Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Great Food, Great Company at Barb O’Neill’s Thanksgiving Dinner

By Janine Unsoeld
For 45 years, the Barb O’Neill’s Family and Friends Thanksgiving Dinner has served the community, and did so again today from noon to 5 p.m. at The United Churches in downtown Olympia. Just before 5:00 p.m., it was estimated that 1,500 meals had been served.
Volunteers with community resource organizations such as GRuB, Safeplace, the Thurston/Mason chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Quixote Village handed out potentially life-saving literature and information.
Kitchen volunteers monitored the food line often and quickly exchanged empty bowls, pans and platters with full ones. Everyone had their plates full of hot turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, deviled eggs, and stuffing. Some came back more than once.
One volunteer who served food was Gracie Anderson, 15, a student at Olympia High School. She’s been serving meals at the Thanksgiving gathering for five years, and sees a future for herself in social work. She is involved in several clubs at school, including the National Honor Society and debate. She says she loves to talk about local issues.
With her mom and little sister serving desserts nearby, Anderson served garlic bread and extra butter and I served celery sticks and pickles. Although I cheerfully offered both options equally, the pickles were popular and we ran out them by mid-afternoon.
The articulate teenager exuded enthusiasm and told me a few stories. I asked why she keeps coming back to help serve.
“It’s a humbling experience to be able to help people who can’t always help themselves,” she said.
She says she breathes a sigh of relief when she sees the same people back year after year because at least she knows they are O.K. She wonders if the children she sees are homeless.
Anderson says the nice thing about the Thanksgiving Dinner is that anyone can come, so there’s no stigma to coming and being served a good meal. She says that although she feels comfortable around people in need, it also helps for her to visualize that within everyone, there’s a child.
“Sometimes it helps to see the child instead of the adult….and everyone has a story….One year, about two years ago, I got into a heart-to-heart conversation with a woman who said she had cancer and couldn’t afford treatment. I could tell she was weak. I’ve never seen her again…She was amazing,” said Anderson, her voice trailing off in thought.
Anderson said she read a book last year, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction,” by Dr. Gabor Mate, and recommended it to anyone who wants to learn more about people and their addictions. She said her mom read it too.
“It was life changing, and gave me a new perspective on what I do here,” she said.
Asked if she’s seen a shift in demographics of those who come to be served, she said she thinks she sees more older children and not as many little kids. “But maybe it’s because I’m more involved and mature and see things with a new perspective.”
Gracie Anderson has also served food for the Barb O’Neill’s Family and Friends gathering at Christmas time and Easter.
“I love Christmas – I helped kids pick out free presents for their parents, and I made about 450 friendship bracelets and gave them all out,” she said. Anderson’s little sister came over and pulled a few of the friendship bracelets out of her pocket. Anderson tied one on my wrist.
“It’s fun when people come back and I see them still wearing their bracelet,” she said.
We were relieved of our posts about 4:00 p.m., and a fresh group of volunteers took over our duties, while a steady stream of visitors still came in to receive food.
Everyone was being served. Some visitors had been there for hours to enjoy the food, company, the live music, coffee, pop, and water, and a warm place to hang out. I enjoyed a meal and several meaningful conversations.
One guy with a great sense of humor told me his life story but warned me that he probably won’t remember our conversation if we see each other again due to a brain injury. A former long haul truck driver, he suffered a brain hemorrhage 13 years ago while at his truck stop on Mottman Road. His license was taken away and he has not worked since.
“After a while, I told my wife I was bored. She said I wasn’t allowed to say I was bored. So I go to the doctor and he tells me I’m depressed! Well, let me tell you, I’m bored with being depressed!” he laughed. He is very proud of his 27 year old daughter who is a dancer.
Saying goodbye, having made a few new friends, Rodney O’Neill greeted people coming and going at the door. I got a big hug. Pointing Gracie out to him, I told him how wonderful she is.
“That’s what inspires me so much, is seeing the same faces every year,” he said with a smile.
Serving celery sounds simple, but it was harder than it looks, and behind that is a lot of hard work. O’Neill and a solid team of volunteers, many of them teenagers, including a young man named Ian, had been there preparing and cooking food since 8:00 a.m.
About 4:15 p.m., Rich Smith, kitchen manager, gave O’Neill a quick update on the food situation. One more uncooked turkey remained. It was decided to not cook it. Over 1500 meals had been served today.

