By Bruce Haulman, Cyrus Anderson and Terry Donnelly
For The Beachcomber
Gold Beach, nestled on the east side of Maury Island, is one of the few residential sub-divisions on Vashon-Maury Island.
The site was created by washing down the hillside to form the shelf where Lower Gold Beach was built, and Upper Gold Beach sits at the top of the bluff.
Many Islanders think Gold Beach was once a working gravel mine that was converted to residential development. But, Gold Beach was never a gravel mine. The excess gravel and sand left after the area was washed down to create Lower Gold Beach were gathered in piles, and a dock and conveyor system was installed to barge the remains to construction projects on the mainland.
There are several possible Twulootsheed (the Coast Salish language of Vashon Native People) names that the Native People of the region used for this area.
Vi Hilbert and Zamin Zahir in Puget Sound Geography identified the area as either Sxa’labEts, which means “measuring poles” or xa’labEts, which means “hollow log.” Later marketing materials for lots in Gold Beach included a pamphlet with a photograph of a woman crawling out of a very large hollow beach log. The derivations of these names are not clear, but even before the area was enlarged by sluicing down the hillside, it would have been a desirable stopping place along the steep banks of Maury Island.
Early American settlers Abraham Dawson, John Nikleisan, and George Edwards filed homestead claims in the area in the mid-1880s, and Dawson “proved” (or finalized) his homestead claim in 1891 — declaring he had been on the land since 1886 and had made improvements as required by the Homestead Act. In 1887, Dawson gifted land for a cemetery along the top of the bluff and created what would become Maury Island Cemetery. He did this so that the Edwards family, who homesteaded the land where the later Pembroke Farm and Gravel Pit would be sited, could bury their eldest daughter Effie Edwards, whose grave is unmarked.
In the mid-1960s, a group of developers led by Dom Spano began to develop what would become Gold Beach. Spano would continue to develop areas on Vashon including Patten’s Palisades at Point Vashon, and the discontinued development of a destination marina at Dockton.
The first move at Gold Beach was to drill a well in May 1965 to evaluate the water supply for the development. After two and one-half years of preparation and installing water lines, Division 2, which is now known as Upper Gold Beach, was opened with the first house built in 1967. According to Karlista Rickerson, this first building was a kit house from the Seattle Home Show that was used as a sales office.
During 1966 and 1967 the hillside was sluiced down to create the area for Division 1 (and later Divisions 3, and 4 in 1977), which is now known as Lower Gold Beach. Brian Brenno described the dirt plume created by the sluicing of the hillside that was swept by the currents all the way through the Tacoma Narrows. In today’s world of environmental regulations and limits on developing shorelines and sensitive areas, this kind of destructive terra-shaping is not allowed.
Any time major construction takes place there is the possibility of discovering artifacts from earlier eras. During the preparation of the Upper Gold Beach site, a bulldozer operator uncovered a mastodon tusk at the top of the bluff. During the 1920s, several mastodon teeth and a 40-pound sandstone slab with possible human markings had been discovered at the Pembroke Pit just to the south of Gold Beach.
The first construction in Lower Gold Beach created the Clubhouse, Pool, and a Marina-style dock. Lot buyers were able to design their own homes, resulting in the wide variety of architectural styles in Gold Beach today. The first owner-built home, a 1968 bungalow with a white picket fence, today sits next door to the newest home in the development built in 2020 — a sleek, ultra-modern design.
The marketing of Gold Beach began in 1967 with expansive advertisements in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that declared “For new beginnings! … the best of Vashon Island 45 minutes from Seattle! … a different world … choice residential development … recreation at its optimum… the “Space Needle” view of Mt. Rainier and the Olympics, throw in the Sandy Beaches of Hawaii….This is the GOLD of Gold Beach… at the end of the rainbow… Gold is where you find it… and you will find it at Gold Beach.”
Some current residents refer to Gold Beach as the “Riviera of Vashon” because of the warm sunny micro-climate that allows plants to thrive that don’t survive well on other parts of the Island.
The name Gold Beach has three possible origins. It was named by its developer Dom Spano and according to Marshall Sohl was either named after Gold Beach, Oregon, where Spano vacationed; or after the Scotch Broom that turned the hillside golden yellow when in bloom; or after a vein of gold purportedly found when the hillside was sluiced down to create the land for the development.
Marshall Sohl writes “But before the (sluicing) pumps could be turned off, most of the gold was washed down into the bay.” He goes on to wryly observe “The only nuggets left today are the good people living there. The only gold left is the real estate.”