Historic Landmarks in Friday Harbor

The Town of Friday Harbor has over 150 historic sites and other places of interest within walking distance of the ferry terminal, public harbor and airport. Twenty-six of these sites are described in the Historic Friday Harbor on Foot: Historic Downtown Walking Tour guide.

San Juan County Courthouse, 1906
Second Renaissance Style,
National Register of Historic Places,
Corner of Court and Second Streets

san juan county courthouse

San Juan County Courthouse – photo courtesy San Juan Historical Museum

Friday Harbor was chosen as the county seat when San Juan became a county in 1873. Until 1906 the affairs of the new county were conducted in various wood frame buildings, the first, a 16×24 foot shack which served as the courthouse and the home of Edward Warbass, the county’s first auditor; the second, a two-story wood-frame building at the southeast corner of Spring and First streets. In 1906 the county commissioners approved plans for a new building, one that would “assume graceful proportions” and to be “in keeping with the dignity and growing importance of San Juan County.” Seattle architect, William P. White, designed the building; the estimated cost was $12,000, the actual cost was $14,000. There were structural issues early on: a collapsed roof during construction, and six months later, foundation settling. In the 1980’s, the adequacy and safety of the building again came into question and the building was vacated. Ten years later, the building became a designated national landmark, while locally the community debated over whether to save or demolish it. A special advisory ballot passed by the voters finally tipped the scales toward restoration. In 2006 the stately and historic building celebrated 100 years of government service.

Odd Fellows Hall, 1892
Washington Heritage Register
62 First Street

Founding members IOOF Mt Dallas Lodge #95 – photo courtesy Mike Aiken

Originally the Odd Fellows Hall, this building was the hub of the community’s social life until the 1940’s. Built by members of the Mount Dallas Lodge #95 of the I.O.O.F., the building accommodated Lodge meetings upstairs, and community events downstairs. Many older island residents remember attending graduations, plays, Christmas celebrations, basketball games, and dances there. The building also served as the courtroom for some of the county’s most infamous early trials. In 1895, Richard Straub was tried there for the murder of Leon Lauterman. The case drew so much attention the courthouse was too small to hold the crowd. Straub was found guilty and later become the only person to be hanged in San Juan County. Later, on May 9, 1910, Billy Sunday used the hall to thunder against “demon rum”. The next day voters declared the town dry. Today, the building is the Whale Museum, and is listed on the Washington State Heritage Register.

Friday Harbor Town Hall

Friday Harbor Town Hall
Built 1936
60 2nd St.

Friday Harbor’s Town Hall was built in 1936 using Works Progress Administration (WPA) funding. The project was developed to house a new town government building and the  public library. The Town’s attorney, Elmond Genest and Mrs. Leon (Minnie) Little had less than a year to plan, propose and build the new building before the federal program ended. It was constructed locally of pressed concrete, known as Boede block, from the Boede Cement and Tile Company – this building survives today on Nichols Street. The fire station and clock tower were built much later, in 1982 and 1984, respectively.

Vic’s Drive In

Vic’s Drive In Restaurant
Built 1958
25 2nd St.

Cutout of Vic – photo courtesy of Kevin & Linda Widmayer

Vic’s Drive-In opened for business on June 28, 1958. It was a classic mom-and-pop American drive-in with a kitchen and drive-through window for ordering food. Vic (Victor John Vlahovich) moved to San Juan Island in the 1930s and was a baker. He met and fell in love with Margaret Guard Reynolds, who worked at Friday Harbor Drug Company. Their romance was initially opposed by her father, but loved prevailed and they married in 1937 after Victor changed his name to Reynolds, to appease his father-in-law. Victor and Margaret worked for a variety of local businesses before opening the Vic’s Drive-In in 1958. The restaurant was located next door to their Second Street home and garden.

