Neighbors and admirers of Kirkland’s Depression-era cannery building have wondered for more than a decade what would happen when owner Thad Pound eventually sold it.
Would it be torn down to make way for condos? Or — even more dreadful to Norkirk neighborhood residents — would its light-industrial-zone lot become the marijuana industry’s first foothold in the city?
Over the weekend, Pound put those fears to rest, announcing he’s finally found someone who’ll keep the 11,000 square-foot, clapboard structure standing.
On Saturday, he packed the warehouse with neighbors, local history buffs, friends and family to tell them the good news: Kirkland resident Carl Bradley — president of a family nonprofit foundation — will not only buy the building but will refurbish its exterior to look like it did in 1936.
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That’s the year the Kirkland Cannery first opened as one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration projects. For a decade, people were able to can their fruits and vegetables there for free if they donated a third of their produce, often grown in their own private gardens. The donated food was given to needier families.
“As soon as I walked in here, I just had one of those moments where I say, I’ve got to have this,” Bradley told Pound’s friends, family and neighbors. “This place on its own is a museum, and the history is palpable.”
Bradley said he’ll renovate the building for private office space and events for philanthropies.
Pound’s family connection to the cannery goes back to 1947, when the city of Kirkland agreed to start leasing the building to his parents, Harvey and Ruth Pound.
Their business, Kirkland Custom Cannery, soared in popularity in the postwar era in what was still a semirural farming area.
“It was the hub of the community,” said Loita Hawkinson, president of the Kirkland Heritage Society. “It’s hard to find an older Kirkland resident who doesn’t remember being there as a child with their parents; there’s a lot of warm and beloved memories made there.”
That’s especially true for Thad Pound, who made the large facility — which was also his childhood home — the ultimate playground for himself and nearby children.
In the summer, the cannery’s water-cooling tank became their pool. When it was cold, large steaming tanks called retorts worked as a sauna.
When none of his friends were around, Pound pretended to be an aviator in the basement with a chalk-drawn cockpit that has somehow survived for decades on a wooden column.
As a teen, Pound would often supervise Mormon volunteers on a graveyard shift as they canned for a church-run welfare program for its low-income members.
His family eventually bought the building from the city in 1974 and, two years later, he bought the business and started running it himself.
Pound added services such as canning and smoking fish for private labels.
After Pound sold the business’s assets in 2001, he and his wife moved into the building with hopes of gradually restoring the structure so that someone could buy it without tearing it down.
They were encouraged when the city expressed interest in buying the building around 2005. The Kirkland Heritage Society had hoped it would become a museum for local history.
But once the recession hit, all momentum for giving the building another public use halted.
Finding another buyer interested in keeping it standing at 640 Eighth Ave. wasn’t easy.
When the city studied the feasibility of buying it back in 2006, it found that renovating the space could cost more than $2 million.
“We were really bummed,” Pound said. “I know the city would’ve really liked this building to stay, but it is expensive.”
At that point, both he and his neighbors believed it would be a miracle if anyone could afford to keep the building standing.
After Pound’s wife died in 2009, he continued living in the cannery with his miniature American Eskimo, Nikki, until he could find the right buyer. He kept alive a hope that someone might at least want to play up its historical value as part of a retail-shop venue or a brewery.
All Bradley saw was an expensive teardown when he first saw the real-estate listing this year.
But Bradley, president of a local nonprofit called the Bradley Family Foundation, was encouraged to take a deeper look through a tour of the place with Pound.
Now he says he plans to make the building a historical landmark and have remaining canning vessels and tools inside stylized as part of an office and event space for philanthropies.
Bradley said the original purpose of the building — serving the public — would bring extra meaning to fundraisers he plans to hold in the cannery warehouse in the future.
Bradley’s quiet nonprofit is 8 years old and has helped fund at least 19 local organizations, he said.
He wouldn’t elaborate on more of the nonprofit’s plans but its under-construction website says it is the “Future home of something quite cool.”