“That’s 25 dozen deviled eggs, 140 pounds of mashed potatoes – all hand peeled and hand mashed – 200 pounds of stuffing, and 30 smoked turkeys. Safeway donates all the desserts and breads,” Smith laughed, and headed back into the kitchen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Stop Work Order at Old Brewhouse Draws Comments, Reactions

Above: The window may be closing on resurrecting the Old Brewhouse. Photo taken of the ground floor of the Old Brewhouse Tower on October 18.

By Janine Unsoeld

It was the first time he had been on site for perhaps a year when Paul Knight gave a tour of the Old Brewhouse in Tumwater for a group of citizens on October 18.
“I saw more deterioration of mortar on the bricks and rust on the beams. The window is closing on resurrecting that place,” says Knight.

Citizen complaints about significant, unpermitted road grading, water diversion and construction activity led to the City of Tumwater's stop work order at the Old Brewhouse on October 28.
Knight met Little Hollywood today at the Mason Jar, an eatery popular with brewery employees until the Olympia Brewery Company blew its whistle for the last time in 2003. 
Starting out as an hourly production employee in 1961, Knight went through a series of promotions to eventually enjoy a long career as the Brewmaster at the modern” brewery, the Olympia Brewing Company, from 1974 to 1997.

Above: Retired Brewmaster Paul Knight leads a tour of the Old Brewhouse on October 18, 2014.

Now 80 years old and more active than ever, Knight spends his time volunteering for the Old Brewhouse Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, the Olympia Flight Museum, restoring old cars, and woodworking.

“It’s a grand old building,” he said as he helped provide captions for pictures taken of the Old Brewhouse on the October 18 tour.
The importance of the structure was recognized in 1978 when the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2004, it was listed as one of "Washington State's Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties" by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

Stop Work Order Comments, Reactions

Above: Unpermitted construction with old and new pipes at the base of the hillside near the Old Brewhouse on October 8, 2014.
The current Old Brewhouse owner, George Heidgerken, Falls Development LLC, has violated environmental regulations in the past.

According to a 1993 Seattle Times article, a U.S. District Court, Tacoma sentenced Heidgerken to five months' imprisonment and ordered him to pay a $4,000 fine for illegally storing 260 drums of hazardous wastes. Heidgerken was also ordered to serve a four-month term of home detention when he completed his jail term.
In June of that year, he pleaded guilty to storing the drums in Shelton without a permit in violation of federal law. The drums contained lacquers and stain used in furniture finishing.
In another case, Heidgerken was fined $10,000 by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for his failure to comply with a Forest Practices Act reforestation order in Grays Harbor County. That case dragged on throughout the 1990s and was settled in early 2000, when Heidgerken lost an appeal of the fine imposed by DNR in 1994. More information about that case is available at:

Local reaction to the stop work order has been steady since the news was first reported by Little Hollywood on October 30.

Michael Chun of Associated Environmental Group, a local engineering firm working with Heidgerken, was shocked when he saw recent pictures of the site on the Little Hollywood blog.
Chun said that his firm’s involvement with the project is focused on the hazardous material cleanup of metals contamination due to the painting of barrels with leaded paint. A former paint shop was located on the site, near the hillside that contains several artesian springs.

“Barrels were scattered all over the place,” he said. As part of a voluntary cleanup agreement with the state Department of Ecology, Heidgerken hired Chun’s firm to characterize the contamination and remove the top level of soil.

“Now we need to deal with the groundwater….We’re looking for dissolved metals. At this point, we don’t know if it’s contaminated. We need to set three resource protection wells,” explained Chun. Chun said he had wanted to place the wells this past summer, but Heidgerken delayed for unknown reasons.

“The sooner we get this started, the better. I am waiting for grading to get a drill rig down there….it’s a challenging site. I’d like to get started by the end of the year.” Chun said that Ecology requires that the water be sampled four consecutive quarters for a year.

Chun, who has led several successful environmental restoration efforts in downtown Olympia, said he hadn’t been at the Old Brewhouse property in quite a while. Chun reacted upon seeing the most recent Little Hollywood article about the old brewery. 

“Holy Cow!” Chun exclaimed when he saw the pictures. “ ….I can tell you right now I won’t be able to get a drill rig down there….George clearly went above and beyond what we needed,” said Chun. With a new perspective on the situation, Chun said he would visit the site in person as soon as possible.

Asked to comment on the stop work order, City of Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet wrote a response to Little Hollywood last week. He also sent his statement to the Thurston County commissioners, the Port of Olympia commissioners, and City of Olympia and Tumwater councilmembers.

