Bremerton | KUOW News and Information

Bremerton

Credit KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Seattle is the fastest-growing city in the country. That’s pushing housing costs higher. And it’s snarling traffic faster than we can build light rail.

But just an hour across the water, there’s the town of Bremerton.  It grew up around the Navy base there, and has long been a haven for artists and others drawn by low rents.

Now it wants in on Seattle’s action. It’s hoping the new fast ferry, which starts running in July and will cut commute time in half, will make Bremerton appealing to Seattleites looking to escape.

We look at the stakes for the little city across the water that wants to be big and prosperous, and what people fear they’ll lose when the new residents arrive.

Joshua McNichols and Carolyn Adolph
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Emily Fox speaks with KUOW reporters Joshua McNichols and Carolyn Adolph about why they spent a month reporting on Bremerton, and what it taught them about our growing region.


Linda Johnson, 33, a single mother of three, holds her 4-month-old daughter, Zimera, while sitting in her car that she often times sleeps in, on Thursday, June 29, 2017, in Bremerton.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Linda Johnson, 33, has three children and a four-door sedan with diapers stashed in the back.


Mike Heath, left, laughs  as Blue Collar Tattoo owner Sean Ewan cleans his arm before tattooing a tribute to Metallica, on Wednesday, July 5, 2017, in Bremerton, Washington.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Tattoo parlors tend to cluster near the Navy base in Bremerton. And indeed, a good chunk of the work done there is nautical in nature.

But it’s not all octopuses and anchors.

There were about 25 passengers on the final trip of the morning from Seattle. The Rich Passage I holds 118 people.
KUOW Photo/ Carolyn Adolph

In a region where traffic congestion is making commutes longer and longer, one commute just got shorter. It now takes half an hour to get from Seattle to Bremerton.

Kitsap Transit’s fast ferry service began Monday morning.

Display at the Valentinetti Puppet Museum in downtown Bremerton, Washington.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Starting Monday it will only take half an hour to reach Bremerton if you take Kitsap Transit’s fast ferry. It runs from the King County dock just south of Colman dock – the one used by the water taxis – to a dock close to WSDOT’s car ferry terminal in Bremerton.

Until today, a car trip from downtown Seattle to Snohomish County took less time than a ferry trip to Bremerton. Now, the opposite is true. 

Paul Lundy repairs typewriters for a living.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Office space is cheap in Bremerton. That's one reason you can find eccentric businesses there, like a business that repairs old typewriters.


Manette, seen here from the ferry, is one of the few Bremerton neighborhoods with an active association. Bremerton Neighborhoods Now! would like more neighborhoods to join their ranks.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Bill Radke speaks with Marie Vila, co-chair of Bremerton Neighborhoods Now!, about why she thinks block parties, potlucks and "crappy dinner parties" are what Bremerton needs right now. 

Dan Schiaffo's business card reads 'Laser Craftsman.' Tap/click on the image for more photos.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

It's a lot less expensive to live in Bremerton than on the Seattle side of Puget Sound. That's allowed many people to pursue their way of life. But housing costs have started to tick upward, and builders are redeveloping land where cheap rental housing used to be. The result: fewer cheap places around.

Betty Walker waits for shipyard workers to speed walk past her restaurant, the Sweet and Smokey Diner. The shift ends a few minutes from now at 4:02
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Bremerton grew up next to a Navy base.

The town used to be the economic center of the Kitsap Peninsula. But then, in the 1970s and 80s, development shifted to the suburbs around Bremerton. Now the city wants to get some of that mojo back.


Streets in Bremerton's downtown are frequently quiet. This photo was taken around 11:00 on a Monday morning, in front of the old Bremer department store.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

Bremerton’s downtown was a bustling place decades ago. Now it only bustles for a few minutes around 4 p.m. when the Navy shipyard lets out. The rest of the time, it can be a little too quiet.

El Balcon, Bremerton. The city ousted the tiny restaurant during the recession but invited it back after its owners and their five children became homeless.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

When Mario Amaya first set foot in Bremerton in 2009, he fell in love.


Demolition in Bremerton, Washington.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

Bremerton is pursuing growth, and that means demolition. Developers have been  buying old buildings and replacing them with apartments and condos.  Carolyn Adolph of KUOW's Region of Boom team went to one demolition on the edge of the city’s downtown. She found several residents who were cheering the redevelopment, including Brian Kelley.

War boxes visible in a Bremerton alley.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Tiny, affordable houses line some of Bremerton’s alleys. They’re called “war boxes,” remnants of the massive building boom that transformed Bremerton during World War II.

Studying that boom and the housing it left behind offers clues on what it would take to truly meet our region's current housing needs.


Maggie Conyer of Strategy Real Estate shows what's for sale now. They're pretty good if you're from the Seattle side but getting up there if you're from Bremerton.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

Bremerton is a place where people of many income levels live beside one another. It’s been that way for decades. People here were brought together by the military, and they could stay together because of low housing prices.

Kenny Wayne Gunner plays guitar in downtown Bremerton at lunch time
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Earlier this year, the Navy scraped the hull of the U.S.S. Independence to prepare it for dismantlement. That likely released heavy metals into the waters of Puget Sound, which is bad for salmon and orcas. The Navy didn’t get a permit for the work, so environmental groups sued this week.

But in Bremerton? It's going to take more than that to shake this town's love of the Navy.


William Bremer (1863-1910) immigrated to America from Germany as a young man, and settled in Seattle. When he heard the U.S. Government would be buying up land for a shipyard on the western side of Puget Sound, Bremer jumped at the opportunity.
COURTESY OF KITSAP COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

William Bremer, born in Germany, moved to Seattle first.

But it was Bremerton, the city across Puget Sound, to which Bremer "gave his name and his fortune and all of this thought and energy," according to Leonard Garfield, director of Seattle's Museum of History and Industry.

Passengers on Kitsap Transit's Port Orchard -Bremerton ferry. Soon a modern vessel will take on a new route - Bremerton to Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

Bremerton hopes to be the next bedroom community for Seattle. The mayor is promoting the city, and developers are building places for people to live.

The crew of an unidentified 'sturgeon class' submarine like the U.S.S. Parche, in 1980
PHC Robert K. Hemmerly/Dept of Defense Still Media Collection,

Bremerton, just across the Puget Sound from Seattle, is a military town. On the ferry ride over, you can sometimes see aircraft carriers and submarines. But there’s another kind of defense industry set to grow in and around Bremerton, too. An industry that defends us against cyber warfare, and it benefits from the area’s military expertise.


Vietnam Vet Steve Gardener at the Drift Inn remembers Bremerton's rough and rowdy past
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Bremerton's mayor wants people who've been priced out of Seattle to move there. But there's been something holding Bremerton back: the town's reputation. Bremerton used to be known less for its beautiful water views and more for its bar fights and prostitution.


Downtown Bremerton.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle is the fastest-growing city in the country, which means bad traffic and increasingly unaffordable housing.