Restoring History for the Community – Fort Ward Community Hall Dedication and Open House, Saturday, June 17th!

Fort Ward Community Hall poster 2It all began more than a century ago, when a little brick bakery was built within the confines of Fort Ward to serve the military community that lived there. However, its story was just beginning.

Fort Ward was established in 1903 at the south end of Bainbridge Island as part of Puget Sound’s coastal defense network against the threat of attack or blockade by foreign navies. By 1910, construction at Fort Ward was in full swing and a stunning administration building, a 109-man barracks, post exchange (that included a gymnasium inside), guardhouse, immense quartermaster warehouse, duplexes for officers and NCOs, and a bakery were built.

fwa-aerial-03-webWhile there were larger and more heavily armed forts farther north, Fort Ward was an important part of the Puget Sound’s defense system, and was the last line of defense for the newly opened Puget Sound Naval Yard in Bremerton. Although artillery practice could occasionally be heard, the fort and its Army Coast Artillery Corps garrison would remain on quiet and peaceful alert for an attack that never came. By 1928, the fort’s big guns were removed and it was placed on caretaker status, but not for long.

A decade later, the war in the Pacific was gearing up and Fort Ward was reopened in 1938, this time as Navy Radio Station Bainbridge Island. Believed to be a radio school training facility for young enlistees in the art of Morse code and communications, the fort’s real purpose was a top-secret “Station S,” a covert listening post perfectly located to intercept Imperial Japanese military and diplomatic radio communications in the Pacific.

The old buildings were converted to accommodate the fort’s new purpose, such as the guardhouse, which became a radio school, and the old post exchange/gymnasium was repurposed as the radio intercept center. A facility of this nature required hundreds of tube radios, which drew upon massive amounts of power, and so, the bakery was modified and equipped with a giant diesel generator, that sent high-voltage current around the base.

This time, Fort Ward made history. In December 1941, on the eve of Pearl Harbor, Tokyo’s famous “14-part message” was plucked out of the air by Station S en route to the Japanese consul in Washington DC and whisked to the War Department for decoding – an intelligence coup that presaged, although couldn’t prevent, the attack on Hawaii. (Friends of Fort Ward)

The fort would continue its military career as a Code training facility into the early Cold War era, with the Army returning for a time to service Nike missile installations at what is now Eagledale and Strawberry Hill parks. In 1958, Fort Ward was decommissioned for the second and final time, and the waterfront areas became Fort Ward State Park. The upland portion was parceled off into private lots and the old buildings sold off as eccentric fixer-uppers. The Fort Ward bakery became a private home, and remained so for the next 50 years.

Fort Ward bakery-1910-ishIn 1976, Fort Ward was added to the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to the efforts of then Washington State Historic Preservation Officer David M. Hansen, with the bakery listed as a contributing element.

Over the next few decades, residential development and infill finally began to catch up with the fort properties, and by the 1990s, neighborhood preservationists set two important goals: saving the historic parade ground as a public green, and establishing a community space in one of the old buildings.

By 2002, the first goal was achieved through the hard work of Fort Ward residents and several local agencies, culminating in the creation of the 3-acre Parade Ground Park.  In August of that year, a dozen or so radiomen who served at the fort during the war returned—some for the first time since the 1940s—for the park dedication. In a ceremony with then Congressman Jay Inslee and the Navy band, the neighborhood honored these veterans and their families for their wartime service.

The second goal would be a bit more difficult and arduous to complete—the restoration of one of the fort’s buildings for an indoor community space. Ideas came and went, but it wasn’t until 2007, when the old bakery came on the market and was purchased by Kitsap County (Fort Ward) Sewer District No. 7, to create a community hall. However, it would take several more years before the community moved forward, and in 2014 they began to organize, holding neighborhood meetings, which garnered overwhelming support for the project.

The real breakthrough came in 2014, when the Fort Ward Youth Committee was formed. The committee was comprised of four BHS sophomores who’d grown up within a block of the building and who, for the next two years, would become the project ambassadors. First the teens worked with the Bainbridge Island Historical Society, to get the bakery added to the City of Bainbridge Island’s local historic register, then spent their Christmas break going door to door, soliciting $10,000 in private pledges for the restoration. Knowing that this would not be enough, they presented their project to the Bainbridge Island Rotary Club, receiving additional funding through the foundation Huney Fund. This, deservedly, earned the teens a City of Bainbridge Island’s 2015 Blakely Award for Leadership in Historic Preservation.

In July 2015, Friends of Fort Ward formed as the official fundraising agent, and they soon secured a prestigious Sivinski grant from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and additional funding from the Washington State Historical Society’s Heritage Capital Projects Fund grant program. With funding well underway, the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District would renovate the building to run as a community hall like those at Seabold, Island Center and Yeomalt.

