Story by Susan Lagsdin
Photos by Donna Cassidy
“Home is the sailor, home from the sea…”
In this most unlikely of havens for a seafaring man, Scott Wright has dropped anchor in Bridgeport and intends to stay.
From his teen years on, he sailed the oceans of the world, traveling and living in, as he described “…more countries than most people have seen states.”
His final voyages were on the classic 1934 schooner Destiny, a boat with a glitzy past. Once owned by Howard Hughes, it ferried celebrities to the Hearst Castle at San Simeon in California. It was Scott’s home base for years, even when moored in Hawaii while he worked in Phoenix.
In his 70s he had reached an age and stage where settling comfortably somewhere near water was preferable to constantly wrestling its wind and tide.
A visit to a Bridgeport friend in 2006 led him and his bride Kathy on a casual drive down toward the Columbia, where a tall, stately building — a long-unused grain elevator — loomed at the river’s edge.
Many of us at one time or another have seen an odd heart-grabbing structure and sighed some variation of “y’know — all you’d have to do to turn this into a house is _____________ (fill in your own wishful thinking.)
That’s what Scott thought. He bought the granary, as well as a bit of surrounding riverfront acreage. With vision, resources and ingenuity, he was a man with a plan, and the rest is very recent history. But first, a glimpse of past history.
PART ONE: THE GRANARY
Bridgeport, on the north rim of Douglas County, bustled with commerce from the 1880s on, and for decades the waterfront at the base of 13th Street (where the PUD building now does business) saw lumber, fruit, grain and flour shipped by steamer to distant ports.
A prominent landmark at the juncture of river and road was this edifice that served three main functions: as a brick building in 1896 it was first a brick-making kiln, then a lumber mill; in 1915 its shape was exactly replicated in cement and galvanized metal but extended up to 70 feet as a grain elevator and flour-milling site.
Economic and demographic shifts and Chief Joseph Dam construction turned Bridgeport’s waterfront profile to a sleepier one, but the building stood, sturdy and statuesque. With a burst of speculation the real estate surrounding it changed hands, became dormant then grew new uses. The grain elevator was essentially unchanged.
On the site remained old milling wheels, their machine parts rusted but intact. Inside at the base were a sub-basement storage tank, conveyor belt, a wagon weighing scale used for trucks until the 1950s. Flumes or tubes lead to nine separate grain silos, which were constructed of two-inch by six-inch lumber, the thousands of pieces stacked flat and nailed horizontally from floor to rooftop with iron corner braces for strength.
Scott still revels in the revelations of the past. “We actually found grain that had been left in one silo — mostly rotted, but I tossed some of it out along the bank as an experiment and it grew a patch of pretty good wheat.”
He has kept, added to, and will use somehow, the variety of granary implements. He said, “I learned to scrounge at an early age and can use just about anything I find for some purpose.”
PART TWO: THE “NOW” HOUSE
The couple realized the retrofitting of the historic granary could take its sweet time with trickier-than-typical permitting, licenses and code compliance. Scott and Kathy wanted to live on-site for the process, and they built a home nearby.
Their “now” house, completed in 2009, is a visual relative of the old original, incorporating similar material (concrete and galvanized metal) and a similar profile — stark geometrics with cement decking, shed rooflines and a tower topping out at a zoning-correct 35 feet.
Though comparatively low at three stories, its presence on the street is a visual surprise, not precisely in the shadow of the tower, and close by but far away enough for independence. It’s a companion structure, somewhat of a hip younger brother to the granary.
The home is deliberately private from a street perspective.
The enclosed patio and garage form a bulwark, but inside the windows bring the curves of the Columbia River into full view. The three floors are accessible by stairs or elevator.
A garage-style glass door opens from the center-floored great room to the big deck, and above that, in the master suite the bed is an aerie accessed by stairs for even more expansive views.
Below the main living area, a sitting room and two guest suites face water, framed by natural grasses and trees. Beautiful bathrooms abound. “I lived on a boat for so much of my life; I want bathrooms wherever I can put ’em,” Scott joked.
Scott planned the 3,800-square-foot home to withstand extremes of weather.
He declared, “When the snowbirds migrate, there’s absolutely no concern for this house.” It’s secured with deep cement pilings and a 10-inch thick basement foundation. A thousand feet of piping warms the floors; a heat-transfer system and 16 to 20 inches of urethane foam insulation provide stable temperatures.
There’s no landscaping to worry about, and the home’s care-free exterior surfaces are at least as durable as the century-old granary it respectfully emulates.
Inside the super-engineered, tough-as-nails house, things get softer.
Elegant décor choices like vases of roses under a crystal chandelier and homey additions like Kathy’s dad’s framed sheet music meld with knotty hickory floors and cabinets, muted mint green walls, deep carpeting, marble or onyx fixtures, and antique artifacts collected from around the world.
Scott’s vision reigns here. Kathy is proud of his expertise and good eye. “This is his project — I just let him do what he thinks is best in all this.”
Scott teased: “And I’ll bet you think some of my ideas are OK?” They are comfortable in their house, and yet — there’s more…
PART THREE: THE FUTURE HOUSE
The dream home, the tall one that’s lived in Scott’s mind since he first saw this relic on the river, the “flour tower,” has been a full time re-construction project for over a year, with creative problem solving high on the list of required skills.
Scott, 80 this year, said he’s entrusted the labor to his crew of two: master-of-all-trades builder John Barry and his assistant Jose Becerrel, who Scott calls “an amazingly capable guy who’s become indispensably.”
The house is still at the just-sheetrocked stage, but the roofline has been raised in a few crucial spots and the windows are in. A tour up five flights of stairs (the elevator is on hold until later) shows a masterful use of vertical space.
Simply put, this will soon be a three-bedroom home. But it will feature some very special amenities: at the entrance level is a drive-through vehicle bay and shop.
Below that, the original silo bases remain intact, but now are connected by doorways, and the boxlike subterranean rooms are cool enough to store valuable wines.
And up at the very top, 90 years ago only reachable by ladder, a glass-enclosed viewing pavilion they’ve dubbed “Moonraker” towers over the landscape.
In between the ground and the sky is ample space for both simple domestic life and as much entertaining as Scott and Kathy would ever care to do.
All the floors (1,500 square feet each) feature full view windows and high ceilings … and plenty of bathrooms.
Floor #1 is a vast hall, a salon that can comfortably hold 60, with catering kitchen and bar.
Floor #2 holds two complete guest suites.
Floor #3 features an open kitchen in its very center with a few steps on either side so that it’s flanked first by a family room and, on the far side, a formal dining room.
Floor #4 is the master suite and sitting area with two separate “his and her” bathrooms with walk-in closets.
That’s the plan, and Scott’s sticking with it. He’s following all the rules, taking the time to do it right.
He hopes that by autumn this “flour tower,” all 9,000 square feet of it, straight up, will be a long-dreamed home for him and Kathy.
It’s his place in the sun, his field of dreams, his safe port in a storm — and it may prove to be better by far than any boat.