If you thought time travel was confined to graphic novels and science fiction, or that it required a machine powered by flux capacitors, then you haven’t been to Ketron Island lately.
Not many people have.
For the fewer than 20 island residents, who value the serenity and calm of the 221-acre forested island that is a 10-minute ferry ride from Steilacoom, the island seems frozen in a simpler time. They leave their houses and cars unlocked and worry little about urban mayhem.
Little has changed on the island since the early 1960s when developer J.C. Morris and his son, Dick, envisioned an island Shangri-La populated by hundreds of people who valued the island’s natural landscape, its panoramic views of the Sound, the Olympics and the neighboring islands. For several reasons, that vision was never realized.
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What remains of that heady vision of an idyllic lifestyle is perhaps best embodied in a home J.C. Morris built for himself and his wife on the northernmost tip of the island.
The mid-century modern home, built to a design by Tacoma architects Harris, Reed & Wilson that borrows liberally from the residential work of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, remains much as it was when it was finished 51 years ago.
The home, which was built with narrow slices of Wilkeson sandstone, Montana slate and Washington granite, still takes advantage of the sights that attracted the elder Morris, a successful Anchorage insurance broker, to buy the entire island in 1946.
The 1963 home, in the hands of its third owner, is now for sale for what seems like a bargain price, $1.299 million, considering the site and the home’s amenities: Some 5,300 square feet of living space. Three bedrooms in the main house with ensuite baths. A den with a rock fireplace, a guest wing with a view, a large bedroom and a full bath, and a cottage equipped with a kitchen, living room, bath and bedroom surrounded by a deck with panoramic views.
The home’s living room, at nearly 800 square feet, is as large as some urban apartments. It features a vaulted ceiling lined with mahogany and cedar, a large hearth and view that sweeps from Anderson Island to Steilacoom.
The property is nearly 5 acres, including 1,000 feet of beachfront, a private dock with boat lift, a gazebo and an expansive patio surrounded by lush gardens. On the home’s lower level, a former walk-in vault serves as a wine cellar and an adjacent room is reserved for playing pool. A spacious lower-level closet is equipped with rods and shelves for storing out-of-season clothes. A storage room as large as many contemporary living rooms is lined with shelves for supplies brought from the mainland.
A bedroom-sized laundry room abuts the kitchen. That kitchen is equipped much the same as it would have been in 1963. Even the wool carpeting in the master suite is original, but it doesn’t show its age.
Marion Chenaur and her late husband moved here in 1990. The house and grounds have been the site of numerous family gatherings, parties and celebrations.
Because of the limited evening ferry schedule, said Chenaur, guests often spent the night in the guest quarters, the cabin or in the two unoccupied bedrooms. When many children were staying over, the couple lined the den with beds.
During the Chenaur’s tenure on the island, it was not uncommon for 25 or 30 people to stay overnight. During one wedding, the home and its outbuildings accommodated 49 people, she said.
For all its attractions, the home will likely require a special buyer who values a front row seat to sea life, dramatic sunsets and white-capped waves more than quick access to Home Depot and Lowe’s, an easy commute to work and close proximity to entertainment and medical care, said Karen Vincent, real estate agent with Morrison House Sotheby’s International Realty. She and managing broker Marti Gardner are listing the home.
The home has appeared in both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as a featured property.
Don’t count on your off-island friends just dropping by. The county ferry reaches the island just four times daily. The fare for a car and driver is in excess of $20 roundtrip (commuter fares are less).
It pays to plan ahead, said Chenaur, when you go to the mainland, something she does about once a week. Make sure your lists are complete because no stores or gasoline stations are on the island.
Morris’ vision of an island retail center, churches and schools never came to fruition.
Chenaur’s husband commuted to Steilacoom every weekday in the couple’s own boat. Island residents maintain a float near the ferry dock where they can tie up their boats for the day. The couple kept one car on the mainland and one on the island.
“In all the time we lived here,” said the home’s owner, “there were maybe five work days my husband didn’t commute to work because of bad weather.”
Other issues reflect the island lifestyle. On a day last week, Chenaur was jubilant because she had persuaded a plumber to commute to the island to inspect her system and to repair a leak. She had called 14 plumbers before she found one that would come to the island.
While the island has a network of fire hydrants, it has no formal fire department. What to do about fires?
“We pray,” she said.
Medical emergencies are handled either by Airlift Northwest’s helicopters or by the county’s new marine patrol vessel. There’s no mail delivery to the island. Island residents have post office boxes on the mainland. And disposing of trash involves a periodic trip to the mainland landfill.
Some of those same issues kept Morris from realizing his vision of a fully developed island. He platted more than 250 lots, but sold only a few. And while some lots like his own could handle waste water in a septic system, other lots don’t have the right soil for such a system, necessitating the need for a sewer system that never was completed.
For Chenaur, the island and her home are close to her heart. But she’s realized that as she’s aging, the house and grounds are too much for her to maintain.
“It’s been a good life here, and I know I’ll miss it,” she said.