To Rebuild a Landmark
On the Monday evening following the fire, a building committee of the Skagit County Historical Museum held a meeting including Mr. and Mrs. Art Herrold to explore rebuilding and restoring the landmark structure. Conversations continued throughout the year as appraisals were made, but no action was taken and the roofless building was deteriorating. Dick Fallis, owner and editor of the Puget Sound Mail and a very active historian of the area, printed a photograph of the fire-damaged building over the following caption:
"SHOULD OLD ACQUAINTANCE BE FORGOT?" the Castle Apartments, built in the 1880's as a mansion for the Gaches family, has long been a proud monument, linking present day LaConner to its rich past. Since fire destroyed the upper story last April, nothing has been done to protect the building against steady deterioration. The front chimney collapsed recently, breaking off part of the front porch, and unless something is done to preserve it, the proud building, still sound in its foundation and lower floors, will pass into oblivion" (Puget Sound Mail, December 27, 1973, p. 1).
The problem was finding funds. The Herrolds, an elderly couple, did not have the resources to do the job. (They had been tenants of the building also.) Glen H. Bartlett (1931-2010) who was active in the local business community and with the development of the LaConner Historic District, suggested that the Town of LaConner renovate the building and use it as a public library. In February 1974, at a Town Council meeting, when Bartlett made this a formal proposal, then mayor Fred Martin surprised everyone by noting that funds could be made available for a complete restoration if the town's proposal for a National Register of Historic Places historic district was formally adopted. Apparently, the town had applied for this status through the state (as one does) a year earlier and the proposal had not yet been passed on to the National Register for evaluation. Martin urged interested people to communicate with the Washington State Office of Archeological and Historical Preservation to facilitate National Register status.
Just a few days before the Town Council Meeting, Glen Bartlett, his wife Kay J. Bartlett (1936-2008), and Dick Fallis (Richard E. Fallis, 1926-2011), had called a meeting at the Nordic Inn (now Hotel Planter) to talk about the future of the Castle Apartments. Twenty-three people came, and began to take steps to evaluate just what it would take to make the restoration. There was enough interest in the group, and among those who attended the Town Council meeting the next evening, to unstick the historic district proposal from Olympia.
The group, calling itself LaConner Landmarks, conducted appraisals, organized as a nonprofit organization, and was formally ready to accept the National Park Service matching grant for $21,844 made available in August 1974. By then, the community had raised $10,000 to purchase the building and the LaConner Historic District had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Fundraising, to match the grant and to fund the rest of the restoration project went on continuously for the next several years, as volunteers worked with experts to clear, clean, and restore the old Gaches Mansion. By 1978, the Gaches Mansion was restored.
La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum
At first the Gaches Mansion was available for rental for special gatherings and open on weekends, staffed by volunteers. Among the earlier participants in the restoration effort was photographer Art Hupy (1925-2003). He and his wife Rita moved to LaConner in 1977, where Art rented shop space for a gallery. In April 1980, he rented the second floor of the mansion and moved the gallery there. Specializing in the work of Northwest artists and his own work, the gallery became known as the Valley Museum of Northwest Art. Over time, the museum expanded and in 1995 it moved down the hill and became the Museum of Northwest Art.
The mansion has three floors. The first floor remained available for special occasions. Soon after Art Hupy moved his gallery in, a group of quilters set up a quilt frame on the third floor. Rita Hupy had been interested in quilting and textiles for some time, and had donated quilts to the restoration effort. She, in 1997, with the other quilters of the LaConner area, began to form a quilt museum in the Gaches Mansion. The La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum was born. In 2005 the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum purchased the Gaches Mansion.
Today, visitors can take a double tour in the Gaches Mansion. The mansion's first floor retains a collection of Victorian furniture and memorabilia, showcasing the Mansion as it would have appeared in the 1890s. The top two floors offer gallery space for quarterly refreshed displays of both contemporary and historic quilt makers' art works.