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Of taverns and time: the Sit-N-Bull is the final resting place for peninsula taverns
OK, it’s a man cave. But it’s the finest man cave in the whole world.
That’s because Gary C. Blevins has been working very hard for 45 years to make it exactly that. He calls it history, saying “I crave history.” There’s no doubt about that.
It’s hard to say exactly how many pieces of bric-a-brac he’s collected, but they surely number in the thousands. Blevins has a spectacular collection of marketing pieces for beer and liquor, including dozens of pieces of neon art and other promotional stuff.
And he has perhaps 1,000 old photos, framed and displayed to show off the history of the peninsula, especially its logging history. His third enthusiasm is chain saw art and old chain saws. A fourth is collecting the fine old wooden bars, and the fine old stools and booths from area taverns. Then there’s his fifth enthusiasm, and his sixth, and so on ….
Art and artifacts
The Sit-N-Bull is home to a hodgepodge, a congeries, a gallimaufry (one word won’t do) of great old stuff, all stuffed into the front yard and about 1,500 square feet of Blevins’ home.
Some of the collection is pure fun — kitschy and comical. Guests of the Port Angeles establishment are greeted by four wooden sailors aboard the boat-slash-sign that graced the Wreck Tavern that formerly was found across the street from Port Angeles’s Cuckoo’s Nest. Blevins restored the sign, adding the names of more than 100 taverns that have operated on the peninsula since the 1970s.
Other pieces are fine art and wouldn’t be out of place in a museum of American crafts. Among the collectibles is an old-fashioned shoeshine stand purchased from a Memphis collector.
“A millionaire,” says Blevins. “He gave it to me for what he paid for it, 30 years before.”
“That’s where the Rat Pack, Elvis, Bob Hope and everybody else got their shoes shined,” Blevins said.
Among the cool local pieces is a poster announcing President Franklin Roosevelt’s planned trip to Lake Crescent Lodge. FDR came to town to announce the creation of Olympic National Park, and the lodge served temporarily as a western White House. Teddy, FDR’s distant cousin, had named the area Olympus Mountain National Monument in 1909, but FDR had its status upgraded to a national park.
Most of the biggest and best pieces in the Sit-N-Bull come from peninsula taverns, both living and deceased. In all, Blevins estimates the pieces are drawn from more than two dozen watering holes.
The front doors to the place were retrieved from the old Bates Tavern in Port Angeles. Bullet holes blasted in the door by a long-ago customer remain.
Blevins retrieved an entire dining room from Pop Goodie’s Tavern near Beaver. After the “snow took it down,” he purchased everything from Pop’s daughter for $100. Blevins crawled in through the collapsed lumber and snow, removing everything by hand.
Other pieces come from King’s Tavern in Sequim and Smitty’s in Port Angeles. From the old Red Ranch Cocktail Lounge in Sequim, Blevins removed a fine oval bar, which he reworked in wormwood. The result is spectacular.
A beautiful old back bar was removed from the Dungeness Tavern, which was located “out by where the 3 Crabs is today.” From the old Loomis Tavern, which was located where the Highway 101 Safeway is now found, he retrieved two versions of a rude hand gesture, both created from old logs by chain saw.
And further afield ...
His great old juke box still works, its mirrored ball spinning to the tunes. When it originally was offered to him, Blevins turned it down, saying he couldn’t afford it. The next day “it just showed up.” The owners said the Sit-N-Bull was a great place to store it because it could be enjoyed by others. Maybe they’ll eventually retrieve it, maybe they won’t.
A wolf skin rug attached to the wall provides an interesting story. “He killed it with his bare hands,” says Blevins’ partner, Gwen Hester. That’s true enough, but first Blevins nailed the thing with his truck. To put it out of its misery and to earn the $50 bounty handed out by the Alaskan government, he finished it off with a rock.
Recycling the peninsula’s history
The tavern is built mostly of old barn wood pulled from the peninsula barns Blevins dismantled over the years. He restored the planks and built the structure himself. “Some of that old barn wood is 117 years old,” he said. “I put hours and hours into redoing it.”
Hester pointed out that she and Blevins enjoyed plenty of help with the project.
“We have old friends and new friends who have helped. We often had 18 to 30 people helping.”
After Blevins received a gift of antlers, he designed the massive chandelier that hangs in the clerestory. He was aided in the project by his old friend Speedy Freehill. Hester says while the two were hanging the chandelier, “I put a sofa down on the floor below. I said, ‘fall here.’”
Blevins was born on the peninsula but in the 1940s and ’50s he lived and worked throughout Oregon, Washington and California. His dad was a logger and the family traveled where the work took them. At that time, he says, anyone could enter a tavern — even a kid.
“The folks would buy you pop and things.”
That led to his early love of taverns.
“Those were the good ole days,” he said.
Blevins either pays for the pieces, or “trades work” for them. He explained his good fortune in grabbing the goods, saying a lot of people simply want to contribute to the growing collection.
“A lot of old-timers — they want to be a part of this.”
And then he added: “And I’m usually the first one there.”
Hester is now an enthusiastic helpmate.
“When we first started out I would ask him, ‘Who’s bringing all this junk and putting it on our deck?’”
“‘That’s just history,’ he would say.”
“I didn’t say anything after that,” Hester says.
Though the home is private, the couple receive many visitors hoping to get a glimpse of the collection, including drop-bys from Australia and England.The couple also has used the home for benefits for good causes, including Olympic Medical Center Foundation events.
No one can say what the collection is worth.
“My insurance company doesn’t know what to do with me,” Blevins said. “But I can tell you, the insurance is expensive.”
Not to worry. “I’m not done yet,” he says.
As to the future, Blevins said it will all pass on to his kids and Hester’s — but with a caveat.
“They have to keep it up, or I’ll give it up to the Clallam County Historical Society.”
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.