Watching the superferry Walla Walla glide across Puget Sound never failed to remind Philip Spaulding of his life's work as a naval architect...

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Watching the superferry Walla Walla glide across Puget Sound never failed to remind Philip Spaulding of his life’s work as a naval architect.

The 440-foot, double-ended Walla Walla and its Jumbo-class sister ship Spokane were his designs. And from most windows of his three-story, Colonial-style home on Magnolia Bluff, he had for decades enjoyed a panoramic view of crossings of those vessels and others operated by the state ferry system.

His designs have been mainstays in the Alaska Marine Highway System, BC Ferries in British Columbia and other ferry systems along the West Coast. Firms he headed designed a variety of ocean-going vessels and Boeing’s first hydroplane test craft.

Mr. Spaulding, retired since the mid-1980s, died at his Magnolia home May 5. He was 92. A celebration of his life will be held next Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Seattle Yacht Club, 1807 E. Hamlin St., on Portage Bay.

Born at his family’s homestead in the Snoqualmie Valley and raised on Queen Anne Hill, Mr. Spaulding had a strong nautical lineage. His grandfather, father, brother and uncle were shipmasters.

After earning engineering and naval-architecture degrees, he worked for Bethlehem Steel in Maryland and Todd Shipyard before starting his own firm, Philip F. Spaulding and Associates, out of his Magnolia neighborhood home in 1952.

“He had a great sense of pride in his designs,” said his son, William Spaulding of Bothell. The Jumbo-class ferries, built at Todd Shipyard, were the world’s largest double-ended ferries for their time, his son said.

The Walla Walla is still in service as a relief vessel. The Spokane is on the Edmonds-Kingston route. For more than two decades, both were mainstays on the Seattle-Bainbridge route.

“They were an excellent design,” said Laurens Zuidweg, Washington State Ferries’ director of vessel engineering. “He did the old-school way work that is now done by computers.”

Mr. Spaulding’s numerous designs also include Black Ball Transport’s 341.5-foot vehicle-and-passenger ferry Coho, in service between Port Angeles and Victoria, B.C.

In 1972, Mr. Spaulding merged his firm with a competitor to become Nickum & Spaulding. The firm’s designs ranged from tugs and fishing vessels to sophisticated oil tankers.

“In passenger-vessel design, he is known all over the world,” said Jim Cole of Seattle, a former designer draftsman for Mr. Spaulding.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Spaulding was honored as the Puget Sound Engineering Council’s Engineer of the Year, and in 1973 as the Maritime Press Association’s Puget Sound Maritime Man of the Year. In 1979 he was honored by the Society of Naval Architect and Marine Engineers as “one of the world’s most innovative and inventive naval architects.”

Mr. Spaulding also was an avid skier and sailor. He and his wife, Margaret “Peggy” Sheldon Spaulding, shared an interest in Puget Sound maritime history and were instrumental in the acquisition and restoration of the historic Puget Sound “Mosquito Fleet” steamer Virginia V. He also was a charter member of the Corinthian Yacht Club and was an original investor in the Crystal Mountain ski resort, his son said.

He and his wife of 58 years were childhood sweethearts who had known each other since they were first-grade classmates at Queen Anne’s Coe Elementary School. She died in 1998.

Survivors, besides his son, include daughters Susan Zehner of Walla Walla and Diane Spaulding of Seattle; sons David Spaulding of Sun Valley, Idaho, and Robert Spaulding of Kennewick; five grandchildren; and five step-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Virginia V Foundation, 860 Terry Ave. N., Seattle, 98109.

Charles E. Brown: 206-464-2206 or