With the growing popularity of everything “auto” the new business paralleled the success of drive-in restaurants nationally. Vic and Margaret made each hamburger by hand, and the relish was made on-site from the owner’s own recipe. The fact that most businesses in Friday Harbor routinely closed early, also helped. The Reynolds kept the drive-in open as long as there were customers. They opened after sports events and dances. Generations of Islanders have dined, and continue to dine there. To this day, if you are there on Tuesday or Thursday morning, you will undoubtedly notice a booth or two of elderly local men, shooting the breeze, telling bad jokes and drinking coffee. They call themselves The Rusty Zipper Gang, and do they have some stories to tell!

Vic’s Drive-In, though not at first glance, historically significant, should be considered a local landmark. Why? Because Vic’s Drive-in represents the island’s first, and until 2007, only version of the classic drive-in restaurant. A cultural icon that came to characterize America’s love of, and dependence on, the automobile. This simple restaurant has served classic American diner meals to islanders and their families for over fifty years. Historic preservation is not about pretty buildings; it is about history, and the people, places and events that have shaped our community and nation. Vic’s is an island institution. It deserves a place on the local landmarks register and future preservation efforts.

Historical San Juan County Jail Building

Old County Jail
Built 1895
Relocated 1971

San Juan Historical Museum – 405 Price St.
Until the 1980s, the county jail was located in what is now the Courthouse parking lot. The jail was a small one-story hipped-roof building with a steeple in the center. According to local historian, the late F.H. Van Cleve, the jail had a yellow light above the outside doorway, that when lit, indicated the presence of a miscreant. Naturally, this created quite a buzz whenever the bulb was lit. Today, a modern jail facility is part of the courthouse annex, while the historic former jail building enjoys retirement as a historical exhibit on the grounds of the San Juan Historical Museum, just a few blocks away.

Memorial Park, 1890′s
Intersection of Front and Spring Streets

Memorial Park, Friday Harbor

This postage stamp-sized park has long been the meeting place for those arriving and departing San Juan Island. On November 11, 1921, a granite memorial—the first of its kind in the state of Washington—was erected to commemorate the nine Island servicemen who were lost in World War I. Many of those lost were buried in the battlefields where they fell. For their families and the tight-knit community, Memorial Park became sacred ground. Years later, in August 1945, islanders gathered at the park to celebrate the end of WWII. On more than one occasion, the monument has been struck by run-away vehicles, but each time stood its ground. In 1972 and 2004, controversy arose over plans to renovate and expand the park. Opponents were concerned about the impact on traffic flow and the potential ferry service delays it would cause. In the end, the monument prevailed, and in 2006 the park was renovated and extended to the shoreline. Fittingly, the re-dedication took place on Memorial Day.

St. Francis Parish Church
Built c1875
Relocated 1959
425 Price St.

St. Francis Church – photo courtesy Carrie Lacher

More than a few St. Francis parishioners were doubtful when, in 1959, former pastor Father Paul Auer announced that the 45-family mission would be moving to a more convenient location — and taking its building with it. They wondered: Could the wooden church building really survive a three-mile trip over farmland and old roads?

There must have been a collective gasp when, almost immediately, the steeple got tangled up in a fir tree. But in the end, though the steeple had to be removed and burned, the rest of the building held strong through the journey. Today the building remains sturdy, like the 19th-century pioneers who built it and whose descendants still people its pews.

St. Francis Parish has deep roots in the San Juan Islands. The current Friday Harbor church building was built around 1875, three miles outside of town in the Catholic cemetery in the San Juan Valley. It replaced a log cabin church built in 1860 that was destroyed by fire in 1874. Electricity came to the new building in its valley location after 1910. In 1958, the church purchased five acres in Friday Harbor for $5,000, and in the fall of 1959 the church building was moved from its old cemetery home to its current location on Price Street. Visiting priests said mass and took lodging with local congregants while here.

