Kala Point History

A History of Kala Point

Port Townsend, Washington

By Barbara MacLean, 2012
   Michael Machette, 2020 Second Edition
   Edited 2021 Third Edition
(reformatted and photos added for this website)


by Michael Machette

At the height of the last glacial epoch, about 18,000 years ago, 3,000 to 4,000 feet of glacial ice covered the northern Quimper Peninsula where Port Townsend and Port Hadlock would eventually come to be. Kala Point, the namesake of our homeowner’s community, would have to wait another 12,000 years before it became as we know it, with our broad beach, spit and lagoon. The glaciers that occupied Puget Sound and the Straits of San Juan de Fuca came from the north, not the east. They were Canadian imports, before there were Canadians. The glaciers were fed by the massive snowfall in the high coastal mountains of British Columbia, such as around Whistler, feeding constant and unending streams of ice into the Queen Charlotte Straits and west into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and south into Puget Sound. This, the most recent of many glaciations in the past 2 million years, is named the Vashon advance for exposures of glacial deposits on Vashon Island. By about 16,000 years ago, the glaciers had stopped advancing, broke up, and melted back into their Canadian headwaters. Meltwater from the stranded glaciers flowed north to Discovery Bay and cut broad valleys into the glacial deposits (Schasse & Slaughter, 2005). At the same time, the land rose about 300 feet in a process called glacial rebound. Thus, most of the land on which the Kala Point development is built emerged from beneath ice and was uplifted above sea level.

At the same time, glaciers around the world were melting, raising sea level almost 200 feet around the globe. The complex interplay between glacial retreat, rebound, and stream erosion shaped the modern landscape of the entire Puget Sound. As the climate warmed around the Earth, early man moved into the area, occupying the coasts where game, fish and berries became abundant. Kala Point was probably a prime spot for a nomadic lifestyle. Marine waters flooded into Port Townsend Bay as sea level rose and stabilized about 6,000 years ago. From this time on, our coastal bluffs came under assault from wind-driven waves and near-shore currents. Sand and gravel from the adjacent bluffs of Kala Point were carried both north and south by marine currents according to Shannon & Wilson’s (2012) report on the geology of our bluffs. The intersection of two drift cells formed a sandy spit at Kala Point, which is one of the finest beaches in the region. As you’ll read later, many artifacts of early man have been found on the Kala Point spit, evidence that this has been a great place to live for the past thousands of years.

Looking Back

Native Americans – the Chimacum Indians – are the earliest known occupants of Kala Point. According to accounts in Peter Simpson’s City of Dreams, the Chimacums were a particularly warlike, aggressive, unclean, and disagreeable lot, reported to have suffered near or total extinction at the hands of their enemies. There are reports of attacks on them as early as 1790, and a second massacre somewhere in the first half of the 19th century. Census records show their population decreased from 400 in 1870 to three in 1910.

In 1869 Port Townsend residents found vast quantities of human bones on the beach near Kuhn Spit, not far from the beach at Kala Point, according to a seldom cited 1895 work by J.C. Costello. Though Native Americans of the area refused to talk about what was discovered, in Costello’s account, Joe Kuhn, a Port Townsend resident, tricked Chetzemoka, the Chimacum tribe leader, into confessing that he had persuaded the Skagit tribe to go to war with him. While the Chimacums were camped in the beach area, the Skagits arrived by boat. When Chetzemoka and his followers burst out of the woods, warfare erupted and “…soon there was not a Chimacum left.”

In A History of Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend, former Kala Point resident, Virginia Olsen writes that in 1989, the Kala Point beach is included in a geologic study of the lagoon salt marsh. Evidence was found that the Chimacum Indian villagers used the southern point as a kitchen midden (waste heap or hill), depositing enough shells to create a protective berm. This berm altered previous tidal circulation. The ridge at the southern part of the point at the Kala Point beach is composed mostly of these shells.

As Port Townsend Grew

In the late 1800s, the Kala Point promontory on the western shores of Port Townsend Bay, became known to Port Townsend residents as the site of Joe Kuhn’s periodic clambakes. The sociable Joe Kuhn’s connections to Port Townsend began with his 1866 arrival in town to visit his brother Louis, a local physician. Sensing opportunity, Joe stayed, supporting himself as a photographer while he studied law. After Joe Kuhn’s admission to the bar in 1870, his ambition and entrepreneurial spirit led to a series of careers and businesses. Besides serving as mayor, he also served as a state legislator, probate judge, and commissioner of immigration as well as school board and city council member. In addition, Kuhn was an active participant in the starcrossed Port Townsend Southern Railroad and was involved in most of the city’s economic developments of the late 1800s. But over the years, whatever his business or civic responsibilities, Kuhn never forgot his duties as social director. Every summer he would load locals aboard a boat and head to Kuhn Spit near Chimacum Creek. There, the group would eat clams, drink whiskey, make music, and party until dawn. This elaborate clambake was held each summer for over thirty years, usually at a spot known as “Kuhn’s Spit,” now referred to as Kala Point.

