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Hello and welcome. Thank you for joining us on today’s tour of the Clallam Co-op granary, the most distinctive architectural edifice in Sequim. It’s also the tallest, of course.
In the glory days of the 1950s and 1960s as much as 40 tons of grain sluiced through these pipes each and every day. The grain is long gone, but surprisingly this building continues to play a central role in the city’s economy.
When you pick up your cell phone or log onto the web, there’s a very good chance your voice and data are making a quick stop here. That’s because the granary now serves as a multi-purpose communications tower. If you look up there at the roof, you’ll see the wire antennas of local Internet service providers.
Just below the roof, mounted on all four sides of the building, are the heavy-duty bar antennas that Verizon, a cell phone company, has installed.
I’m glad to see all of you took my advice to wear disposable clothes, indeed, clothes that are crying out to be disposed of. Except for you, sir. What were you thinking?
This granary has been almost the sole province of wild animals, including various species of birds, for 25 years. They have left their … residue behind. In heaps.
Not to worry, sir. In 20 minutes your current clothing will be begging and pleading for disposal.
Now let’s go inside.
Up, up and away
Our journey begins in this now-defunct barroom, which as you can see is on the same level as El Cazador. That hatch in the ceiling provides the last remaining opening to the elevator itself. And yes, it is accessed via that rickety 8-foot tall free-standing ladder, thus providing the first of many thrilling moments you will enjoy on today’s tour.
To keep your mind off the imminent hazard, let’s begin our review of the history of this grand old landmark:
The first structure built on this site was a lettuce shed, constructed here by the Peninsula Grain company to take advantage of the nearby railroad tracks. In the 1920s it served as a dropping point, a place where local farmers could store their produce prior to shipment on the train. That business eventually closed and in 1935 Cecil Dawley purchased the building. Dawley operated a feed and farm machinery store here until 1941, then leased both the business and the building to the Clallam Co-operative Association.
In the elevator
Congratulations for successfully making your way into this first elevated chamber, the lower keep of the tower. Let’s take a quick look around to see if we are intruding on any residents. I was first introduced to the granary by Jason Wilford and Orion Paulsen, two technicians with OlyPen Internet and they provided some sound advice. Wilford said this is where he’s been regularly attacked by birds — “all kinds,” he said — angered by his intrusion. When he encounters birds higher up, they’re generally pretty cool, he said. But down here, “they really get mad at you.”
If you look carefully, you’ll see the granary’s walls are made up of planks, 1 by 10s, or 1 by 12s. Rather than being placed vertically, creating a thin veneer, they are stacked one atop the other, creating a solid wall of wood that’s at least 10 inches thick and incredibly strong.
The entire facility is called a grain elevator, a reference to this piece of equipment over here. The “endless belt” runs the entire height of the granary tower. It is, more or less, a vertical conveyor belt. The scoops look like, and may be, one gallon buckets that have been cut in half on the vertical axis before being attached to the heavy canvas belt. They carried the grain up, dumped it, then returned down here to scoop up more.
You no doubt also will have noticed a surprising amount of incongruous high tech stuff: cables, connectors, wire and so forth. These are the wireworks of the Internet and cell phone companies that now utilize the granary.
Watch your step
This next section of the ladder is said to be approximately 50 feet straight up. It is hand-made but it seems sturdy enough. Nevertheless, we recommend you place your feet and hands on the rungs near the vertical pieces. That’s where they are attached and so, we hope, are the stronger for it.
You’ll be pleased to note the ladder’s builder had the good sense to place small platforms every 10 feet, thus ensuring that if you fall, you probably won’t die but rather will simply wish you were dead.
You look nervous, sir. Ah, but there is nothing so soothing as history:
In 1945 the Clallam Co-op purchased the building, added the vertical addition in which we now find ourselves, and thereafter operated the new grain elevator and silos.
Some years ago Port Angeles writer Kathy Sievert — from whose research much of this history is drawn — wrote a lovely piece in the Sequim Gazette that included this line: “The grinding of the chain and buckets as they scooped the grain and seeds from large trucks into storage bins was the background din of this thriving farming community.”
Sievert said at the time there were more than 200 dairy cattle herds in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.
Okay, we’ve now reached the top. Take a moment to catch your breath and take a glimpse through those windows. Quite a view, isn’t it? Even through those heavy screens.
There’s the strait, there are the mountains and we can see miles and miles of shoreline.
This small room is where all the action used to take place, and much of it still does. Those metal boxes and cables are stuffed with electronic equipment. The technology that was installed to handle the grain was simpler but ingenious in its own way.
The scoops came up the belt and turned over here, spilling their load into this opening. As you can see, the short attached pipe swivels, allowing it to be connected to these half-dozen or so ports. Each port is attached to another pipe — a much longer pipe that delivers the grain either to storage bins inside the building below or to waiting trucks and train cars outside. The exterior delivery pipes are still a notable feature of the building.
Much of the elevator’s interior mechanical apparatus has been dismantled, but those large iron pulleys that are scattered about were clearly part of the machinery.
That hatch in the roof — up there — provides access to the exterior antennas for the high-tech companies. The wire antennas on the roof handle the Internet traffic, while four larger structures attached to the exterior walls handle cell phone calls.
Our hosts, Arturo Briseno and Hilda Rodriguez — the co-owners of El Cazador — receive what they describe as a small monthly payment for the use of the structure.
The view from above
Now we’ll climb up that makeshift scaffold, pop open the hatch and see what’s to be seen, sans screens. While you work your way up, let’s do a little more history.
In the 1950s and 1960s Sequim farmers began raising seed for cabbage, beets, mustard, carrots and other vegetables. At the time, according to Sievert’s research, large flocks of geese were used to weed the mint farms in the area. The chaff from the granary was used to supplement their feed.
Margaret Lotzgesell of Mountain View Farm recently recalled those days, saying she and her young kids would arrive at the granary in the family’s old pick-up truck, nicknamed “the gutless wonder.” J.O. Anderson was operating the granary at that point and he would load the bed of the truck.
“We did love that J.O.,” she told me. “You didn’t have to pay in cash. He knew the farmers had good credit.”
But then, Lotzgesell said, the price of milk dropped and farmers started moving into other jobs, including jobs at area mills. First the Dungeness creamery closed, then the Sequim creamery and finally the creamery in Port Angeles shut down.
There was one bright spot in valley farming. In the late 1960s, several farmers began growing a high-quality grass seed that was particularly valued for use on golf courses. In time, the Sequim-Dungeness Valley had the greatest planting of seaside bent grass in the U.S. These grass seed farmers created the Dungeness Agricultural Supply, which bought the granary in 1969. The supply company added a garden and farming supply retail store to its other operations.
But the number of farms, and the amount of farm land, continued to dwindle. Eventually, Lotzgesell says, somebody started advertising for settlers to move to the Sequim area, and in they came, particularly from the Chicago area.
In 1977, the granary operation ended, but the husk still stood as the centerpiece of a small shopping area, the Landmark Mall. In 1981, El Cazador moved into the space.
Thus ends our history.
Let me suggest you break out your cameras. You’re not likely to see this view again.
And please — be careful on your way down. That first step is a doozy.