For decades the North Coast Casket Company Building -- commonly called the Collins Building -- stood as a reminder of Everett's milltown past. The 60,000 square-foot post-and-beam structure was built in 1926 by the Hulbert Lumber Company for use as a casket making factory and it operated as one for more than 70 years, under several names. Its longest running business was Collins Casket Company (1932 to 1996). The Port of Everett acquired the building in 1991, as part of a 35-acre property purchase, and the building’s last tenants included warehousing and light manufacturing. When a Port plan for redevelopment of its North Marina in 2004 called for possible removal of the Collins Building, a group of local citizens organized to save it. In September 2005, the Port signed a four-year agreement with the Army Corp of Engineers and the Washington State Historic Preservation Office to identify possible development options for the building. Historic Everett, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Port of Everett were invited signatories to the agreement. The North Coast Casket Company Building (1210 W Marine View Drive) was placed on the National Register in August 2006. In June 2010, Port of Everett Commissioners voted to remove the Collins Building. In compliance with state mitigation requirements, the building’s windows, beams and columns were salvaged for reuse and educational materials developed to honor the building’s rich heritage.
City of Smokestacks
Everett’s early economy included a diversity of waterfront industries but by the 1920s the lumber and shingle industry dominated the city economy. A devastating earthquake in Japan in 1923 triggered a lumber boom, pulling Everett out of the post World War I depression of 1920-1921. A survey of industries in the 1920s lists the Hulbert Mill; the Canyon, Clark-Nickerson, Clough-Hartley, Eclipse and Ferry Baker mills; C.B. Lumber and Shingle Company; Jamison Lumber, Weyerhaeuser Timber; Robinson Manufacturing, and dozens of small shingle mills operating along Port Gardner Bay.
Although the Port of Everett was incorporated in 1918, placing Port management in public hands, most of the city’s waterfront remained privately run. In 1925, 19 docks were still privately controlled, as were Piers 1, 2 and 3.
A Mill and a Casket Company
During these prosperous years, the Hulbert Mill Company, one of the city’s largest mills, constructed the North Coast Casket Company. Located on Port Gardner Bay, adjacent to the 14th Street Dock, the mill was part of a cluster of large and small mills near the site.
In 1914, William Marion Hulbert (1858-1919) purchased controlling interest in the Fred K. Baker Lumber Company and expanded it into a 31-acre site at Norton Avenue at 10th Street that two years later became the William Hulbert Mill Company. William Marion Hulbert had been a partner in logging with his father Ansel (d. 1906), first operating in Falls City, Washington. Ansel became prosperous from real estate holdings in Snohomish County.
By 1917 William M. Hulbert and his son William Glen Hulbert were listed in the Everett Polk’s City Directory as the Hulbert Mill Company’s president and vice president. William M. Hulbert died in 1919 and his widow, Meda L. Hulbert, and William Glen Hulbert continued the business, reorganizing it as the Hulbert Lumber Company. William served as company head until he retired in 1956.
Prosperity in the 1920s brought other new mills to the Everett waterfront. The Weyerhaeuser Company (a presence in Everett since 1901) continued to grow, adding Mill C, adjacent to its Mill B property at the northern tip of the Everett peninsula on the Snohomish River. Other mills expanded or diversified and Norton Avenue was built, improving road access to the waterfront industries. Located near a major rail line and with water access, the Hulbert Mill continued to improve access for its operations.
In 1926 the Hulbert Mill Company employed approximately 200 men who processed 80,000 feet of lumber and produced 50,000 shingles daily. In that year, the Hulbert Mill began a spinoff casketmaking business, the North Coast Casket Company. This new family business provided a profitable use of leftover mill lumber which was used to make caskets. The Hulberts constructed a new building for this operation and both the quality of materials used as well as its large size, attest to the economic good times.
Casket Making in Everett
Everett became an important casket-making city. Its earliest large casket maker was Sound Casket Company, located on Hewitt Avenue at Baker Street, which is first listed in the 1909 Polk’s City Directory. From the 1920s into the 1950s, the city had four casket factories and in 1950 Everett had three of the state’s 11 casket companies, selling products nationwide.
Early casketmaking was considered a wood-products industry, but North Coast Casket Company was unusual since it was directly affiliated with a lumber mill. The company was unusual in another way: although most caskets were made of quality hardwoods, caskets made at the North Coast Casket Company were of Western Red Cedar, a highly weather-resistant wood.
Casketmaking required skilled workers who were trained to use special machinery, some of it made at the company plant. Workers cut, molded, and glued 69 parts that were needed to make each casket shell. At the height of production, the company employed 17 workers who made 12,000 casket shells annually. From 1991 to 1996 the Collins employed 4 to 10 workers who produced 10,000 units a year.
