Naval Museum getting ready to get under way

By mid-summer Navy cruisers and aircraft carriers could be steaming down Washington Avenue.

It will be no parade, but the Bremerton Naval Museum facing a massive move of more than 8,000 artifacts and memorabilia.

According to Lyle Nelson, a museum boardmember, a search committee is trying to find a temporary, two-year location for the museum.

The committee is a little nervous.

“We are at the concerned stage,” Nelson said. “We have a couple of sites under consideration. If you have a place to put us, I would be happy to hear about it.”

Nelson said because of the museum’s criteria, there are “slim pickings” downtown, although a couple of sites could be suitable.

The museum is designated for a permanent home inside the shipyard’s historic Building 50, once it is moved near a park setting near the Bremerton Transportation Center. But that won’t happen for perhaps two years,

The museum must vacate their site at 130 Washington Avenue, which is owned by Kitsap Transit, by Aug. 31, according to Wendy Clark, the transit’s capital facilities director. The Enetai Building is being demolished to make way for construction of the city’s new conference center and hotel complex set to begin in early 2003.

Kathleen McCluskey, city of Bremerton’s administrative services director, said although the museum pays rent on the 6,000 square feet it rents from Kitsap Transit, the artifacts are the responsibility of the city — on loan from the Navy.

McCluskey said the city will have a say in the temporary location of the museum.

“They (the museum) have a lot to say about the site,” she said. “We need to be in the approval loop because the actual artifacts are in control of the city.”

She said all meetings about the upcoming move have been amiable between the city, Kitsap Transit and the museum.

“This is a partnership,” she said.

The museum, which operates on a shoestring budget, will not have to pay for the move. Whether the city or Kitsap Transit will assist the museum financially in the move, still seems to be a question of debate.

McCluskey said the city will probably use volunteer Navy labor and possibly a “professional mover” for the heavy or fragile items in the museum’s collection.

The museum recorded 21,200 visitors last year, down slightly from previous years, due to transportation center construction. When the battleship USS Missouri was still docked in Bremerton, the Museum drew 30,000 visitors annually.

Sales at the museum gift shop netted $5,500 in 2001. The museum does not charge admission, partly not to discourage visitors.

The museum’s artifacts are currently listed on 2,300 cards, each of which may have from one to 30 or 40 items, Nelson said. He and interim museum director Charleen Zettl said the collection is currently being entered on a computer — a massive project just now about “20 percent complete.”

Among the museum’s most valuable artifacts are a Korean wooden cannon from the 1500s, various Navy ceremonial swords, and elaborate leviathan plastic models of the carriers USS Hancock, USS Midway and the cruiser USS Richmond.

“It’s almost impossible to replace them or to put a price tag on them,” Nelson said of the models. He said the Navy doesn’t make them anymore.

The museum’s official name registered with the state of Washington is the “Naval Memorial Museum of the Pacific.” None of the 15 active volunteers has ever been paid a penny for working at the museum.

“We need a foundation that would be a dependable source of funding,” said Zettl.

“We are not breaking even as a museum,” Nelson said, adding that the museum is digging into its limited reserves for day-to-day operations.

Both agree that the museum would benefit greatly by hiring a paid, full-time director/curator.

“Bremerton has to have attractions that will bring people into the city,” said Nelson, a volunteer since 1995. “The museum must remain as a viable attraction.”

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