A decade ago, Peter Bevis left Seattle, the city that broke his heart. He had certainly tried this city.
In a 2008 oral history, he admitted, “I don’t think Seattle is capable of that.”
The city just couldn’t fulfill the dreams of this passionate sculptor, who is always associated with a failed quest to save the Kalakala ferry. This was the boat that mesmerized generations of Seattleans with its visual elegance.
It ended up as a rusting colossus and was scrapped in 2015 except for a few souvenir chunks.
We’re a techie now. It’s about data analysis, not old relics and eccentrics.
Bevis died July 12 at a hospital in Coronado, the resort town on California’s San Diego Bay where he lived, says Gretchen Bevis, his sister, who lives in Cashmere, Chelan County. She says he died of massive kidney and liver failure and was on dialysis. He was 69.
His dreams? Bevis had a lot.
In addition to the Kalakala saga, which trapped him in a spiral, he pursued the establishment of the Fremont Foundry in 1981. It would be “a caring kind of community,” he said, for artists to live and work in.
That dream also ended. The building still exists, but there are no artists there. It is a place for weddings, corporate and other events.
Bevis funded his projects with earnings from Alaskan fishing, bank loans, as many as 10 credit cards and an inheritance from an uncle, according to an April 26, 1998 Seattle Times story. He did much of the work at the foundry himself, demolished an old house on the property with a jackhammer and dug a hole in the ground to cast bronze.
One of his projects is still standing.
It’s this 16-foot, 7-ton bronze statue of Lenin in the heart of Fremont. In 1995 Bevis brought her here, the statue then and now a source of controversy. He shrugged off the offended. It was art.
The communist hero’s hands were regularly painted blood red, and the statue these days is stained with yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
When word broke that Bevis had died on the Seattle Vintage Facebook page, which has 107,000 members, dozens of posts went up.
David Ruble had something to say. He is a Bellevue software consultant who for a time joined Bevis’ fateful crusade to save the Kalakala.
“I think he felt betrayed and his city turned their backs on him,” Ruble wrote.
In an interview, he says he hasn’t spoken to Bevis in 20 years. The news of the sculptor’s death shook him. “I think he should be remembered as a visionary who achieved the impossible.” ruble says.
Bevis was an artist with no business plan for the boat. “He didn’t come around does justice to reality,” says Ruble.
By 2003, the Kalakala Foundation filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, having already ousted Bevis from the board.
This old boat. . . She refuses to leave our collective memories.
The Kalakala was the 276-foot Art Deco masterpiece with a rounded nose and steel panels coated in lustrous aluminum paint. She was Space Age, at least when she was launched on July 2, 1935.
She navigated the waters of Puget Sound, ferrying commuting workers between Seattle and the Bremerton Naval Dockyard. The Kalakala once had upholstered chairs and housed its own eight-piece moonlight dance orchestra.
Even now, her appeal is such that all you have to do is look at a postcard of the boat and it’s mesmerizing.
The state auctioned off the old ferry in 1967. She ended up in Alaska processing fish and canning. Then, useless for that, she was left on a beach in Kodiak, stuck in the mud.
Bevis first saw the deserted Kalakala in 1985 while working as a commercial fisherman in Kodiak with his older brother Jock Bevis. He was smitten.
He would conclude “. . . she wants to go home, she wants to float. . .”
Bevis led a group of believers to this beach in 1998, freed the Kalakala and dragged them to Seattle amid cheering crowds.
Estimates for their restoration reached $25 million. Cheers and good wishes did not result in large donations.
Ruble says the Kalakala could have been saved by turning it into a waterfront destination with a restaurant, cocktail lounge, ballroom and conference space.
“We had a short list of practically every rich person in town and every government agency. For a year Peter wore a suit and tie and we did a presentation. The first step was someone saying ‘yes’,” says Ruble.
Nobody stepped forward. The city’s new deep pockets had no history or “irrational affinity” with the old boat, Ruble says.
A December 7, 1998 Seattle Times profile of Bevis said: “Like anyone who is glowing with confidence when they have every good reason not to, Bevis can be unshakable and insufferable, inspirational and irritating.”
Over the years, the story goes, he left a trail of girlfriends, spouses, administrators and volunteers: “Once he set off firecrackers near a friend’s ear. He dumped a girlfriend in a portable toilet after a drunk party; The fall injured her face so badly that plastic surgery was required. King County court records are littered with Bevis’s names: a restraining order obtained against him in 1997 by the same scarred girlfriend, and an ugly filing for divorce from his second marriage.”
Bevis’ legacy also involves him using money he earned fishing for another off-world project.
Slowly, literally wall by wall, he established the Fremont Foundry, which would have 11 apartments with showers and ovens alongside sweat tanks and uncut granite.
Fremont called himself a then “Artist Republic,” and Bevis believed he could create such a Mecca. It should not be.
In 2012, Bevis sold the foundry for $2.1 million. He was in debt to the Kalakala and it was no longer the Fremont that had attracted him. It now includes sprawling Google and Adobe offices.
The vision of a community of artists?
“It’s pretty worn down,” Bevis told KOMO News that year when he announced the sale of the foundry. This foundry is now a venue rented for weddings, corporate and other events, with summer rates ranging from $5,000 to $9,500.
Like many things in his life, Bevis’ preoccupation with the Lenin statue came about in an unusual way.
As much as he had been moved To help a ferry stuck in Alaskan mud, Bevis was forced to retrieve the massive statue of Lenin from an Issaquah pasture of all places. The statue had come to Issaquah courtesy of Lewis Carpenter, an Eastside entrepreneur who taught English in Slovakia in 1993, and had seen it in a city dump.
When Carpenter died in a car accident, his family had to find someone who wanted Lenin.
Bevis stepped forward.
In a June 1, 1995 Seattle Times story, he explained that the statue had become personal to him.
“My own brother died in a fishing accident in Alaska two years ago and I saw my own family still grieve over that loss,” he said, referring to Jock Bevis, whom he long mourned.
He continued, “I wanted to help Lewis finish his project. Standing there in the pasture, the statue was a symbol of the pain my family had gone through.”
In death, as in life, things were complicated for Peter Bevis.
He is survived by his sister and a brother, Tony Bevis, of Colorado Springs. Gretchen Bevis says a bank is the executor of his estate, but she doesn’t know much more.
It’s likely that Bevis’ remains were taken from Coronado — where he bought his late mother’s home — to Peshastin, in Chelan County, where he grew up.
Pamela Belyea, co-founder of what is now Seattle’s Gage Academy of Art, says Bevis knew he was going to die and hired her to organize and write about his life. She had access to his oral history and is putting together a website about him and his sculptures, as well as a Wikipedia page.
“Peter had so many ideas, so much excitement,” she says.
Every once in a while we have to give credit to people like Bevis.
Seattle’s Cindi Laws says she was close to Bevis for a time in the late 1990s.
Laws says, “It’s the characters that Seattle’s streets are named after. Who are the dreamers now? We admire them a bit and then spit them out.”