The work procedure at the factory was this: Mill ends were transported from the Hulbert mill by tram and entered on the first floor of North Coast Casket Company. When the company began, workers made only casket shells and the interiors and linings were completed offsite, most likely by the Sound Casket Company.
When the factory started making complete caskets, the shells were made on the first floor, then sent by elevator to the second floor where they were assembled and equipped with hardware, latches, and mattresses. Next workers moved them by elevator to the third floor where linings were sewn and added. The third floor also provided storage of moldings and trim. A casket showroom was on the second floor.
Hulbert Mill Fire
On the afternoon of August 3, 1956, after the day shift left, fire erupted in the Hulbert Mill and soon was so intense that it destroyed the planer mill, a large storage building and eight kilns loaded with lumber. Fire departments from Everett, Lowell, Lake Stevens, and Pinehurst battled the blaze.
Five injuries were reported, but no deaths. The office building at the nearby Jamison mill was destroyed, but firefighters saved the mill. The Collins Building remained unharmed in the fire. The fire marked an end to the connection between the casket company and its parent mill.
Collins Building Architecture
The Collins Building was a heavy timber frame, post-and-beam structure, typical of industrial warehouses of the early 1900s. It was built adjacent and south of the Hulbert Mill and near an existing railroad trestle that served the mill. Three stories tall -- 35 feet in height -- the Collins Building was built on pilings over Port Gardner Bay tidelands, and was originally surrounded by water. The structure itself remained virtually unchanged over the years, but the shoreline was altered many times. From 1940-1949 the site was filled with dredged Snohomish River sediment and eventually paved.
Each floor of the Collins was 100 feet by 200 feet, approximately 60,000 square feet overall. The building’s ridge beam ran north and south. Its most prominent feature was a series of multiple pane windows that lined all three floors (except for the building’s northwest corner), divided into 16 lights (panes) on the second and third floors and 20 lights on the first. These provided excellent interior light for the workers and a panoramic view facing Port Gardner Bay.
Building foundations were made of large old-growth Douglas Fir timbers, a quality and size of lumber that is rare today. Exterior walls were constructed of flat-stacked Douglas Fir two by fours, with 6 inches beveled cedar siding with 4.25 inches exposure. It is possible that the original building was unpainted; when the Port purchased the building in 1991, it painted it red. The building’s main entrance door was on the north side, facing the Hulbert Mill, with a large covered loading dock on the east side.
Between 1998 and 2004, the Port of Everett contracted with two firms to do structural reports: Berger/Abam Engineers, Inc. in 1998-1999 and G2 Mulvanny in 2004. The Johnson Partnership conducted a Historic Structures Report in 2005. The structures report found the building to be remarkably original, with repair patching made over the years. Major areas of concern were the need for repair of deteriorated pilings and insufficient lateral bracing of the heavy-timber structural system. The Johnson Partnership suggested repair of flooring and damaged wood-sash windows and listed procedures for immediate and long-term work on the building. Both the Hulbert Mill and the Port of Everett had done routine maintenance to the building over the years, including roof and structural repairs, work on the heating, electrical, and sprinkler systems and on the freight elevator.
Collins Building Tenants
North Coast Casket Company was built circa 1926 (Norton Avenue, foot of 12th Street) with Fred Hulbert and William Glenn Hulbert as principles and R. M. Collins as superintendent. During the Great Depression, North Coast Casket and Collins Casket companies shared the structure. By 1941 the North Coast Casket Company name disappears from Polk’s City Directory and businesses listed at the Norton Avenue address are the Collins Casket Company and Cascade Casket Company. In 1944 North Coast Casket Company changed its name to Cascade Casket Company, with former North Coast shipping manager Edwin C. Dams and Theodore “Dode” Johson as principals.
The longest running business in the structure was Collins Casket Company, managed from 1932 to 1991, first by Rasmus M. Collins and then by his son Rasmus C. Collins (1917-1987). In 1991 the Hulbert Mill Company Limited Partnership sold its 35-acre parcel of land, including the Collins Building, to the Port of Everett. The Collins Casket Company continued under the management of Michael Keys until 1996. The building’s last tenants were Agathos Foundation, Nik Wax, Outpac Designs, and Watershed USA.
By the 1970s, Everett was no longer a milltown. Competition and a dwindling resource left only a few wood products industries in the city. By the 1970s, The Boeing Company had become the city’s largest employer and Port business became heavily tied to aerospace. In the 1980s Everett embraced a Navy Homeport and government regulations for environmental cleanup of polluted waterways mandated new Port directions. With closure of both Nord Door and the last Weyerhaeuser mill in the 1980s, the only large wood products industry functioning in Everett was Kimberly-Clark (Puget Sound Pulp and Timber/Soundview/Scott Paper).
