National Site unveils restored Artillery Barracks

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 
Artillery Barracks

Move forward by honoring the past: It’s a nice sentiment to mark the renovation of a Vancouver Barracks landmark.

However, a similar turn of phrase actually helped architects restore the interior of the Artillery Barracks Building.

A partnership of local agencies got to show off the results of that renovation Friday morning, with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting followed by a public tour.

The goal was to restore the building to as original a layout as possible. That included highlighting original materials, including the oak floor and pressed-tin ceiling panels.

Despite almost a century of interior remodeling, there was a way to envision the original floor plan.

“To understand the floor, look at the ceiling,” said Paul Falsetto, a designer and preservationist with Carleton Hart Architecture of Portland.

The pattern in the tin ceiling panels matched the floor plan in each room, Falsetto said. So if the wall of a small room ran through the middle of a row of ceiling panels, that room had been framed in after the Barracks was built.

Designers also could tell if an original wall had been taken down over the years.

The renovation was managed by the nonprofit Fort Vancouver National Trust.

On the Web

• Take a video tour of the Artillery Barracks and learn about every other building on the site at

http://www.columbian.com/news/barracks

It is the latest step in bringing new life to a place that became a U.S. Army base in 1848.

“This is the most historic site in the state of Washington,” noted Royce Pollard, who commanded Vancouver Barracks from 1985 to 1988 before he became city councilman and then mayor. “On a weekend, we would have 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers here.”

Another former commander was also on hand to see the renovation.

Bob Knight, now president of Clark College, walked over to the corner of the main room and looked around.

“This corner was my office for 3½ years,” Knight said. He was Vancouver Barracks commander from 1997 to 2000.

The Army still has a presence at Vancouver Barracks — one of its Reserve units will deploy to Afghanistan in January — but the property’s days as a military site are numbered.

The city owns the West Barracks, where Friday’s event was held. The Fort Vancouver National Trust leases and manages several buildings.

The 40,000-square-foot Artillery Barracks was built in 1904 to house 240 soldiers in two artillery batteries. The two-story building (it also has a basement and attic) has served several roles, most recently as offices for the Army, before it was vacated in 2004.

The remodel focused on a first-floor portion of the building’s east wing. It yielded 6,500 square feet of interior space, including a conference room, workshop space and a banquet room with a kitchen.

The space can be rented for events. The Fort Vancouver National Trust also manages the nearby E.B. Hamilton Hall — also known as the Red Cross Building — as a venue for events.

Now the National Trust can look ahead to other projects, President Elson Strahan said.

The group will begin the architectural and engineering process for the old Post Hospital, a huge brick building above the northbound lanes of Interstate 5, in a few months.

“This was a great project on its own,” Strahan said as he looked over the renovated Artillery Barracks. “But it also demonstrates what can be done here.”

The project was funded primarily by a $1 million grant administered by the Washington State Historical Society.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558 or tom.vogt@columbian.com.