A decade ago, Peter Bevis left Seattle, the city that broke his heart. He certainly had tried with this town.
In a 2008 oral history, he acknowledged, “I don’t think Seattle is capable.”
The town just couldn’t live up to the dreams of this passionate sculptor who’ll always be associated with a failed quest to save the ferry Kalakala. That was the boat that hypnotized generations of Seattleites with her visual elegance.
She ended up a rusting hulk and in 2015 was torn up for scrap except for a few souvenir chunks.
We’re a techie place now. It’s about data analytics, not old relics and the eccentrics.
Bevis died July 12 in a hospital in Coronado, the resort city at San Diego Bay in California where he lived, says Gretchen Bevis, his sister, who lives in Cashmere, Chelan County. She says he died of massive kidney and liver failure and had been undergoing dialysis. He was 69.
His dreams? Bevis had plenty.
Besides the Kalakala saga that trapped him in a spiral, in 1981 he pursued building the Fremont Foundry. It would be “a caring kind of community,” he said, where artists could live and work.
That dream ended, too. The building still exists, but there are no artists there. It’s a venue for weddings, corporate and other events.
Bevis funded his projects with earnings from fishing in Alaska, bank loans, as many as 10 credit cards and an inheritance from an uncle, said an April 26, 1998, Seattle Times story. He did a lot of the work himself on the foundry, using a jackhammer to tear down an old house on the property, digging a hole in the ground for a bronze pour.
One of his projects still stands.
It is that 16-foot, 7-ton bronze Lenin statue in the heart of Fremont. In 1995, Bevis brought it here, the statue then and now a source of controversy. He shrugged off those offended. It was art.
The communist hero’s hands have regularly been painted bloody red, and these days the statue has been splotched with yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
As news spread on the Facebook page Seattle Vintage, with 107,000 members, that Bevis had died, dozens of postings went up.
David Ruble had something to say. He’s a Bellevue software consultant who for a time joined Bevis’ doomed crusade to save the Kalakala.
“I believe he felt betrayed and that his city turned their back on him,” Ruble wrote.
In an interview, he says he hadn’t spoken to Bevis for 20 years. News of the sculptor’s death shook him. “I think he should be remembered as a visionary who achieved the impossible,” Ruble says.
Bevis was an artist with no business plan for the boat. “He wasn’t coming to grips with reality,” says Ruble.
By 2003, the Kalakala Foundation filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, having already ousted Bevis from the board.
This old boat . . . she refuses to leave our collective memories.
The Kalakala was the 276-foot-long art deco masterpiece with a rounded nose and steel plates coated with gleaming aluminum paint. She was Space Age, at least when launched July 2, 1935.
She plied the waters of Puget Sound, carrying commuting workers between Seattle and the naval shipyard in Bremerton. The Kalakala once had upholstered chairs and hosted her own eight-piece orchestra for moonlight dances.
Even now, her allure is such that all you have to do is look at a postcard of the boat and it’s mesmerizing.
The state auctioned off the old ferry in 1967. She ended up as a fish and canning processor in Alaska. Then, no longer useful for that, she was left on a beach in Kodiak, stuck in mud.
Bevis first saw the forlorn Kalakala in 1985 when working in Kodiak as a commercial fisherman with his older brother, Jock Bevis. He was smitten.
He would conclude, “. . . she wants to go home, she wants to float . . .”
Bevis led a crew of believers to that beach in 1998, set the Kalakala free and towed her to Seattle to cheering crowds.
Estimates to restore her reached $25 million. Cheers and good wishes didn’t translate to big donations.
Ruble says the Kalakala could have been saved by turning it into a waterfront destination with a restaurant, cocktail lounge, ballroom, conference space.
“We had a short list of basically all the rich people in town and all the government entities. For a year, Peter put on his suit and tie and we made a presentation. The first step was for someone to say, ‘Yes,'” says Ruble.
Nobody stepped up. The city’s new deep pockets had no history or “irrational affinity” for the old boat, says Ruble.
A Dec. 7, 1998 Seattle Times profile of Bevis said, “Like anyone who harbors incandescent confidence in the face of every good reason not to, Bevis can be unflappable and unbearable, inspiring and irritating.”
Over the years, said the story, he left a trail of girlfriends, spouses, administrators and volunteers: “He once exploded firecrackers near a friend’s ear. He tipped a girlfriend over in a portable toilet after a drunken party; the fall cut her face badly enough to require plastic surgery. King County court files are dotted with Bevis’ name: a restraining order obtained against him in 1997 by the same scarred girlfriend, and a nasty divorce filing from his second marriage.”
Bevis’ legacy also includes him using money he earned fishing for another quixotic project.
Slowly, literally wall by wall, he started the Fremont Foundry, which would have 11 residences with showers and stoves next to welding tanks and uncut granite.
Back then, Fremont called itself an “Artists’ Republic,” and Bevis believed he could create such a mecca. It wasn’t meant to be.
In 2012, Bevis sold the foundry for $2.1 million. He had debts from the Kalakala, and this was no longer the Fremont that had drawn him. It now includes sprawling Google and Adobe offices.
The vision of a community of artists?
“That’s pretty much been eroded away,” Bevis told KOMO News that year when announcing the foundry’s sale. That foundry now is a venue rented for weddings, corporate and other events, summer pricing listed at $5,000 to $9,500.
Bevis’ involvement with the Lenin statue – as did much in his life – came about in an unusual manner.
Much as he had been moved to help a ferry stuck in Alaska mud, Bevis felt compelled to haul the massive statue of Lenin out of, of all places, an Issaquah pasture. The statue had made its way to Issaquah courtesy of Lewis Carpenter, an Eastside entrepreneur who in 1993 had been teaching English in Slovakia and saw it in a town dump.
When Carpenter was killed in a car accident, his family had to find someone who wanted Lenin.
Bevis stepped up.
In a June 1, 1995 Seattle Times story, he explained the statue had become personal for him.
“My own brother died two years ago in Alaska in a fishing accident and I saw my own family still grieving over that loss,” he said, referring to Jock Bevis, for whom he long mourned.
He continued, “I wanted to help Lewis finish his project. As it stood there in the pasture, the statue was a symbol of the pain my family had gone through.”
In death, as in life, it’s been complicated for Peter Bevis.
He is survived by his sister and a brother, Tony Bevis, of Colorado Springs. Gretchen Bevis says a bank is the executor of his estate, but she doesn’t know much more.
It is likely Bevis’ remains will go from Coronado – he had purchased his late mother’s home there – to Peshastin in Chelan County, where he grew up.
Pamela Belyea, co-founder of what is now the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, says Bevis knew he was dying and hired her to organize and write up his life. She had access to his oral history and is putting together a web page about him and his sculptures, as well as a Wikipedia page.
“Peter had so many ideas, so much excitement,” she says.
Every once in a while, we need to acknowledge the likes of Bevis.
Cindi Laws, of Seattle, says that for a time in the late 1990s she was close to Bevis.
Laws says, “It’s the characters after whom Seattle streets are named. Who are the dreamers now? We admire them for a little and then we spit them out.”