Stanich (Ellsworth-Thornhill) NetShed
STANICH NET SHED
8205 Dorotich Street, Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington
Robert Ellsworth and Mike Thornhill
Partitioned for leased office space, leased art studio space, and the owner’s general storage.
The seventeen extant net sheds in Gig Harbor, Washington, are significant as remnants of the community’s cultural heritage and economic development. Families, mostly of Croatian ancestry, have passed down the net sheds and fishing vessels for several generations. Many of the extant net sheds are an integral part of successful commercial fishing operations and are used for storing and mending fishing nets as well as repairing the equipment used for commercial vessels. Except for the remaining commercial fishing boats in the harbor, net sheds are the only surviving architectural connection between the community and what was once one of the most successful fishing fleets on the west coast.
Shelly Leavens, summer 2009
The City of Gig Harbor has taken steps to provide incentives for property owners who retain historic net sheds, and in 2006, conducted a general survey of the seventeen remaining structures lining the harbor’s waterfront. In 2008, Mildred Andres of the Andrews Group completed an independent survey of Gig Harbor’s historic downtown. The city secured grant funds from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to document the net sheds for the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), a division of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Todd Croteau, of the HAER Maritime Program, supervised the documentation team, which consisted of Brian Diveley and Shelly Leavens, both Sally Kress Tompkins Maritime Documentation Interns. A survey team of students from Bates Technical College in Tacoma, Washington, also lent support to the documentation effort. The documentation team’s liaison to the net shed owners is the City of Gig Harbor’s Special Projects Coordinator, Lita Dawn Stanton.
PART I -- HISTORICAL INFORMATION
PHYSICAL HISTORY OF BUILDINGS
- DATE OF CONSTRUCTION -- ca. 1940’s
- ARCHITECT / ENGINEER -- not known
- BUILDER / CONTRACTOR / SUPPLIER -- Johnny Stanich
- ORIGINAL PLANS -- none known
- ALTERATIONS AND ADDITIONS
Existing netshed is the second shed built on the waterfront property. Construction of the second and existing net shed was in the late l940’s after the first shed was demolished. The owner/builder of the first shed was Martin Stanich and friend, Joe Morgan (between 1915 to1918). Martin built the second shed immediately to the south of the original with his sons, Tony and John. As with all early construction, family and community members helped. The following is a chronology of alternations and additions made by contractors to the Stanich (Ellsworth-Thornhill) net shed after 1986.
1990 -- Floats and pilings renovated or added. Added new decking and cross timbers. (Ellsworth found that the lumber used for the original structure is in full dimensional sizes and rather than convert the entire building, he had the new timbers cut specially at a mill in Enumclaw). Added a garage door on the side facing south and commercially rewired the building. (Ellsworth described the old wiring as knob and tube wiring, with ceramic insulators varnished linen insulation. He also found glass fuses, and a one-wire circuit from the street. He noted that originally the dock had no electricity and that this was added later in the 1940’s).
1992 -- Renovations complete, the shop area was partitioned off for rent as office space. The office space is in the front (facing harbor), which is now leased by an architect, and Ellsworth uses the back space for personal storage.
1994 -- Paved Dorotich Street leading to the shed, added a curb and sidewalks.
2008 -- Replaced corrugated, galvanized tin sheet roof with new roof. Ellsworth has reportedly invested approximately $350,000 since 1986 in renovation, upkeep and expansion of the net shed property. He expects future investment since the pilings and dock need repair periodically.
Both originally from Dubrovnik, Croatia, Martin and Katherine Stanich met and married in Astoria Oregon, moving to Gig Harbor in 1910 with their four children: Lena and Mary (twins), Tony and John. The last child, Ann, was born in their Gig Harbor home in 1915. Martin built the home and adjacent net shed on the waterfront on Dorotich Avenue. The dock was for his first purse seiner, the Welcome, built in 1913 by Barbare shipyard in Tacoma. It was sold in 1920 after the second Welcome was built at the Skansie Shipyard in 1920. Martin believed in diversification and purchased the Strout property adjacent to his home in 1924. Formerly the St. Peter’s Bros. grocery that burned down, it was replaced by the Stanich Grocery Store. As was customary in Croatian fishing families, the sons took over the family business. As the oldest, Tony managed the grocery store and John took over the fishng boat. Both sons inherited the dock and netshed, and the house was left to the girls. Tony married Adelaide Hubmann and built their home on the lot between the family home and grocery store. Tony ran the store until the late 1950’s. The Stanich Store served the commercial fleet supplying groceries on credit at the beginning of each busy fishing season with family members helping in the store as needed. When competitors entered the Gig Harbor grocery business and operating as a “credit store” was no longer feasible, the store was remodeled with space as a liquor store and a smaller deli space in the late 1950’s. When the liquor agency left, Tony retired in 1971. The space was rented as a realty company and the smaller space remained a bakery/deli (NY Nails and Suzanne’s Deli) . When Tony died in 1995, the building was sold to Debra and Alan Ross in 1997. Their daughter, Irene, still lives in Gig Harbor lives in the family home on Dorotich next to the old grocery store. John, fishing since age 16, took over the Welcome in 1920 when his father retired. He married Pauline Castelan and skippered the fishing vessel for over 50 years. They lived half a block from the grocery store on Harborview Drive with their daughter. Jane still lives in Gig Harbor. John passed suddenly in 1974 and the following year the Welcome was sold. The home that Martin built was left to John and Tony’s sister, Ann Manley and Lena (Karmelich) Stanich. Ann Manley’s daughter, Mary Ann Jackson now owns the home. Mary (Stanich) Katich died in the spring of 1972. John’s grandsons, John and Tom Dempsey helped (uncle) Tony with dock maintenance and repairs until it was sold in 1983. Three years later, Mike Thornhill and Robert Ellsworth, proprietor of the Ship to Shore and Kayaks, purchased the site. Prior to Ellsworth’s complete remodel of the shed, the space was rented by a local commercial fisherman, who used it to store fishing nets and equipment. It is now a series of rooms for storage, office space and an art studio with an elevated dock extending in front, and low floats for moorage.
