Time&Again: Vestiges of Vashon’s military past remain

Air Force personnel stand at the ready for review at Sunrise Ridge in this 1950s photo. - Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association photo
Air Force personnel stand at the ready for review at Sunrise Ridge in this 1950s photo.
— image credit: Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association photo

Vashon has a long history of military presence. The military’s use of the Sunrise Ridge complex began with World War II and did not end until 1984, when the final parts of the “Nike base” became Paradise Ridge Park.

During World War II, in early 1942, Army units were assigned to Vashon as part of the Puget Sound defense system.

The Army units had headquarters at the Center School, at the southeast corner of Vashon Highway and S.W. 204th. The building had been empty because of the consolidation of the Center and Burton school districts.

In 1942 two Island air observation posts were established, air raid drills were held, and a volunteer Aircraft Observation Corps was established on Vashon. An observation tower was constructed at Cove and an observation shack at Pembroke on Maury Island. The volunteers staffed these posts 24 hours per day. In 1943, the volunteer posts were closed, and the Army Fighter Command took charge of observing and identifying all aircraft flying over Vashon.

With the end of World War II, the emergence of the Cold War and the perceived vulnerability of Seattle to atomic attack by air, a Ground Observers Post was established on Vashon in 1952, which trained 70 air defense volunteers to staff the post. The next year, Air Defense Anti-Aircraft Battery C — “Charlie Battery” — of the 513th Air Defense Battalion was stationed on Vashon, where the Eagles Aerie is located, with anti-aircraft guns to ward off potential air raids.

In 1956, with the introduction of anti-aircraft missiles, the Sunrise Ridge administrative site, Oakwood Terrace — a 16-unit housing complex for personnel just north of the Sunrise Ridge site along Vashon Highway, at what is S.W. 206th Court today — and the Paradise Ridge missile launch site were purchased by the government to become one in a ring of 12 Nike missile sites surrounding the Seattle area, known as the Metropolitan Defense Ring. The Sunrise Ridge site was originally a strawberry farm run by the Harmeling family, and then owned and farmed in the 1930s by the Matsumoto family.

By the time the government condemned and purchased the land through eminent domain in 1956, the land had been subdivided and was owned by seven families.

The Oakwood Terrace military housing site, constructed in 1957, and the Paradise Ridge missile launch site were purchased at the same time using the same principle of eminent domain. These three sites together became collectively known as the “Nike Site.”

Battery A of the 433rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Missile Battalion was stationed on Vashon and operated the base until it closed in 1974. The increased technology and logistic demands of the Nike missile led to the construction of a series of major buildings at Sunrise Ridge for the administration of the base. A missile launching facility with underground launch silos, magazines for storing warheads and fueling facilities was constructed at Paradise Ridge.

The Nike Base was closed in 1974, and on Sept. 22, 1976, the U. S. government (through the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare) quitclaimed the Sunrise Ridge property for a period of 31 years to The Vashon-Maury Health Services Center, Inc. — a board of nine Vashon residents.

On Sept. 22, 2007, the land was officially deeded to the Health Services Center Board. At the time the property was quitclaimed to the board, there were proposals to turn the site into a community center, a youth hostel and other uses, none of which developed much beyond the talking stage.

Vashon Health Center was established at the site, as was Granny’s Attic, created to raise funds to support the health clinic.

The Paradise Ridge site was deeded to King County in 1976, but in 1983 the county proposed returning the site to the federal government.

This mobilized a number of Vashon Islanders to propose the creation of a park and recreation district. This proposal came before the voters in 1984 and was approved.

In 1985 the newly created King County Park and Recreation District No. 2 (later renamed Vashon Park District in 1985) acquired the Paradise Ridge land from King County, and two years later voters passed an operating levy that allowed the site to be developed.

The Oakwood Terrance site, and the 18 acres of the Sunrise Ridge site not quitclaimed to the Health Services Center Board, was sold to private individuals who then subdivided and sold the properties.

The first photo is of the Nike base at Sunrise Ridge in the mid- 1950s, with Air Force personnel mustered for review. The administration building in the background is now the Vashon Health Center. The parking lot where the airmen are mustered was flat and open.

The current photograph, taken in 2008, shows the same building as it is today. The entrance has been modified by closing in the insert break in the original building and constructing a new entrance that extends beyond the lines of the original building. The area has been re-landscaped, the windows covered or modified, yet the outlines of the original building are still recognizable.

Today, Sunrise Ridge is the home of the Vashon Health Center, Granny’s Attic, Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank, Voice of Vashon radio and two sports fields. A legacy of the Cold War, Sunrise Ridge continues to serve the public of Vashon-Maury Island.

— Bruce Haulman is an Island historian. Terry Donnelly is a nationally recognized landscape photographer.

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