Virginia Olsen also tells the story of an intriguing shipwreck, the remains of which can be found on the north side of present day Kala Point Beach beyond the small boat storage. Back in 1867, the bark, Southern Chief, arrived in Port Ludlow to pick up a cargo of lumber. The captain and crew disagreed over wages and the crew hired a Port Townsend lawyer, L.W. Tripp, who settled for the men on the captain’s terms. After the crew threatened to kill Tripp, he armed himself with a double-barreled shotgun. When they met again, Tripp shot dead two of the sailors and clubbed to death a third. Tripp was arrested but claimed self defense before leaving the country to avoid lynching.

Much later in December 1894, the Southern Chief was en route from Tacoma to Australia with 970,000 feet of lumber on board (Rural Jefferson County by Hermanson). She got as far as Cape Flattery when a gale came up and she began taking on water. Pumps could not handle the load and 30,000 feet of the lumber cargo was jettisoned. Two hours later the stern quarters broke away; the seams opened, decks buckled, capsizing the donkey engine and boiler. Heavy seas swept the decks, setting the steering gear adrift and leaving the vessel helpless.

The crew, fortunately, was rescued and after landing at Port Townsend sent tugs to bring in the ship to salvage it. The Port Townsend Leader of December 27, 1894, described her as “one of the sorriest objects ever seen in the waters of Puget Sound … the ancient craft had reached the end of her hectic career.” She was subsequently beached on Kuhn’s spit and burned for the fastenings. There was little left of the hull in 1915, although a century later, a portion of the hull can still be seen at low tide. It seems miraculous that the wreck remains after all these years, after all the winter storms, currents and tides.

Kala Point's Development

Kala Point was developed by Renate and Ed Croom, who lived in Southern California at the time they first saw this area in 1970. After hunting and fishing trips to the area, Ed Croom wanted to move here but knew it would take a lot to get Renate up here. She loved California. One year, as a birthday present, he made reservations for them at the Port Ludlow resort. On an earlier trip, he had been told of the acreage that now makes up Kala Point. The couple rented a boat and made their way to the Kala Point beach. Their first view was from the beach where a century earlier, Joe Kuhn found the destination for his summer parties. “It was a gorgeous day.” Renate recalled. “We walked the beach. At some point, Ed asked me if I liked it? ‘What’s not to like?’ I replied.”

The property was available he told her. At the time, Renate worked in real estate, a field she had been in for two or three years. Reluctantly, but on her husband’s urging, she contacted her brother in-law, Paul Dencker, a venture capitalist, and a third individual, Jurgen Manchot, heir to a chemical company in Germany, who became the principal investor. “I thought I could do it from afar and we bought it,” Renate said. Her plan was to continue living in California. The purchase was made without conditions and without a great deal of knowledge of the land. The investors bought the northern two thirds of the spit separately from a different seller.

The original plan was to dredge for a harbor, allowable at that time, and build a restaurant on the spit. As it worked out, the partnership wanted private roads and could not have these with a public restaurant. A decision was reached: the private roads would go ahead, and the spit would remain natural. That all happened in 1972. Since the other partners were out of the country, Renate moved to Kala Point from California. She became involved immediately. Road construction began along with all the amenities. Recalled Renate, “…we were not just selling blue sky.”

Ed and Renate, and Paul Dencker incorporated the early development as the Kala Point Swim and Racquet Club on October 2, 1975. After doing two year postings with their young children in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the Philippines, the Crooms had landed at Westlake Village in California, a new and upscale development north of Los Angeles. “My concept of Kala Point,” Renate said, “was based on my knowledge of Westlake Village. It was a planned community, much larger than this. It also had standards and covenants.”

Most likely, the development was also influenced by Renate’s European background. She was born in Germany where her father, Franz Suess, was Jewish; her mother, Elly, was a Catholic. In 1933, after becoming aware of what was happening to Jews in Germany, Suess moved his wife, Renate, and her older sister, Liz, from Cologne to England, making their home in London. Her father started his own business as a broker for non-ferrous metals, eventually opening offices in Stockholm, New York City, and London. He enticed Renate to join him in business after high school. After a couple of years of working in London, she chose to work in the New York office, but with the understanding that she would first attend college. She lived in International House in New York City where she met Ed Croom.

