Little Red Building gets new life, new location

By Patricia Guthrie

Special to The Record

The southern edge of Langley has a new look — an empty lot.

No longer does the iconic “Little Red Building” greet passersby at the corner of Third Street and DeBruyn Avenue.

The historic two-part red wooden structure had been owned by Whidbey Telecom Co. and sat empty and perched on blocks across from a playground for a dozen years.

One half is now slated to become a museum and the other half a small short-term rental.

The narrow original structure, believed to have been built in 1913, had been the original office for the Whidby Telephone Company that bought it for $600 in 1923. For years, it served as switchboard “CENTRAL” downtown and connected South Whidbey residents to the rest of the world.

The addition — built some 50 years ago — experienced multiple lives as a snack shack, barber shop, real estate office, bank and photography studio.

The older half was hauled away in May and set in-between the South Whidbey Historical Museum on Second Street and Whidbey Telecom’s Big Gig office.

Whidbey Telecom plans to renovate and refurbish it into a museum about tele-communications and island connections.

The other half is slated to become two (very) small short-term rental units designed by architect Ron Kasprisin and placed on his property off Coles Road. Last month, it was carefully disassembled by two (de) construction workers.

Kasprisin envisions a unique rustic experience in the woods for guests who can enjoy wood-stove warmth after a night of fine wining and dining in nearby Langley. The indoor/outdoor design would combine cozy interior sleeping areas with a partially enclosed kitchen and a deck overlooking a small vineyard.

“Each small building will have 185-square feet of heated sleeping area with a wood stove that opens onto a semi-enclosed eating area with BBQ grill, sink and eating counters,” said Kasprisin, who’s applying for an Island County building permit and a bed and breakfast inn conditional use permit on his property that’s within the Urban Growth Area.

“Of course, this is a gamble,” he admitted. “But we already have saved money on materials with the deconstruction and will recycle almost all of the building.”

Kasprisin’s idea on preserving and utilizing the Little Red Building’s younger sibling was deemed best by Whidbey Telecom co-CEO George Henny. He had promised to give away the building to “the right person with the right idea” as long as they paid to haul it away.

“I had about one dozen people interested in it for different uses,” Henny said. “A lot of them wanted to use it for an artist’s studio, work shop, garden shed. But the issue was the difficulty of moving it.”

Henny said Kasprisin approached him with a “very creative idea” and the right credentials. Kasprisin is an innovative architect and urban planner with 40 years of experience, including teaching graduate students at the University of Washington. On his six acres, he already designed and constructed a boxy two-story apartment/guest house with a spiral staircase and the spirit of a treehouse.

The original 1913 red building was located on Anthes Avenue in downtown Langley in the space since converted into the Rob Schouten Gallery sculpture garden. The building was eventually relocated across the street from the Island County fairgrounds. In 2007, it was moved to an empty lot on Third Street and DeBruyn Avenue when construction began on a new fire station and Island Transit Park and Ride across from the fairgrounds.

Over the next 12 years, neighbors frequently grumbled about the rundown public “eye sore.” City officials also called upon Henny to update them on his plans to remove the structure from the prime corner location, a site he’d initially cited as a “temporary” one-year solution.

The pile of debris left from the deconstruction process is slated to be hauled away this week by Whidbey Telecom.

Henny said he’s happy and relieved that the historic Little Red Building has moved on.

So is Langley Mayor Tim Callison who offered this one-word commentary, “Finally.”