Bakery at Fort WardThe buildings at Fort Ward were built to Army Quartermaster Plan No. 217, which were representative of Georgian Colonial Revival architecture, a popular style used in many American military facilities of that era. Although the bakery building was a modest 1,800 square feet, it included stately features, such as the crowning cupola, arched masonry windows and ornate brickwork, hewn sandstone window sills and scrolled soffits in the eaves.

While the building was structurally sound, it had been modified significantly over the years by both the military and private owners, with many of its signature characteristics and original fixtures missing. Restoration finally began in late 2018 with the demolition of the add-on porches and carport, and required the assistance of restoration specialists from around the region. By summer 2019, the exterior was restored and they were ready to begin on the inside.

Gifts from the past…

The most remarkable aspect of the Fort Ward bakery restoration proved to be the number of original elements we discovered and returned to the building. Not just vintage – original. We are told by the architectural historians that this sort of thing doesn’t really happen, except this time it did. (Friends of Fort Ward)

Fort Ward original bakery doors and transom windowsIn 2017, a neighbor, who’d been following the project in the newspaper, stopped by to say he had the original front doors, which were being used on his garden shed. He invited the restoration crew to come see them, and after confirming they were indeed the doors, he agreed to give them the doors when they were ready for them. It didn’t end there though, he also had a couple of the curved windows, which were collecting dust in his garage. The longtime Fort Ward resident had salvaged them years earlier from a crumbling shed next to the bakery, where they’d been stored since being taken out of the building in the 1960s.

In December of 2018, they tore out the last of the old raised floor, which had been installed in a previous renovation, only to discover two more exterior doors, and a knee brace for the front porch, which had been left in the space.

It didn’t end there…Sometime in the 1940s, the Navy had altered the building’s south face, swapping a doorway with a window, in the process, the sandstone sill under the window was removed, and assumed lost or destroyed. In the summer of 2019, neighbors, who owned the old stables building down the street realized they had the original stone, which they’d found some years back in an open field, and had been using as a bench on their back porch for the past twenty years.

In total, eight original, and significant architectural elements, that were scattered throughout Fort Ward and the surrounding neighborhoods, were returned and restored to their place in history.

Help from the BI community…

Transom windows are a key feature in the building, and they wanted to restore them in original detail. Keeping that in mind, they took two smaller originals to Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN), and asked if they could make six more replicas in various sizes. Even though the craftsmen at BARN had never made windows before, they took the challenge on as a community service and produced “astonishingly accurate copies that are now arrayed in doorways throughout the building. It might be the detail of which we’re most proud.”

Fort Ward bakery post restorationMany of the buildings at Fort Ward have extra tall baseboards with a vintage profile. When a neighbor was restoring his Fort Ward property, he had a special router bit cut to match the vintage baseboard shape.  He graciously loans it to others with the same desire, and of course they took advantage of his generosity for the community hall restoration.

Of the 21 light fixtures inside the restored building, 13 were salvaged from “old Fort Ward” over the years and donated to the project by neighbors. Three ornate glass fixtures came from the fort’s gymnasium/post exchange and now light the community hall’s kitchen.

After pausing for the pandemic, work resumed and the Fort Ward Community Hall is now ready to open its doors to the public. Join them for a Dedication and Open House on Saturday June 17, 2023 from 10am to 12pm. Please RSVP at

“The community, kids, local governments and nonprofits shared a common vision, and joined together to make the renovation and transformation of this little historic Fort Ward bakery into a beautiful place that everyone can enjoy,” says Sarah Lee of Sewer District No. 7. “This building is over 100 years old, and served the country as well as the men and women who were stationed here. It’s exciting to think that it will be serving the community for another hundred years.”

Fort Ward Community Hall posterPlease note: there NO PARKING at the event site or on surrounding streets. Please park at the upper Fort Ward Park lot (at Fort Ward Hill Road NE and Belfair Avenue NE) and walk to the event, or you can catch a shuttle, which will run from the parking lot during the event hours.

Fort Ward Community Hall is located at 9705 NE Evergreen Avenue

First, we could not have accomplished any of this without Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7’s foresight and original investment, securing the building years before any tangible restoration or funding plan could take shape. Likewise for the Bainbridge Park District, whose construction team (David Harry, Casey Shortbull and William Doyle) proved extraordinarily skilled at both structural and finish work and keenly attuned to the exactitudes and passion of historic preservation. Gratitude also to the scores of funders who supported our project financially, even when we had nothing to show them but a vision, some old photos and a good yarn.  

So now the story begins anew – our little historic bakery begins a fresh chapter as Fort Ward Community Hall, one written by the families, neighbors and friends who gather there. (Friends of Fort Ward)

For Fort Ward history, visit their website To contact them, email them at:

*Information, content and images provided by and used with permission.

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