St. Francis became a parish in its own right in 1968, and it has continued to grow steadily, from just nine homesteading families in 1884 to an increasingly diverse community of more than 300 families today. (Reprinted from an article by the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

Former Boede Cement Plant

Friday Harbor Brick and Tile Company (today known as The Brickworks)

Nichols Street

This building was constructed in 1921 as the new home for the Friday Harbor Brick and Tile Company (FHB&T Co.), which had been producing cement blocks, bricks, and tiles since June of 1917. It is the only remaining industrial building in downtown Friday Harbor, and is a significant element in the streetscape of both Nichols Street and Sunshine Alley.

The  FHB&T Co. building is an advertisement for its products: concrete blocks, bricks, and tiles. These are highlighted in the structure of the exterior, which includes five different block and brick types, as well as the interior, which features columns constructed of concrete-filled tiles. Concrete building blocks and bricks were used in several significant structures located in downtown Friday Harbor, including Town Hall (1934); the Schuman Building (Murray Building—currently Kings Video and Vinnies); Roark’s Dry Goods (Kings Market); and the columns flanking the path on the south side of the San Juan County Courthouse.

Concrete block was a ‘cheap, quick, and easy’ building material popular during the early twentieth century, until its replacement by lighter concrete masonry units (‘cinder blocks’) in the 1940s. The Friday Harbor Brick and Tile Company originally used a hand mixer and block and tile making machine, but upon construction of the building, invested in a machine mixer and block and tile machines, which apparently made a higher grade product.

Ownership of the business is associated with the Paxson family. A. J. Paxson was Mayor of Friday Harbor from 1928-1930. Later ownership included the Boede family; hence another common name—the Boede Building.

In 2013 the building’s owner, the San Juan Island Agricultural Guild, completed an extensive rehabilitation of the building. Today it is the permanent year-round home of the island’s farmers’ market and an important community center. This project has kindled new interest in Sunshine Alley and redevelopment of the properties surrounding the Brickworks.


Kirk / D’Arcy House, 1907
595 Park Street, Craftsman Style

Kirk / D’arcy House – photo courtesy Kirk House Bed & Breakfast

This lovely residence was built in 1907 by Peter Kirk, a young and enterprising Scottish steel magnate who, with his wife and family of eight children, immigrated to the United States in the late 1880s. The Kirks settled first near Seattle, in what is now Kirkland, Washington, where Kirk established the Great Western Iron & Steel Company to exploit the iron deposits in the Snoqualmie Mountains. Steel production requires lime, which was being quarried and processed on San Juan Island.

After discovering and falling in love with the island, Kirk built a 500 acre hunting estate called Deer Lodge at the north end of the island at Mitchell Bay. But following the tragic deaths of his daughter and then his beloved wife, Mary, he could no longer remain in such a large home. In 1907 he built a small, elegant residence just outside the growing town of Friday Harbor. It was there, in this peaceful setting, that Kirk spent what he says were the best years of his successful life. He died peacefully in the house in 1916. Funeral services were held in the parlor. The house was later residence of Kirk’s sister, Olive, who moved there at an early age, after the untimely death of her husband, Captain D’Arcy, of the Mosquito Fleet. Olive’s sister, Fannie Kirk Capron lived nearby, and later her son, Vic Capron, Jr. and his family lived there for many years.

The house was purchased by new owners in 1992 with the intent of maintaining it as a single family home. However, the renovations required to accommodate a family with small children would have seriously compromised the historical and architectural integrity of the house. Instead, the owners chose to creatively adapt the house for a B&B, (now named the Kirk House Bed & Breakfast) as it has been used ever since.