“I’ve read your blog and appreciate your interest in the environment and this iconic site. I assure you that it is my desire to have any redevelopment of this site protect the historic assets while respecting the location from an environmental and cultural perspective. We continue to work with a number of experts to try and find that balance,” wrote Kmet.

“Tumwater is committed to compliance with all the applicable environmental regulations. Mr. Heidgerken needs to comply with those regulations. We will work with the applicable resource agencies and Mr. Heidgerken to address the situation with the wetlands. Similarly, his involvement in the study of the Craft Brewing and Distilling Center doesn’t waive his requirements for environmental compliance. The Center, for that matter, is not limited to the historic site and could be located in an existing building up on the hill. Our studies will be assessing the degree to which this site can be used for the Center or other viable activities.
“As we know from the redevelopment of numerous historic properties throughout the State and the Country, finding a viable reuse is critical to generating funds to preserve them. I hope you and your readers will work with us to help make that happen before we lose this iconic landmark. I am looking forward to the next step in this process, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, for an opportunity to identify and evaluate the issues related to redevelopment of this property in more detail,” said Kmet.
Rob Kirkwood, co-founder of the Old Brewhouse Foundation (OBF), a non-profit organized in 2008, also responded to the news:
“We can all agree that the Old Brewhouse site is a special place. The Old Brewhouse Foundation (OBF) recognizes that the Old Brewhouse site is where people have gathered for thousands of years to rest, celebrate, work and trade.  In addition, the site is geologically unique and also attracts a huge variety of wildlife.  The OBF mission is to gather all the stakeholders in the area and help create a facility that is sensitive to the site’s previous, current and future inhabitants. The site has many challenges and many interested parties that all have their own idea as to what the site’s future should look like. Your story highlights some of the challenges that will need to be addressed and recognizing all people’s interest will be an important part of the process….” said Kirkwood. Kirkwood also said that he assumed all the proper permits were in place for the work being done on site.

Kirkwood, along with Tumwater City Councilmember Tom Oliva, toured the Old Brewhouse site on October 18 with several citizens. Kirkwood, along with Oliva founded the organization in 2008 to “motivate the community in developing the Old Brewhouse for a public purpose.”

The Old Brewhouse Foundation has chosen not to take a formal position on Heidgerken's plans nor did the organization comment on the city's determination of significance and scope of the environmental impact statement for the area.

Above: Looking through a cavity from the third floor to the second floor of the Old Brewhouse Tower on October 18, 2014. The cavity is where a mash tub once operated and hung down towards the second floor. The Deschutes River can be seen out the window frame.

Market Study Results
According to Tumwater city council meeting minutes for October 14, a market study on the brewery properties north of Custer Way was recently completed to explore potential types of uses and marketability of the site.

Richard Gollis and Adam Seidman of The Concord Group summarized the market study results for the council. The team identified the potential for a wide array of land uses at the site, taking advantage of existing structures as well as building new ones.
The group says there is approximately 400,000 to 500,000 square feet of supportable development over a 10-year period. A phased in, mixed use approach could be developed along Custer Way as an early catalyst, as well as working through the concept of the craft brewery and distilling center.

The group said that of the three proposed land use alternatives identified by the city, the third alternative, the full mixed use redevelopment alternative, would maximize the area's potential. A mixed use project off Custer Way, including the Cellars Building at 240 Custer Way, and the historic brewhouse, could serve to bring people to the area.

The analysis considered different land uses at the site, such as an apartment building, condominiums, hotel, retail, office, and special destination uses, such as the craft brewery and distilling center.

Limiting development to renovation of the historic structure was not recommended because of the amount of infrastructure development required for the site.

The consultants said that the reason people would come to the area is to enjoy retail and hospitality, and would want to live here because it is near historic structures and the Deschutes River. Educational institutions would be an important component of the property’s future success.

City Administrator John Doan commented on the importance of the craft brewery and distilling center or another special destination use to help accelerate the development timeline.

Above: The five story RST Cellars building at 240 Custer Way in Tumwater is not historic. It is part of the “modern” brewery complex and built in three sections in 1966, 1967 and 1970. New cellars were built as needed to store beer. The building is currently owned by George Heidgerken, Falls Development LLC.
In previous conversations, Heidgerken has said he anticipated starting his redevelopment work on the RST Cellars building on Custer Way.
For more information about the Old Brewhouse Foundation, go to 
For past stories about the Old Brewhouse, go to and use the search engine to type in key words.