Tales of towers, road painting and flower baskets

BHS “Paint Night” and the lack of set limits for this annual ritual cause many to ask how this got started.

  • Tuesday, July 15, 2008 5:17pm
  • Opinion

t White-washing and hanging flowers had roots planted long ago.

BHS “Paint Night” and the lack of set limits for this annual ritual cause many to ask how this got started.

No alumni have said, “We did it first!” Some alumni and retired faculty recall the stern tongue lashings students received from then Supt. “Buck” Buchanan after his new silver, rocket-shaped, stilt-legged water tank just west of the high school received its first graduation-class graffiti.

In the 1950s, Buchanan’s words had the opposite effect to what he intended. Despite words, warnings and barriers to tower access, actions spurred other classes to top their predecessors.

That may have been what caused others to take to the streets and to remember their fellow graduates with fond words of endearment or class numbers on pavement closest to their residences.

It may be difficult for some newcomers to realize that island streets have not been paved for all that long.

Generations have long passed that remember when unlogged forests blocked the sun so thoroughly in places that some could barely drive their horses and wagons through the forest.

Up until World War II, all roads were dirt. No need for street sweepers!

The county road budget included a healthy sum to put cheap oil on the roads to keep the dust down each summer. When the Navy erected fences at South Beach and around Fort Ward without warning in 1940, all Islanders were affected. With South Beach folks were left land-locked and unable to take the road along Pleasant Beach to Lynwood, Kitsap County commissioners built the least expensive road they could — a steep, straight one – right up Toe Jam Hill. They used road-oiling funds to do so, and during the summer of 1940 Islanders ate dust!

In the West, which was often seen as the home of rugged individualism, it was again the federal government who spurred the economy and brought the island its first paved road during WWII. It was not Winslow Way.

Winslow wasn’t even incorporated then. Its Community Club could install a street light or two and maybe do road grading, but not paving.

The first paved road seems to have been built between U. S. Navy facilities – from the Command/Receiving Radio Station at Fort Ward, along Pleasant Beach through Lynwood and Island Center to the Navy’s transmitter station at Battle Point with a 300-foot tower that stood taller than the Space Needle. No graffiti up there.

The Navy and a few BHS kids who could borrow cars enjoyed that road without painting them. More extensive paving didn’t occur until post-war and the 1950 building of the Agate Pass Bridge.

Most students then couldn’t even afford paint, much less cars…until that silver water tower tempted thoughts of a brief season of infamy. An exception long enjoyed was “Frog Rock,” created by Robert Green and Ellen Barnes of the Class of 1971.

Winslow didn’t pave its streets until after it was incorporated in 1947. And those streets didn’t have hanging flower baskets until the indomitable Dorothy Cave Nystrom.

She was inspired by her father, Robert Cave, who once had greenhouses and extensive floral gardens at the northwest corner of Ferncliff Drive and Winslow Way. The flowers were featured on the cover of 1930 Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce brochures. Dorothy formed the Winslow Women’s Civic Club and went door-to-door collecting funds from merchants in the early 1980s. Vicki Rauh, golden stalwart of the Chamber of Commerce, was an original member of WWCC. She recalls that Mary Merchant and Connie Whited were also WWCC and are still enjoying the flowers.

Architect Miles Yanick adds proudly, “I was officially the only male ‘Winslow Woman’ as Dorothy made me a full-fledged WWCC member when we started the July 3rd Street Dance as a fund raiser.”

Today, though city budget cuts threatened to end the hanging flower baskets, they’ve returned to our streets because of the efforts of several individuals and organizations.

–Gerald Elfendahl is a local historian

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