Former San Juan County Bank now Coldwell Banker building – photo courtesy Rick Allton, Alton Media

San Juan County Bank, 1907
Located at 105 Spring Street
This building is remembered for San Juan County’s first bank and continues to be one of the most significant structures in downtown Friday Harbor. San Juan County Bank was founded in 1893 when the economy on the island, and in the Northwest in general, was beginning to blossom. The original wood-frame building was located across the street. The new masonry structure, more substantial and ornate than any of the town’s other commercial buildings, reflected the town’s growing prosperity. It took seven months to construct, and boasted a “burglar-proof vault with burglar-proof safe.” The bank’s first president was J.A. Gould of Seattle; his son, Gene, was the bank’s first cashier. During his lifetime, Gene Gould was notable for being both the youngest cashier (at age 19), and later, the youngest bank president in the United States (at age 29). San Juan County Bank was central to the Island economy, at that time based upon farming, fishing, logging and the lime industry. When the Town of Friday Harbor was incorporated two years after the construction of the building, bank president Gene Gould became the Town’s first mayor. The bank continued to operate in this location until 1978. Today the building is a fine example of adaptive re-use, housing the Coldwell Banker Realty offices.

Saloon Best, late 1870′s
Intersection of Spring and Front Streets

Saloon Best c.1870′s – photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries Special Collections WAS0896

At the intersection of Spring and Front Streets is the Front Street Café. The café is a later addition to the Arcade Building, originally called Saloon Best, which wraps around the block. Looking at the roofline from Front Street you can see where the addition starts and the original saloon begins by the change from flat to gable roof. The saloon was built in the late 1870s, and may be the oldest building in town.

The cafe addition housed the Newport Pool Room, an expansion made by saloon owner John “Jack” Douglass after 1906. The poolroom structure was built over the bank of a creek that has since been paved over. An early picture of the waterfront shows the creek and a small boat moored just a bit “up-creek” below the rear corner of the building. The boat belonged to Douglass, who transported his “world class liquors” to the saloon’s back door via the sturdy little vessel, the Dolly D.

Originally, the main entrance to the saloon opened onto Spring Street. One clue to its location is the orphaned step sitting above the sidewalk between two sets of double windows. Prior to paving, many lower Spring Street buildings had expansive wooden step/sidewalk structures to accommodate the steep slope of the street. Over the years, the surface of the street was elevated with rock fill to accommodate water and sewer lines. Not until the 1980s was the street paved as we see it today.

The Arcade Building c.2002 – photo courtesy Mike Deegan

Sometime after 1906, the original Arcade building with its lovely barrel-shaped façade saw a flat-roofed building addition on the uphill side. The addition was probably a separate building at one time. In photographs taken as recently as 1955, the saloon’s decorative cornice does not extend to the new building (Arcade Shops and entrance), or the next building (today, Gourmet Galley) as it does today.

By the 1930s, Saloon Best was purchased by the local Moose Lodge and the interior was modified to flow into the adjacent building. Many community dances and other events took place here, though the second building had considerably fewer street-level windows, and provided fewer opportunities to see the goings-on from the street. The arcade entrance was added later, after the Moose Lodge vacated, and doesn’t show up in photos until well after 1955 or 1960.

The Cannery Managers’ Home, 1905
On the corner of Front and A Streets
Known today as The Doctor’s Office coffee shop, this building was once the cannery manager’s home. It is the last surviving structure associated with the Pacific American Fisheries Cannery, later the Friday Harbor Packing Company, now long gone. In its heyday, the cannery employed over 1000 American, Japanese and Chinese laborers, some of them housed in a dormitory-like two-story building that stood where cars now wait for ferry loading. The original farmhouse was substantially less ornate: the gable roof, covered front porch, side bay window and stately rear chimney are still notable. The Victorian embellishments, colorful paint, second story stairways and balconies are recent additions.

M/V Catalyst Luanch c.1932, photo courtesy MSCUA, University of Washington

Pacific Catalyst II, 1932
Friday Harbor Marina, September – October
The Catalyst is a restored 1932 wooden research vessel. Her maiden voyage was up the Inside Passage and across the Gulf of Alaska, beginning her oceanographic research for the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs and the marine sciences community. She is registered with the National Park Services Maritime Heritage Program.