History Museums seeks new building

November 4, 2008

By Jon Savelle

Dream is for 15,000-square- foot home

 

Chuck Cerar, a volunteer and docent for the museum, makes repairs to the 1948 Ford Model 8-N tractor in the Auto Freight Building at First Avenue Southeast and Southeast Bush Street. Photo by Greg Farrar.

Chuck Cerar, a volunteer and docent for the museum, makes repairs to the 1948 Ford Model 8-N tractor in the Auto Freight Building at First Avenue Southeast and Southeast Bush Street. Photo by Greg Farrar.

 

In the old Gilman Town Hall on Southeast Andrews Street, a display of historical artifacts greets visitors to the home of the Issaquah History Museums. The objects impart a sense of old Issaquah, but behind them, cramped offices and inadequate storage space are an all-too-contemporary fact of life for museum staff. What’s needed is a new museum building, said Director Erica Maniez. The Town Hall is inadequate, and so is the old Auto Freight Building at First Avenue Southeast and Southeast Bush Street, where artifacts, equipment and a workshop are housed in a leaky, drafty old garage.

No formal campaign for a new museum has been launched. But Maniez has informed the city administration of her organization’s needs, and she would like to see a community discussion begin. 

“Our most critical need right now is collection space,” she said. 

And it should be heated. The Town Hall and the Army car, a railroad coach at the Depot Museum, are the only heated spaces available now.

In her ideal world, Maniez envisions a new brick or masonry building of about 15,000 square feet, complete with ample storage and room for changing exhibits, offices and conservators’ shops. She even has a location in mind, though she knows neither the property owner’s name nor whether it is available. 

In any case, the best location should be within walking distance of Gilman Town Hall, the depot museum, the library, the hatchery and other downtown attractions. Maniez said she has let city officials know that she is open to trading or selling the Auto Freight property — now storage space for the museums — which is desirable real estate, even if the building itself is not. 

On a tour of the building, built in the 1930s as a truck maintenance shop, Maniez pointed out just why it isn’t serving the musems’ needs. It is cold, dim, uninsulated and the roof leaks. Much of the main floor is taken up with shop tools and larger artifacts, like firefighting equipment and a sleigh; the upstairs houses more items, but far fewer of them than it once did.

“For the last five years, volunteers have been sorting and getting rid of stuff that doesn’t support our mission,” Maniez said. 

This is a turnaround from the 1980s, when the organization was bent on acquiring things whether it had examples of them or not. 

“It is a lot easier to say yes, and wind up with something,” Maniez said. 

That was how the museums acquired an old factory steam engine that sat for years in the Auto Freight Building, taking up space. 

“It took a long time to find a new home for that,” Maniez said. 

She knows that finding a new home for the museums may take a long time, too. But she said she thinks the time has come to start talking about it, and to be prepared should an opportunity arise. 

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com. 

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