Blackberries to Steamrollers

BremertonAs many of you know, the Sound West Group purchased my 14,000-square-foot building in the heart of downtown Bremerton, where Quincy Square will be located as part of President Trump’s Opportunity Zone projects. New York architect Steven Holl may be a designer for the new building, which will be called the Amy Burnett Building and will include some of my art imagery. That is a good thing, as an art footprint of sorts will remain. And there also has been talk about establishing a music center in the existing building.

On this particular day of the Blackberry Festival, I stood in the middle of the intersection at 4th Street and Pacific Avenue, just looking at what had been my art building for over a quarter of a century. Beside art and related businesses, it probably helped raise some million dollars for the community, from Navy officers’ organizations to opera to the Humane Society.

Our first YWCA fundraiser in 1992 attracted signed auction items from Bill Gates, Ken Griffey Jr. and LeRoy Neiman, to name a few. About every Northwest TV station and newspaper covered us at one time or another. A few years ago, I was even interviewed for a Wall Street Journal article about my 10-year Pyrex Museum of all things, which just proves my point of Bremerton’s unusual diversity.

BremertonNow I wonder if the same unique diversity would remain through yet another redevelopment project, with some wondering if apartments and condos will define the new Bremerton.

As I pondered about Bremerton on this Blackberry Festival Saturday, I realized I was standing in what some would call absurdity, watching steamrollers rolling out prints on the street, and of the hundreds of folks walking around, it seemed every other person was carrying a big blackberry pie.

“Where else but Bremerton,” I shook my head and smiled, looking to the south and seeing the Navy shipyard crane dominating the battleship horizon. Then turning to the north is an elaborate Admiral Theatre marquee across from where an Elks building, where the famous words addressing President Truman, “Give em’ hell, Harry,” resonated from the street crowd.

And this is the block where Bill Gates’ grandfather had a furniture store and actress Debbie Reynolds’ husband had a shoe store. And that Seattle guy I told you about, meeting him on 4th Street that gray day in 1990. I shared that I was going to open an art gallery and he shared he was opening an online book store, with a funny name as I remember — think it was Amazon.

Amy Burnett Gallery
Amy Burnett Gallery

Downtown Bremerton’s diversity and contrast within itself is endless; no one could make this stuff up. I will never forget when Money Magazine elected Bremerton as the nation’s “most livable city,” a Midwest newspaper reporter describing Bremerton as a “movie set … a Steven Spielberg movie set.” Ouch.

It was true then; it is true today. One day you’d think the Navy town was part of a Disney princess film fest, and the next day, you could get the feeling Bremerton is a film set for a Hitchcock black-and-white situation drama.

Amy Burnett and fellow artists
Amy Burnett and fellow artists

Historically the city reads like a James Michener novel — brothels, saloon gunfights, movie stars and about every big department store used to be located in town until the late ’70s, when Silverdale swooped down to entice businesses and homeowners.

Geographically the downtown area is relatively small. Within a radius of few blocks is a shipyard, a college campus, a large marina, multiple fountain parks, the Bremerton/Seattle ferry terminal, a boardwalk, an arts district and facilities to assist those without homes. Now, Quincy Jones has given a thumbs up for the Quincy Square project that will encompass the upper 4th Street area where the famous Roxy Movie Theater has been totally renovated.

BremertonWith a shipyard and a college campus, population is another factor of contrast and diversity, as college students, sailors and contractors create a transient situation. Also unique to Bremerton is its tourism, especially with an official arts/museum status and the Washington State Ferry being a top tourist attraction and activity.

You almost had to see it to believe it. Our summer tourist seasons were often overwhelming. A contributing factor was that I did advertise nationally, and Bremerton has that easy-to-get-to location.

This brings up another point about Bremerton and the building that held multiple art, music or tourist related businesses. In fact, for several years when I occupied most of the building, the Amy Burnett Gallery was one of the largest fine art galleries on the West Coast. It won’t happen again. One can no longer afford that much commercial retail space to exhibit and sell art. It is sad to stand here on the street and look at and say goodbye to the 1922 structure, and wonder if Bremerton’s crazy diversity will continue.

BremertonWith apartment and condo structures seeming to pop up everywhere, one might predict a normality to the downtown. Most of us have waited for this influx of in-town living, knowing it will be followed by amenities like a grocery store, a pharmacy, pet facilities, transportation and parking solutions, and so on.

I know one thing. There will always be diversity. I don’t know exactly what that means, but this is Bremerton, always a vessel of creative or unusual ventures.

There will be a Blackberry Festival next year and the year after that, and maybe I’ll find myself standing in the middle of the street again. Faces will be new, activities strange and delightful, blackberry pies bigger and music louder.

My old building will not be there. There will be an Amy Burnett Building, not my building anymore, but, “art was here.”