Castle Apartments (Gaches Mansion) in La Conner burns on April 8, 1973.

  • By Dotty DeCoster
  • Posted 7/21/2011
  • Essay 9880
On Sunday, April 8, 1973, in a spectacular early morning fire, the three-story Castle Apartments in LaConner owned by Art Herrold (1888-1973) and Mary Fanny (Watrous) Herrold (1889-1991) loses its third floor and roof and sustains significant damage. Fortunately, the third floor tenant, where the fire first appears, is not at home, and all the tenants escape without injury. The wood building, a fine example of domestic Victorian architecture, was originally built in 1891 for the George Gaches family, and is listed as part of the LaConner Historic District proposal submitted to the state for national register status in 1973. The building is located at 702 S 2nd Street on the ridge above downtown. It will ultimately be restored and become the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum.

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. 

Sources: Janna Gage, Gaches Mansion:  An Historic Landmark Preserved (La Conner: Heirloom Books, 2009); "Seek Restoration of Fire-Damaged Landmark," Puget Sound Mail, April 12, 1973, p. 1; "Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?," Puget Sound Mail, December 27, 1973, p. 1; "Council Considers Castle Among Other Matters," Puget Sound Mail, February 14, 1974, p. 1; "Historic House in La Conner Wins Restoration Grant," The Seattle Times, August 11, 1974, p. 95; Regina Hackett, "Art Hupy, dead at 78," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 20, 2003; "In Memoriam: Dick Fallis," Skagit County Historical Society Quarterly Newsletter, Spring 2011, p. 3; "Richard E. "Dick" Fallis (1926–2011), Skagit Valley Herald Publishing Company, January 26, 2011, Go Skagit (Skagit County's Homepage wesbsite accessed July 9, 2011 ( =1&stateid=61&affiliateid=1840); Glen H. Bartlett, obituary, Kern Funeral Home website accessed July 9, 2011 (; "Kay J. Bartlett, obituary,"  Kern Funeral Home website accessed July 9, 2011 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Gaches Mansion, La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum, La Conner" (by Dotty DeCoster), (accessed July 10, 2010).

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