PART II --STRUCTURAL / DESIGN INFORMATION
The Stanich (Ellsworth-Thornhill) net shed is approximately 1,440 square feet. Exact dimensions of the property and shed were not available at the time of the survey.
The original character of the net shed was a simple, gabled roof wood structure on pilings with one large room to store net, cork and gear for the Welcome. The family lived in a tent during its construction until the home was built. Two planks bridged the net shed to land. To the left of the entrance was a small outhouse space. The shed was demolished when the new net shed was constructed. The existing net shed maintained its rectangular shape and was constructed to the south. It extended further out with a larger dock and space around the shed. John and Tony later added a simple platform float for improved access to their boats at low tide. The larger space also provided moorage for other local fishing vessels. Currently the central partitioned area of the shed is used for Ellsworth’s personal storage, though he plans on renting this section in the future. The structure did not have a flushing toilet, just a “fisherman’s trap door” accessed by lifting two small moveable planks (a toilet that is a hole that emptied into the harbor) . In 1986 (at time of the Ellsworth-Thornton purchase), there were 26 fishing vessels (purse seiners and gillnetters) rafted around the shed’s low dock. The only way to get to the boats was to climb down a ladder and walk over the rafted boats. This was common for area net sheds prior to added dock ramps. At the time, the fishermen were paying 70 dollars a month for moorage, and since the sale of the property, many have left. There are now 16 boats moored (no commercial fishing vessels) and there is an aluminum ramp leading to the dock.
2. CONDITION OF FABRIC
In its completely remodeled state, the Stanich (Ellsworth-Thornton) net shed is in good, but non-original condition. Other than framing, some siding and some decking, very little original fabric is left.
PART III -- OPERATIONS AND PROCESSES
The following refers to the operations and processes of the Stanich (Ellsworth-Thornton) net shed in its historic context (pre-1980). It is not currently in use as a net shed.
Commercial fishing: purse seining.
Purse Seine -- A purse seine is a large net hauled out by a smaller boat or “skiff” to form a large circle. Fishermen pull the bottom of the netting, “pursing” it closed to capture schools of fish. Once the net is pulled aboard by a “power block” or “reel”, the final length of net full of
fish is either pulled on-board, or a smaller “brailing” net is used to scoop the catch and load it into the vessel’s hatch. A cannery boat or “tender” typically transfers the fish to the cannery. Historically, fishermen of Gig Harbor have used this method to catch salmon, sardine and herring.
Cotton Nets -- In the 1930s and 1940s, while the Stanich net shed was in high use, fishermen tarred their cotton seine nets in order to hold their shape and keep them from rotting. The community had a large vat where the Millville Marina (HAER No. WA-186-G) is now, where they would soak the netting in the hot tar, then wring the net in rollers, to be stacked in the back of trucks and spread it out in a nearby field. As the nets dried, the crew would take the net strips and spread them apart to prevent the pieces from sticking together. Typically the crew of the seining operation would do the tarring and mending of nets 2-3 months prior to leaving to fish, as part of overall preparations. Cotton nets would also need more mending and patching than nylon nets, which did not come into use until after WWII in the early 1950’s.
A crew of five men generally operate each purse seiner. Prior to restrictions on large vessels, the advent of the nylon seine net and the power block in the 1940s and 1950s, seine vessels usually had crews of 8 to 10 men.
Martin Stanich owned the purse seiner “Welcome” built in 1913 by Barbare shipyard in Tacoma. It was sold in 1920 and sank at Admiralty Island in 1961. The second Welcome built for Martin Stanich at the Skansie Shipyard in 1920 was sold in 1975 and was rammed by a research vessel near Foulweather Bluff and sank in 1978.
PART IV --SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Oral history interview with Mary Ann Jackson, June 19, 2009.
Jane Stanich Dempsey, daughter of John and Pauline Stanich. Stanich Net Shed History, 2009.
Interview with Robert Ellsworth, June 18, 2009.
Ancich-Stanton, Lita Dawn. Gig Harbor Net Sheds Survey. City of Gig Harbor, 2006.
Andrews, Mildred. “Andrews Group Report.” 2008.
Harbor History Museum photo archives. Accessed June 2009.
Katich, Peter. “Antone Peter Katich Eulogy.” April 2009.
Lepow, Hannah. “Washington’s Fishing Sheds Get Boost.” National Trust for Historic Preservation. July 8, 2008. http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2008. Accessed June 2, 2009.
“Living on the Edge: Most Endangered Historic Properties List – 2008.” Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, 2008.
LIKELY SOURCES NOT YET INVESTIGATED
Interview with Peter Katich, grandson of Mary M. (Stanich) Katich.