Starting on Friday, islanders can feel time bend backward on a stroll through town.
That’s the opening day of “Main Street Vashon: A Walk through History,” a new, self-guided walking tour presented by the Vashon Heritage Museum.
The show is made up of 11-inch by 14-inch interpretative photo panels installed in the windows of 34 businesses on both sides of the original block of what became the town of Vashon, from Bank Road to the corner of S.W. 178th Street.
The photos in the panels show the earliest original building on any given spot on the walking tour or buildings that had replaced the original building. Text is added to each panel, describing the lives that were lived inside them from 1890 to the 1970s.
Laurie Tucker, head of collections for the museum, said that the highly visible historical material, displayed in so many buildings in the town core, will add context to everyday interactions on the island.
“Knowing the history of the buildings causes us to look at them with fresh eyes, imagining the way the community functioned in a different era,” she said.
The exhibit is a work in progress — more photo panels will be added to other blocks as time and resources allow, said Elsa Croonquist, executive director of the museum.
The walking tour/exhibit has been in the works for some time but was delayed by the pandemic.
According to Croonquist, planning for the show began in the fall of 2019, with a timeline of opening the exhibit in town by April 2020.
Then came COVID, the closing of town businesses and state mandates not to promote crowds.
Now, Croonquist said, the timing is more right to unveil the work of the many volunteers who contributed to the project and to celebrate the Vashon businesses that are enthusiastically partnering to present the exhibit.
“The hope is that the community can enjoy history and stories while wearing masks and practicing safe social distancing,” she said. “Our goal is to help promote safe reopening of businesses and allow our community to take a look at our history out in the open air.”
The exhibit, she hopes, will be on permanent display. Brochures for the walking tour will be available at the museum when it reopens to the public, and at the businesses where panels are displayed.
Croonquist also suggested that viewing the exhibit during a pandemic might lend perspective to current hard times.
“We’ve been through other disasters,” she said, mentioning four fires that have taken place in downtown Vashon — including one in the 1970s sparked by the bombing of a King County courthouse.
Brian Brenno, an avid amateur historian, fourth-generation islander and well-known glass artist, is the curator of the show.
In some ways, the exhibit is a companion piece to Brenno’s recently published book, “Town of Vashon 1890-1960,” which is chock-full of old Vashon photos and settler history culled from newspaper articles, oral histories, memoirs by island residents, and O.S. Van Olinda’s “History of Vashon-Maury Islands.”
Brenno’s book is available for sale and order at Vashon Bookshop.
The walking tour, he said, is “a tribute to the building owners and businesses that all contributed to create the Vashon that we see now.”
His curatorial statement details his fascination with the settler history of Vashon, which was passed down to him by his father and grandfather, and his subsequent search to find all the information he could find about the town where he was born and raised.
“This is a gift to Vashon — a reminder that we are walking through our history,” said Sue Hardy, co-curator of the exhibit and vice president of the Heritage Museum.
Viewers will be able to learn more about the buildings that were important in stopping the spread of the fire of 1933, the cabin that housed the Vashon Offices of King County Ferry District #1 (established by the State Legislature in 1949), the first general store built in 1890, and George McCormick’s Hardware Store, which could be considered the island’s longest-running family-owned business.
Which building housed updated refrigeration for meats and the first self-service counter for dry goods? Where were the locations of Vashon’s first hotel, meat market, telephone company and auto repair shop? Where was the movie theater built?
Find out, starting Friday, on the walking tour.
In other news from the history museum, a speaker series will continue at 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7, with a Zoom talk, “Virginia V: Restoring a 100-year-old Ship to Glory.” The speaker, longtime Heritage Museum champion Greg Beardsley, will share the history of the historic Steamship Virginia V, from her launch in Maplewood in 1921 to her service in the Mosquito Fleet, to her years bringing campers to Camp Sealth, to her years-long restoration. For more information, visit vashonheritage.org.
Night is a twofer for artist
Brian Brenno, the curator of Vashon Heritage Museum’s “Main Street Vashon: A Walk through History,” describes himself as being obsessed with island history.
That passion will be reflected in the Museum’s new history exhibit in windows downtown, but also, in another exhibit of Brenno’s artwork called “In the Heart of Town,” in the window Gather Vashon. Both shows open on Friday.
Well-known as a glass artist, Brenno also creates works with recycled materials. These works, first shown in the Blue Heron Gallery in 2011, include historic images of Vashon made from cut-up beer and soda cans, nailed to plywood.
His new show at Gather — a continuation of his body of work made with tin — was created by Brenno during the pandemic, after the publication of his recent book, “Town of Vashon 1890-1960.”
The show, he said, is a tribute to his grandfather and father.
“My dad and grandfather were town businessmen, beginning in 1937 when my grandfather opened Brenno Service,” Brenno said. “Hearing them talk about the old days fostered my interest in local history. In honor of Harold and Bob Brenno, town mechanics for many years, there is a car in [most] of these images — they probably worked on many of them.”