A vivid memory of the early development days accompanied Renate’s self-introduction at what would become her bank in Port Townsend. “Oh yes,” she was told. “That’s the place where they never found water.” After not sleeping a wink after hearing that news, Renate contacted a water witcher – a Mr. Mayberry from Quilcene. He told her, “Don’t worry. There’s water.” Earlier she had hired a top engineering firm in Seattle who had done well for her up to this point. But they had also determined the development should not go ahead because of the absence of water on the site. After Renate told the Seattle engineers that Mayberry had said there was water, they invited her to visit their Seattle offices. Mayberry came along in his rubber coveralls. The two of them walked into the firm’s elegant suites where engineers stood over a table of maps – maps showing no wells in Jefferson County. Mayberry recited the locations of fifteen wells he had personally dug. “In Jefferson County,” he told his audience, “we never record wells.”

To settle the water issue, Renate accompanied Mayberry into the woods to check. It was not an easy trip. There were no roads in the property then, not even Prospect Avenue. The closest main road was State Highway 19, a mile away. But the expedition paid off: Mayberry found signs of water. In terms of the ground, Renate called the soil “pure luck.” Port Ludlow came with clay. In Kala Point sandy earth would support individual septic systems, rather than a community-wide sewer system, a costly undertaking that would have required smaller lots and have negated an open rural feel. The decision was made for a gated community with private roads: development began in 1973. Kala Point became the area’s first community required to file an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with the county, something that had not been required of Port Ludlow.
Another hurdle, Renate recalled, came with the Chimacum Indian tribe. The EIS, as directed, had been sent to all agencies including Indian Affairs. The Chimacums’ history involved the Kala Point area, reputed site of the famous massacre. The Chimacums wanted access to the beach without a gate. The partnership arranged for several digs to recover any artifacts. These were returned to the tribe. Pottery was uncovered when the road to the beach was put in, plus arrowheads were found along the shoreline. Whenever there was construction on a site with a tribal history, Kala Point financed the dig that preceded it.
The new Kala Point community was initially advertised on radio in Seattle. Disc jockeys flew in on seaplanes from Lake Union, landing at the Kala Point dock to talk about the beauty that greeted them. Later, advertising appeared in newspapers in Seattle and Port Townsend. Originally, Kala Point was promoted as a community of weekend homes, but Renate recalled, many purchasers made it clear they were seeking permanent residences. Eighty percent of the buyers came from California, and thus were familiar with gated communities, which were just appearing in the Northwest. Others believed that waterfront lots at $30,000 would prove a good investment.
Foxfield Drive, the first road to the left just past the front gate, was the first area to be developed in the mid to late 1970s. Houses along Foxfield, as in other neighborhoods of Kala Point, somehow avoid looking directly at one another. Homes on the left side of Foxfield sit at various elevations while the curves of the street move houses on the right to views beyond their neighbors. Other homes hide along three short cul-de-sacs. Foxfield completes a leisurely loop and ends further along on Kala Point Drive.
Windship Drive was another of the early areas developed. Here the newly paved roads border a view of all of Port Townsend Bay. On the north end of the road is the first house to be built at Kala Point. The home, an English Tudor style, was completed in May, 1976 by the Development Company and designed by the Crooms. Renate moved in and lived there for six months before the Development Company sold the home to David and Sally Gooding, who still live in the house.

Developers provided financing and home sites were developed in a series of divisions, numbered 1 through 10, proceeding in stages with Windship and Foxfield being the first two divisions and Kala Heights being division number 9 and developed in 2000. (Original plat maps are on file at the KPOA office).

They sold about a hundred lots a year. Initially a high end real estate firm out of Seattle, McPherson, which specialized in recreational properties, was in charge of sales. A special promoter for Kala Point turned out to be Jack Sikma, a pro basketball player with the Seattle SuperSonics. In time he became a personal friend of Renate and her family, as well as a top-scoring sports star. Though initially an unknown, he became an NBA champion in 1979, making his endorsement of Kala Point valuable. A condominium was part of his compensation. To many at that time, Kala Point became known as “Jack’s Point.”

