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What's Behind That Red Door?

In the middle of million-dollar homes in the East Seattle neighborhood of Mercer Island there’s a small bungalow; a 1,000 square foot structure with no running water and no indoor plumbing. It’s a curious anomaly and a well-kept secret – except among woodworkers. It has a history that reveals the roll-up-your-shirtsleeves pioneer spirit of early Islanders, the same spirit that prompted neighbors to come together to build the Keewaydin Club (now home of the Mercer Island VFW Post 5760) for a community club.

In the late 1930s, some neighbors on the north end wanted to pool their resources and share power tools for woodworking and boat building. That was the genesis of the Mercer Island Craft Guild, a still-thriving private non-profit cooperative in the East Seattle neighborhood.

According to records kept by the late Harry Slater, 10 men from the East Seattle neighborhood got together on April 4, 1940, and formed a co-op. They bought an undersized, 30- by 90-foot lot at 2832 61st Ave. S.E. for $50 at a tax sale. And they set about building a wood shop. They salvaged most of the wood for the building from the construction of the I-90 floating bridge, and hunted up second-hand power tools. They installed a 55-gallon chip-burning barrel, which is still the only source of heat for the 1,000 square foot clubhouse. And there’s still no plumbing. In fact, inside the place looks pretty much like it must have looked 70 years ago – except for some of the high-tech, computer-controlled tools and the power vac.

Ye Old Chip Burner

Membership dues pay the bills, and members receive a key to the clubhouse and access to its tools. The number of members has ranged from 30 to 70 members through the years, with men – and occasionally women - from all walks of life and ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s. The guild is strictly for hobbyists and is not to be used for commercial purposes.

Over the years, members have gathered as needed for work parties and to do maintenance of the building. Members volunteer to cut the grass in the summer, oil the machines, and do odd jobs. Safety rules and bylaws are posted inside the shop, along with reminders to clean up after one’s self and return tools to their original places. There’s just one official gathering per year, the annual business meeting in February, usually accompanied by strong drink. It’s the only time most members ever see each other.

Nobody knows how many tables or bookcases or boxes or boats have been built in the Mercer Island Crafts Guild over the years. But one thing is sure: The Mercer Island Crafts Guild is a rare vestige of the “the old days” on Mercer Island. And it’s likely to remain proudly, even defiantly, the same for many years to come.

Some More Photos in the Craft Guild

Table Saw


Storage Lockers

Compound Miter Saw

View to the Back

MIHS Historical Plaque