Chowder, boats, scuba gear at Foss Waterway Seaport opening

Staff writerMay 18, 2014 

Tom Harwood’s antique fishing tackle has found a home.

As has a series of steam engine memorabilia and gear from a local vintage scuba museum.

Yes. Tacoma has one of those.

The artifacts are among those in the Foss Waterway Seaport’s new wave of exhibits, which went on display Sunday when the museum hosted its seasonal opening.

“It’s way better than we were expecting it to be,” said Paul Henry of Shoreline, who visited the museum Sunday with his two young children. “So many great, local boats.”

Harwood, of University Place, and other volunteers lent their collections and expertise to the new exhibits.

Parts of the building itself, a former wheat warehouse with old-growth Douglas fir trusses more than a century old, also are new. 

The museum, aimed at chronicling Tacoma’s maritime history, has undergone a series of renovations. Its new glass facade was unveiled last year, and since then the other three walls were replaced.

The nonprofit group has applied for a $1 million state grant to get heating in the building, said director Wesley Wenhardt, who has been with the museum since Aug. 12. Right now, the museum is open only seasonally.

The goal, he said, is to be a year-round operation within three to five years, which he estimates will take another $3 million to $5 million. The project has cost roughly $20 million so far, paid for by a mix of private donations and public grants.

“It’s like a critical inflection point where it could go either way,” Wenhardt said. “It’s poised for success and it’s ready to break.”

The board, he said: “has been incredibly responsive.”

“People coming in here are seeing the change, they’re seeing progress,” board member Steve Keller said Sunday. “They’re starting to see this is really going to happen.”

The museum has four full-time staff members and one part-time worker who will eventually have office space in the building. Now they run back and forth from the seaport and the office they rent across the water.

There have been about 25,000 visitors a season, which Wenhardt expects to “significantly” increase this year.

The museum has come a long way since its beginning, when “the floor was collapsing into the water,” curator Joseph Govednik said. He wasn’t there for that, but he heard the stories.

His wedding reception was at the museum in September.

On Sunday, he donned pirate garb and planned to shoot off cannons from the seaport’s esplanade. His fire-in-the-hole experience came from Civil War re-enactments.

There also was chowder, the recipe for which they declined to share. Chowder is a serious topic at the seaport; a cook-off is in the museum’s future. And Wenhardt and Govednik think a chowder and beer fest there would be a good idea.

The chowder was the first thing 10-year-old Oliver Henry mentioned when asked what his favorite part of the museum was. Getting to sit inside an ocean-going rowboat was also pretty cool, he said, and he and his sister also liked the block and tackle exhibit.

His sister, 8-year-old Iris, had general advice for would-be visitors.

“They should know about the boats,” she said.

That’s the seaport’s goal.

“We want to reconnect the people and the city to the waterfront,” Wenhardt said of the museum and its cohort. “We’re joined by a common love of water.”

Or, in Harwood’s case, tackle.

“I like anything that’s old and related to fishing,” he said. 

Among his collection is a reel he says was patented in Tacoma in 1898. Much of his antique gear is from the area, and the seaport gives him a chance to show it off, he said.

“There’s a lot of amazing things people have that they’re hiding in barns or attics,” Wenhardt said.

The museum especially likes people with hobbies.

“That’s where you get a lot of help,” Govednik added.

And as they spread the word, the museum’s collection keeps growing. Govednik stumbled across Harwood at a local sportsmen’s show and recently discovered Tacoma’s Flashback Scuba museum that pitched in some vintage gear.

A volunteer 77-year-old steam engine expert recently walked in with his arms full of antique fishing poles and pockets stuffed with fishing weights to contribute.

The visual of that, they said, was great.

“It’s almost like a little tornado of community spirit,” Wenhardt said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268


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