The blocks of multi-storied balconied buildings next to the Clubhouse were purchased by McPherson to develop as timeshare units, which were becoming a popular and affordable real estate option. As the timeshares were completed, the Development Company recognized there was a strong market for part time as well as full time residences at Kala Point.
The first condominium buildings off Sailview Drive were completed in 1977, each contained seven units. The first owners of the condos were Renate, Dencker, and Jurgen Manchot. In November 1977, the Development Company hired Bill Lindemann to replace Rick Overstreet as President of Kala Point Company, as General Partner of Kala Point Development Company, and as President of Kala Point Utility Company (water only). Rick had replaced Ed Croon in May of 1976. Bill remained active in the Kala Point Community following his retirement in 2003 and lived here until March, 2015, passing away in 2018.
The Kala Point Clubhouse, center for community activities – everything from Monday bridge games to exercise classes and many social gatherings, was built in 1978. Below the clubhouse tennis courts were added and a path through the woods to the beach was begun at the parking lot of the courts.
In 1987, Renate opened a real estate office on six acres she bought at the corner of Prospect Avenue and Highway 19. She named this Kala Square, had the acreage rezoned from residential to commercial and opened Kala Square Realty. A few years later, this became the 60th Windermere real estate office and the first on the Olympic Peninsula. Soon afterward she and her second husband, Joe Wheeler, bought a restaurant across from the ferry dock in Port Townsend and established Harborview condominium buildings, a Windermere office there. In 2003 they sold the business; in 2005 they sold the building. Joe Wheeler died in 2010.
All the roads and amenities were put in by the developers. Ownership of the roads was required since the developers had chosen to make Kala Point a gated community. The Lagoon and Terrace (divisions 10 and 11) were completed in 2008. At that point, the Kala Point Development Company’s mission was complete. Eventually the original owners of Kala Point reached a parting of the ways. The remaining property was divided with Renate’s brother-in-law (Paul Dencker) receiving the undeveloped division, (the unsold and undeveloped Bluffs and Terrace lots), whereas Renate and Jurgen Manchot received the unsold lots and the undeveloped waterfront Lagoon properties. Eventually, Renate built her own home overlooking the lagoon area, remaining there until she passed away on August 20, 2019, at age 86.
Of the success of Kala Point, Renate called it “a matter of timing. If we had waited, with the new environmental controls, we would have had to have five-acre lots (like Woodland Hills) and would not have been able to get rezoning from residential to commercial at the Kala Square corner.” Ever a driving force in Kala Point, Renate served on the Kala Point Homeowners Association Board and as a long-time member of the Architectural Committee. Renate was told that ‘kala’ was the Indian name for goose and the Point was always called Kala, so the developers never changed it.

For Further Reading:

About the Authors

Barbara MacLean – Journalist, Artist, Author, and Traveler, died after a short illness on December 29, 2019, in Port Townsend, at 93 years old. Born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1926, she was self educated, having no interest in getting a formal education. She dropped out of her first year of college at Western Michigan College in 1946, when she met and married her first husband, Don Hutmacher. The marriage ended in divorce in 1971. She began to travel in the late 1960s, always abroad, often alone, and sometimes aboard freighters, keeping travel journals filled with her distinctive script and illustrated with intricate line drawings, preferring to write about what she saw, rather than about herself. She once said that she was happiest when living out of a suitcase.

She was a homemaker during the early years of her marriage, but her restless energy and curiosity about the lives of others, soon led her to journalism. In her long career as a journalist, she worked for newspapers in Virginia, California, South Africa and Washington. She arranged a series of six-month exchanges with newspapers in England, China, and Namibia. After reading the obituary of a homeless woman, she researched and wrote about the woman’s life, earning her an Excellence in Journalism Award in 1990. Barbara married the photographer Fraser MacLean in 1977 in South Africa. They fled the country when Fraser was banned for photographing the activist, Steve Biko, who died while in police custody. She published two books about her time in South Africa’; the first, published in 1981, In Black and White: Voices of Apartheid and the second, published in 2003, Strike a Woman, Strike a Rock: Fighting for Freedom in South Africa. She also published I Can’t Do What? Voices of Pathfinding Women in 1997.

Barbara moved to Hemlock Circle in Kala Point with Fraser in 1999. After he passed away in 2004, she moved into the Harborview condos and met Jim Burke, a retired Navy Captain and Kala Point resident who was recently widowed. As she was fond of saying, they “carried on” for many years. Jim passed away just two weeks before Barbara, ending the final chapter in a long and adventurous life.

Michael Machette is a retired geologist who worked for the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, Colorado from 1972-2008. He and his wife Nancy decided to go west and moved to Port Townsend where they built their retirement home at Kala Point in 2010. At Kala Point, Michael has been the Chief Financial Officer, a Board Member, and a member of the Architecture, BMAC, Finance, EPC, and Election committees and well as several interest groups. They live on Fairbreeze Drive with two corgis, Radar and Jack.