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A year after fire, Aberdeen Museum board interested in Boeing Building as new site

Images of Aberdeen’s history saved after June 9th museum blaze

Staff from the Washington State Archives Division of the Secretary of State's office along with volunteers clean photos and transparencies in the agency's Tumwater Records' facility on June 14th after a June 9th fire at the Aberdeen Museum of History
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Staff from the Washington State Archives Division of the Secretary of State's office along with volunteers clean photos and transparencies in the agency's Tumwater Records' facility on June 14th after a June 9th fire at the Aberdeen Museum of History

The one-year anniversary of Aberdeen’s Armory Building fire is Sunday – a year since much of the city’s history went up in smoke.

City and museum officials are committed to rebuilding, and the city’s Board of Museum and History, formed in the wake of the fire, has shown interest in relocating some of the museum to what is known as the Boeing Building, just south of the downtown core.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, the eight members approved a recommendation for the Aberdeen City Council to approve a “request for proposal” and contract with a company to do a feasibility study on the two-story building, which is owned by Larry Goldberg of Aberdeen and appears to be vacant, to see if it could be used to house the museum and its archives.

The building is close to the large riverfront homeless camp and the once-a-week syringe exchange, and council member Jeff Cook, who serves on the board, said it could be a catalyst to redevelopment of the city’s waterfront area. It is near the confluence of the Wishkah and Chehalis rivers.

“That could be the home base; it could be the anchor toward developing the waterfront,” Cook said. When the board toured the building recently, Cook said members were impressed with the space.

The building sits near the Chehalis River Bridge overpass leading to South Aberdeen. It’s a couple blocks from the two main roads through town. The building was used by Boeing during World War II to manufacture gun turrets for B-17 bomber planes.

Multiple board members said they view the museum as a potential starting point toward redeveloping the waterfront area and cleaning it up.

John Shaw, the vice chairman of the board, added that the group was “interested in taking back that section of town.”

“I’ve been here 32 years, and we’ve been talking about developing F Street and developing the waterfront that whole time,” Shaw said. “The museum could be an important piece of that.”

Shaw said he views the Boeing Building as a potential base of operations for the museum, where all of its collection could be stored, as well as a potential site for some museum exhibits. But he said his vision would be for smaller museum installations at multiple sites, such as a redeveloped Morck Hotel or the planned Gateway Center.

“It’s not as simple as, ‘We think the museum should be at the Boeing Building,’” said Shaw.

The Board of Museum and History, which was formed in September and is city-run, is led by chairman Les Bolton, former executive director of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport.

Bolton said he liked how spacious the Boeing building is, the historic feel of the inside, and that it has a sprinkler system already installed.

“It’s got good history, and you go into the building and can sense something big happened here,” Bolton said.

Mayor Erik Larson said the feasibility study should determine whether the building can fit the museum exhibits, along with archive space for all the other artifacts and documents, and whether the building itself is usable.

Bolton said the board considered seven or eight different buildings. The Odd Fellows Building (which now houses the Windemere Real Estate office and former Chase Bank) and the Kaufman Scroggs building were other finalists as a potential location.

Matthew Coates, president of Coates Design Architects, the company working on the planned Gateway Center for Aberdeen, said there could be some room for museum exhibits on the first floor of the building. Shaw said the board is interested in getting some exhibit space there and to have someone at the center point visitors to the museum.

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