Adams made his first sailboat from a 20-foot lifeboat bought for $20 from Alaska towboat pioneer, Boyer Halvorsen. His second craft was a 26-foot schooner called Directions.

Adams drew sailboats on homework assignments and still graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1937. Like his father, he studied architecture at the UW. Before WWII, he and Kutz worked for the Winslow Shipyard, where they met a legendary builder of wooden ships, Charlie Taylor.

Adams served as a U.S. Navy lieutenant during the war, aboard infantry landing crafts in North Africa, Europe and the South Pacific.

After the war, he sailed around Vancouver Island with friends on Garden’s schooner, Gleam; passed his state architecture exams “with flying colors”; moved back to the island, and married Sara Jane Atkinson. It was time, too, for a new boat a Garden 26-foot cutter, Africa.

Adams’ career followed the sea. He was a career 5:45 a.m. commuter to offices atop the Smith Tower where with binoculars overlooking Puget Sound he specialized in shoreline architecture. He designed Sagstad’s Marina; the marine railway and dock system for Vic Franck’s Boat Yard on Lake Union; and was architect for his friend, Ivar Haglund, receiving a special award for Ivar’s Salmon House. He left his imprint on the Northwest waterfront everywhere.

He was a founder and second commodore (1956) of Port Madison Yacht Club. Dedicated to family sailing, they enlisted Garden to design the inexpensive 14-foot “Port Madison Pram” for sail training, racing, camp cruising and gunkholing. Charlie Taylor built the first of the fleet in his Hawley shipyard east of the ferry dock.

Garden designed Adams a 35-foot sloop in 1963. The Westri’s wheelhouse enabled him to venture out in all kinds of weather. While locals jigged for cod in Agate Passage, he sailed north to jig on Hein Bank in the middle of the Strait of Juan De Fuca.

Adam’s gentle temperament was tested only once, when a power boater tried to become a member of the PMYC. “It was the maddest I ever saw my uncle!” recalls his nephew, Andy Goodwin.

One of his sailboat memories was from a 1940s cruise aboard the 1898 100-foot, two-masted pilot schooner Gracie S. He’d come off watch in the dark before dawn in strong, powerful westerlies in the middle of the straits off Neah Bay.

As the ship blasted through towering seas beneath the stars, he worked his way forward to one of the ship’s dories lashed to the shrouds. Huddled behind it and with waves crashing, spray flying, rig singing and hull crooning, he gazed astern where the full moon was setting into towering seas and ahead where, on wave crests, he could watch the sun rising over the Cascades.

Adams was preceded in death by his wife, Jane, in 1967, and his sister Margaret in 1996. He is survived by his longtime companion, Betty Hall; his daughter, Laurie Adams Phillips and husband, Bob; his son Tom and wife Holly of Hansville; his nephew, Andy Goodwin and wife Sue; four granddaughters, and a great granddaughter.

A wake and celebration of Adams’ life will be held 4 p.m. June 15 at Port Madison Yacht Club Remembrances can be made to a charity of the donor’s choice.