Historically, resort communities followed a regular annual cycle. Summer, with long days, warm weather and abundant sunshine, was the busy season, with summer residents, vacationers, day-trippers and seasonal staff. In winter, days are shorter, and resorts usually closed; the part-time staff returned to school or other jobs, and activity seemed muted. Often appearing to be a period of rest, winter was also the time when repairs were made and preparations were begun for the following season.
The Northwest has been the site of many such annual cycles, though today it can be difficult to imagine the character of early Puget Sound resorts.
It was not until the 1920s that the state’s road network reached many coastal communities. The development of rustic family resorts soon followed. These resorts typically provided small, low-cost cabins or tent areas, cooking facilities, small stores and boat rentals. Larger resorts might also offer organized activities. Vacationers would often bring or purchase fishing gear, rent boats and easily learn to catch the still-plentiful fish. In the 1930s and 40s, Puget Sound was dotted with such resorts. Camano Island alone likely had 14 or 15 and possibly as many as 20. Today, just one of these survives: No longer privately owned, Cama Beach Resort is now Cama Beach State Park.
The resort dates to the 1930s. LeRoy Stradley, a Seattle businessman, acquired its 434–acre site in 1933, and by May of the next year, Cama Beach Resort, with forty cottages, boat sheds, a store, bath house and recreation hall, was open for guests. After Stradley died unexpectedly in 1938, management was taken over by Muriel and Lee Risk, who kept the resort going for the next 50 years. Many guests came every year; some stayed a few days, others a few weeks or even a month. It was a place to get away from the city, to get out on the water, to see old friends or make new ones.
In the 1960s and 70s almost all such Puget Sound resorts disappeared. The original owners aged, land values increased and fish populations declined. At the same time, many people bought their own campers and boats, others built second homes, and air travel brought many more destinations within easy reach. After 1964, Cama Beach was the only such resort that survived on Camano Island.
Cama Beach Resort closed in 1989. A year later Muriel Risk died, and her family faced the question of what to do. Other resorts like this had disappeared—would Cama Beach be any different? In 1991, the heirs had their first discussions with the Washington State Parks Commission, initiating an extraordinarily complex and challenging multi-year process of transferring ownership of the resort by donation and sale, creating Cama Beach State Park.
Once the transfers were completed, the project moved through planning, design and construction. The planning team, which was headed by Atelier ps and included Larson Anthropological/Archaeological Services, completed the park masterplan in 1997. Maintaining the historic character of the site was central to the masterplan. Visitors to the park leave cars in new parking areas outside the historic district and modern amenities (including sanitary sewer, water, power and fire suppression) are hidden from view. Parametrix led the team responsible for masterplanning, site layout, overall engineering and design, and construction administration; architect Mark VanVliet designed the new entrance and buildings near the parking area, as well as restoration of the historic resort cabins. Leavengood Architects designed the new retreat lodge/dining hall. Florence (“Flo”) Lentz prepared a National Register nomination for the resort; it was listed in 2000. Groundbreaking for construction took place in 2002, but most construction was delayed until 2006–2007. The grand opening of the new state park occurred in June 2008.
Today, Cama Beach includes 33 rehabilitated waterfront cabins. The 24 “standard” cabins are arranged in two rows along the shoreline looking out to Saratoga Passage; seven “deluxe” cabins form a separate row slightly to the south, and two bungalows are to the north. The cedar interiors have been refinished and amenities like electric heat and lights, refrigerators and microwaves have been added to accommodate contemporary expectations. Volunteer quilters made over 100 quilts and window coverings, and volunteer wood- workers made furniture for the historic cabins. North of the cabins, rehabilitated structures include the park office and store. The historic gas pumps in front of the store are no longer used; as envisioned, parking is now concentrated atop the bluff, leaving the cabin area relatively free of traffic. Between the standard and deluxe cabins is a large boat shed, dating from 1950, now home to a branch of Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats.
The phrase most often used to describe Cama Beach is “time capsule.” In this sense, it represents a preservation project of the best kind. The buildings have been updated, yet the experience is of a time gone by that captures for us a simpler time in the life of Puget Sound.