Photo by Eric Mathison
Full-sized cardboard cutouts of Herman and Annie Draper and the Children’s Industrial Home Band seem to serenade a guest as she enters the Beach Park Auditorium.

Auditorium at historic Des Moines beach site holds grand opening

The city of Des Moines held the grand opening of its Beach Park Auditorium with a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday, July 11.

Located in the city’s Beach Park, the facility is available to the public to rent for private events including weddings, reunions, company events and trainings.

The auditorium is 3,700 square feet with an 18’ X 25’ built in stage and tiled patio. The facility can accommodate up to 500 people with reception seating.

It boasts stained glass windows, cathedral ceiling and exposed Pacific Northwest-style wood beams.

Des Moines Mayor Dave Kaplan and King County Executive Dow Constantine led dignitaries in cutting the ribbon to officially open the facility.

The restoration of the auditorium is part of the city’s rehabilitation of the Beach Park National Historic Site.

The park is considered the birthplace of Des Moines. Settlement of the Des Moines area began there in the 1800s. There is evidence Native Americans used the site before then.

Since settlement, the site has had a very colorful history. It was one of the early European-American settlements along the shores of Puget Sound.

A dance hall and a private recreational park and play space for the children of the Children’s Industrial Home was created by Herman and Annie Draper between 1917 and 1931. Full-sized cutouts of the Drapers and their juvenile band members greeted the guests as they entered the auditorium on Wednesday,

The Covenant Beach Bible Camp with rustic cabins and communal buildings dotted the landscape from 1931 to 1986.

It became Des Moines Beach Park in late 1987.

In pioneer days, approximately 100 camps dotted the region. Covenant Beach Bible Camp is the most intact of the few remaining church camps located within the urbanized Puget Sound region.

Des Moines acquired the park in the late 1980s with a citizen-voted bond issue and matching funds from King County and Washington state.

Since then the structures have been used for recreational purposes such as a senior center, day camps, public rentals and community special events.

Beach Park, also known as the Covenant Beach Bible Camp Historic District, is listed on the Washington state, King County and Des Moines Historic Registers and in 2006 Gov. Chris Gregoire joined the city as it commemorated its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Not only is the site significant to city officials because of its historic value but also as a central part of Des Moines’ economic development strategy.

City officials note that historic preservation efforts are excellent investments for cities to make in their communities, often returning multiple dollars to the community for each dollar spent.

The historic district is adjacent to the Des Moines Marina and within the downtown/Waterfront District and provides the terminus for the Des Moines Creek Trail.

Des Moines officials hope these combined amenities will create a synergistic effect for the revitalization of the city’s downtown and create vibrancy and local living wage jobs necessary for the sustainability of South King County.

A business and marketing plan has been developed by the city to maximize future building access and uses and to provide adequate revenues for the ongoing maintenance and operation of the historic district.

Seattle Southside Visitor Services, which serves Des Moines, SeaTac, Tukwila and Kent, works with the city to actively market Beach Park to the hospitality industry as a tourism destination.

In 2005, Des Moines began working on a plan to rehabilitate the camp buildings, beginning with the auditorium built in 1957 by the Covenant Church camp and the dining hall built over Des Moines Creek in 1934.

The total cost to rehabilitate the auditorium was $2,004,798 with $542,375 appropriated from the Washington State Department of Commerce; $50,000 appropriated from a King County Community Development Block Grant; and the remaining $1,412,423 from the city of Des Moines Capital Improvement Program.

The projects to reopen the auditorium were completed in phases as funds were made available beginning in 2007 and following important work along Des Moines Creek, upstream of the park, to reduce site flooding.

Staffers note there were a few project hiccups that delayed the completion and reopening of the building.

Another Beach Park rehabilitation project that is underway, again in phases, is the historic dining hall. This project received a $1 million grant from the Washington Heritage Capital Grant Fund. Funds have helped to lift the building above the 100-year flood plain and to construct and new foundation and decking.

An additional $800,500 is needed to complete building improvements and reopen the building. The project was recently reviewed and has been recommended to receive a second heritage grant in the next biennium.

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