Pair hope to develop Langley’s shoreline

Looking surprisingly modern, the historic Josephson family gathers on the big roots near a Whidbey Island beach, circa 1915. - Photo courtesy of Steve Day
Looking surprisingly modern, the historic Josephson family gathers on the big roots near a Whidbey Island beach, circa 1915.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Steve Day

When developers Steve Day and Nancy Josephson arrived in Langley, they faced an uphill battle — quite literally.

The couple wants to build a mixed-use complex nestled into the steep bluff on Langley’s waterfront. The development would stretch across four properties between Wharf Street and Cascade Avenue, including what is now the Edgecliff Restaurant. Commercial space, an inn, a conference center and residences are planned.

But the couple faced fierce opposition from opponents of waterfront development before they ever made a presentation to the public. The decision over the future of Langley’s waterfront will continue to divide the people in Langley throughout 2008.

Some locals fear that “newcomers” or “outsiders” could alter the look and feel of Langley and cause irreversible damage to what makes the Village by the Sea special.

Few know that the couple is not new to town after all, but very familiar with what makes Langley special.

Josephson has a long history on South Whidbey.

“The four years I lived on the island, from 1976 to 1980 — a short period of time really — had a huge impact on me,” she said.

“I knew then and promised myself, I would always remember that quiet communion with nature and alone time that brought clarity and strength and happiness,” she said.

“It was a time of focus. I became a runner and ran 25 - 35 miles a week. I owned a beautiful half-Arabian mare and rode all over the South End. I started a small soft-leather tailoring business in a little cabin that I owned on 80 foot of waterfront at Scatchet Head.

“My favorite thing about the island is the peacefulness that can be found there,” Josephson recalled.

Building on South Whidbey is a step she hopes will bring her back to her roots some day.

“It would be very fulfilling to return to the island, to reconnect with my own past there, as well as remembering the past of my father and grandparents,” she said.

Her grandfather built numerous barns and farm buildings on Whidbey Island, and some are still part of the landscape. And while Josephson’s connections with the island goes back to when she was born, her family’s roots on the island stretch back nearly a century through the Josephson family and the heritage of the Scandinavian immigrants to Whidbey Island.

Day was quickly infected by Josephson’s passion for the island and recalled family outings on the island. One of the most memorable experiences on Whidbey was the 80th birthday of Josephson’s father, Al Josephson, at the Sea Breeze, Day said.

“Looking out on the beach and harbor at Wharf Street, and to see him, a native Whidbey islander, born and raised, being greeted and toasted by long-time islanders gathered together there that sunny spring day,” he said. “All of this brought together, at one moment, the sense of place, of personal history, of Whidbey history, of Al’s life and times.”

“All this was very moving and reinforced for us the power of place, history and culture - but most profoundly, reminded us of the power that each individual has in uniquely shaping that place, history and culture,” he said.

Day also stumbled into architecture due to his family history.

His family had helped build great hotels that remained landmarks in major metropolitan areas.

“By the time I was born, my family had already moved to Seattle from Chicago and had left the hotel world behind,” Day said.

“But from an early age I was drawn to photographs of these great hotels and to their architecture and the sense of place that they created,” he added.

Day said the island’s many facets make it unique.

“Focusing on Langley, what strikes me is the fact that you have the incredible magic of the sea, with its sights and sounds and light and power, right up against a compact village that is in itself a fascinating mix of people, a sophisticated but relaxed place. This immediate contrast of nature and town is a rare and wonderful thing and one that we hope to reinforce and support in Langley,” he added.

He, too, said he can imagine a future on Whidbey.

“We would love to spend more time on Whidbey Island and Langley and to perhaps one day have a place of our own there,” Day said.

“This project would involve a great deal of time for us in Langley during design and constructions and we would plan on remaining involved in this long-term. So, yes, our faces will become more and more familiar,” he added.

For many years, the family has come to the island and Langley, including to the sites that they plan to develop.

“We have come to celebrate and to relax and to enjoy the sea and to enjoy Langley and each other. Even though we don’t live here, Langley has woven itself into our lives for over 25 years now,” Day said.

The developers believe in green building. Jospehson said she understands that building leaves a permanent mark on the planet.

“’We did not inherit this earth from our parents; we are borrowing it from our children’ is sage wisdom,” Josephson said.

Josephson added that sustainability, one of the pieces of Langley’s new growth plan, is also something that is near and dear to her heart - and not just since yesterday.

“When the oil embargo of the ‘70s caused huge lines at the gas stations, I put my VW in the garage and took the bus or rode my bike for about a year,” she recalled.

“I was intrigued by the attempts to gain solar energy through trom walls, eutetic salts, and I even worked on a garden hose solar collector that added heat to the pool at Scatchet Head,” she added.

In 2003, she worked with the Bassetti Architects on a new “green” school. That led to her work with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction on the Washington Sustainable School Protocol.

“It was then, in the emergence of the new millennium, that I finally felt that green building, integrated design, or sustainability - different words for same thing - had come into the mainstream. Green building is a very exciting phenomenon because everyone gets involved,” Josephson said.

“The designers, the builders, and the occupants all participate in creating and maintaining the systems that balance our use of water, air, energy, materials, and waste with the natural processes,” she explained.

The couple also shares a philosophy for creating architecture.

They met while studying architecture, and their paths have intertwined and joined from Seattle to Rome to New York and back to Puget Sound.

“Looking at art and architecture and towns and places have given us a way into the world,” Day said.

“Our daughters have now joined us in all this and it’s really fascinating to see their own unique take on all this,” he said.

“For both of us, much of our architectural study and work in Seattle, in Italy and in New York follows the common thread of working in the context of a place, both in its natural environment and in its cultural environment, and trying to pull key ideas and themes out of that context that can add to the meaning of the architecture,” Day said.

“In that way the architecture can become a mirror of and can reinforce that surrounding culture,” he added.

To make this part of the Langley project, Josephson and Day said they believe that there is an opportunity to work with the arts community, and the community at large, in crafting something really special on the Wharf Street land. They envision a project that is based both on the natural site and on the unique culture of Langley.

“We come to development through architecture,” Day said.

“For us, development is really a means to realize architectural and social ends. That is an unusual development philosophy, we know. The project must make sense economically, of course, or it won’t happen. But the guiding principles must be deeper than dollars and cents to truly succeed,” he added.

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