Pole results; Island County Fair Association raising funds to refurbish a historic building

Sandey Brandon, administrator of the Whidbey Island Area Fair, holds up a poster of a fundraising effort to overhaul the kitchen at the historic Pole Building. It’s hoped the new kitchen will breath new life into the historic structure.  - Justin Burnett / The Record
Sandey Brandon, administrator of the Whidbey Island Area Fair, holds up a poster of a fundraising effort to overhaul the kitchen at the historic Pole Building. It’s hoped the new kitchen will breath new life into the historic structure.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

It will be a community effort for a community building.

Between now and next summer, the Island County Fair Association will be working hard to raise enough funds to complete a major overhaul of the kitchen in the Pole Building at the fairgrounds in Langley.

The hope is that the renovation will breathe new life into the historic structure, which at times over its colorful 75-year history has played an important role in the Village by the Sea.

“What we envision is restoring it to the community center it was originally built to be,” said Sandey Brandon, fair administrator.

The Gust Skarberg building, commonly referred to as the Pole Building, was constructed in 1937 under the auspices of the federal Works Progress Administration, according to Brandon. The New Deal agency, part of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of April 1935, put millions of Americans to work building capital projects, such as roads and public buildings, in communities across the country.

It didn’t take long for the new building to be put to good use. A few years after its construction, Langley began building a new school and the large structure became the classroom of many middle school students.

“That was my eighth grade, up on the stage,” Langley resident Fran Johnson said.

Although she is unsure just when the practice died out, it was also used for many years as the location of high school graduation ceremonies. Johnson is no exception, having tossed her own cap in the building in 1945.

According to Johnson, it used to be referred to by most people as simply the Fair Building. That’s likely due to the fact that it was the only structure on the fairgrounds at the time of its construction, she said.

Over the years, the building has seen a variety of uses by many groups. Island Dance, which is now located at Kens Korner Mall, got its start there in the 1980s and the Kiwanis of South Whidbey used the kitchen for years for its famous salmon barbecues.

The building is still in use today, with portions serving as the fair association’s headquarters and as the stage for a local theater group. However, much of the building is underutilized and currently serves as storage space for boats.

The overall structure has held up and been maintained well over the years, but the kitchen has fallen into disrepair. To fire up the grills again will require a hefty makeover, Brandon said.

“From the floor up, everything has to go,” she said.

A $50,000 grant from the state Department of Agriculture will help get things started, resulting in the installation of new plumbing, electricity and the infrastructure needed for new appliances.

That part of the project will be shepherded by Island County Public Works, as the building is publicly owned. But it will only cover a portion of what’s needed, Brandon said.

Fair officials believe getting the kitchen up to truly use able status will require at least another $75,000. The fundraising effort has barely begun and exactly how all that money needs to be raised has yet to be worked out, Brandon said.

However, the fair association will likely be doing everything from seeking out partnerships with local group to fishing for donations. Brandon said they may choose to kick off the fundraising campaign with a short educational video.

The fair association is also working on the development of a commercial kitchen in the 4-H building, using funds from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, but that is a separate and unrelated effort. That kitchen will be for commercial use while the Pole Building renovation would see a smaller scale, community use.

Johnson has fond memories of long-ago lunches in the building prepared by then school chef Cora Cook. She said she was excited about the prospect of having a nice kitchen for public use.

“That’s a super idea for this day and age,” she said.

Dan Ollis, a member of the fair association’s board of directors, is also eager to get the project moving. The Pole Building was a well-used community resource and it’s about time it is again, he said.

“It’s so near and dear to so many people in our community,” Ollis said. “It’s just been sitting there and waiting for something to happen.”


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