In January 2011, Kimberly-Clark announced that it would sell its Everett mills. Presently the Port-owned Weyerhaeuser Office Building at South Marina Village, the JELD-WEN (former Nord Door facility located at 300 West Marine View Drive), and several original 1928 brick structures that are presently part of the Kimberly-Clark complex (25th Street and West Marine View Drive), are the remaining structures on Everett’s bayside from the city’s milltown past.
North Marina Redevelopment Project
In February 2001 the Port began planning for redevelopment of the North Marina area into a boat-repair and marine-craftsman district, a waterfront neighborhood of condominiums, town homes, professional office space, shops, restaurants, inns, and a boatyard that would offer repair and maintenance of small vessels, 85 percent of which are 65 feet or less in length. Services were to include haulouts, pressure washing, welding, hull and engine repair, and replacement. The Port planned a large zero-direct-runoff boatyard facility with a clean treatment process, in compliance with state regulations for environmental cleanup. Developer for the project was Maritime Trust Company.
The Collins Building stood on the spot of the proposed boatyard and, because it was post-and-beam construction, could not be easily moved. The Port of Everett opened the public hearing process regarding the North Marina project in 2003. When preservationists realized the Collins was not in the Port plan, they began an organized campaign, supported by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, which added it to their Most Endangered Properties list in 2004.
In September 2005 the Port signed a four-year Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the federal Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington State Office of Historic Preservation for the possible rehabilitation and reuse of the historic Collins Building. The Port agreed to work with Historic Everett, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation to come up with an effective redevelopment plan for the structure. Contracted by the Port of Everett, the Johnson Partnership applied for the building’s official historic status and the Collins Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 2006 under its original name -- The North Coast Casket Company.
The Port’s Decision
Following the country’s economic recession beginning in 2008, Maritime Trust Company filed for bankruptcy and the Port terminated its contract with the company in 2010. The Port again assumed development rights and stated to the media that reuse of the Collins building was not feasible since it could not be safely used for marine repair, did not meet modern safety or building codes, and that major remodeling would be too costly and would destroy the building’s character.
On June 16, 2009, two of the Port’s three Commissioners, Phil Bannan and Connie Niva, voted to remove the Collins Building. Commissioner Michael Hoffman voted to keep it. On June 11, 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the manager of the Memorandum of Agreement, determined that the Port of Everett had satisfied its responsibilities. The Memorandum of Agreement had not yet expired so some of the signatories to it used a mechanism set forth in the document as dispute resolution. Since the dispute resolutions were still under review at a federal level, a Snohomish County Superior judge granted Historic Everett an injunction on the deconstruction of the Collins Building.
With Bannan’s retirement and Niva’s resignation, voters elected two new Port commissioners in the fall 2009. In February 2010, the three commissioners agreed to again look at reuse of the Collins Building. The Port hired the firm of Kovalenko Hale Architects (KHA) in March 2010 to undertake an updated cost review for adaptive reuse of the building, and the feasibility of a farmer’s market, a possible marine museum, and office and crafts space. KHA determined the total building development costs -- exterior and interior -- at $11.2 million, with the capitalized value of the building at $1.73 million, giving a funding gap of $9.49 million. In April 2010, the dispute resolutions under the Memorandum of Agreement were dismissed and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reaffirmed its decision that the Port had complied with the terms of the MOA.
In May 2010 Historic Everett was honored with a special award given by the state’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for the group’s efforts to preserve the Collins Building. The Port held a meeting on June 5, 2010, at Everett Station for final public input. It was estimated that about 100 people attended (coming and going). Most wanted the Collins Building to be preserved.
But after final review, Port of Everett Commissioners voted on June 15, 2010, to deconstruct the Collins Building. This time the decision was final. Since the building was a National Register Property, state mitigation requirements commenced. Following Mitigation Strategy, the Port began dismantling the building, taking it apart in sections and salvaging the best materials such as windows, columns, and beams for reuse. The Port offered these to local public entities and for use in restoring federal, state and local historic properties.
The Port of Everett also began documenting the building’s history and architecture, as per state requirements. They contracted with local historians Larry and Jack O’Donnell to write the history of the North Marina development area and this history was published in early 2011. The Port has added a historic marker at the factory site and produced an interactive CD-Rom project and narrative booklet that interprets the building’s history. If there are salvaged materials left, the Port will sell the materials to a reuse dealer and use the money to fund needed repairs on its historic property, the Weyerhaeuser Company office, located at the South Marina.