Few communities understand, value and showcase local history better than Vancouver. Two-plus centuries of momentous events and scores of famous people form the foundation for this effort.
Next time you’re in the vicinity of the Fort Vancouver historic core, drive by the intersection of Fort Vancouver Way and Hatheway Road and take an inquisitive look at the two-story, south-facing building. For a 108-year-old structure, the Artillery Barracks Building is in mighty fine fettle. In fact, it’s now available for public use thanks to a recent renovation managed by the Fort Vancouver National Trust and paid for primarily by a $1 million grant from the Washington State Historical Society. A ribbon-cutting and public tour occurred Friday.
As you ponder the stately building, imagine the powerful leaders who have walked the halls of the Artillery Barracks Building and the critical, history-shaping decisions they made there and elsewhere in the 400-acre Fort Vancouver area. Among those historical figures was Gen. George C. Marshall, who gained fame during World War II and once served as barracks commander at Vancouver Barracks.
Last week’s ceremony demonstrates how a community should preserve and magnify its distant and recent past. Marshall represents the distant past. Two local leaders who represent the recent past are Royce Pollard, former Vancouver mayor who was barracks commander from 1985 to 1988; and Clark College President Bob Knight, who served in that capacity from 1997 to 2000. Last week Pollard called the barracks “the most historic site in the state of Washington.” And Knight spoke nostalgically at Friday’s ceremony at the Artillery Barracks Building: “That corner was my office for three years.”
The public availability of the building represents its third generation. Originally the building was the living quarters for 240 soldiers in two artillery batteries. Later it was an Army office building until it was vacated in 2004. Now the remodeling project has produced 6,500 square feet of interior space, including a conference room, workshop space and a banquet room with a kitchen. Nearby, E.B. Hamilton Hall — also known as the Red Cross Building — also is available for public use.
For information about renting the event spaces, visit http://www.fortvan.org or call Julie Kummer, the Trust’s event facilities manager, at 360-828-5237.
Trust President Elson Strahan proclaimed last week: “This was a great project on its own, but it also demonstrates what can be done” throughout the West Barracks area, which is owned by the city of Vancouver. He was talking indirectly about another building that’s even more visible to the public: the old Post Hospital, that huge brick edifice near the northbound lanes of Interstate 5. It’s next on the list of barracks renovation projects. Architectural and engineering efforts are being organized by Trust officials.
Many public figures — and several not-so-well-known civic activists — are responsible for the robust present and promising future of the barracks area. Former U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, led many of these efforts before he retired from Congress last year. Vancouver city officials also have worked diligently to secure the land transfer from the U.S. Army and mobilize renovation efforts. And, of course, the Fort Vancouver National Trust continues to show its trustworthy talents as stewards of the area.
Even if you don’t plan to use the barracks buildings, we’ve got two more recommendations: drive through the fort and barracks areas for a quick review of the architecture. Or, better yet, walk the grounds, read the informational signs, imagine the history that precedes you, and take pride in the military and exploratory history that is being preserved.