Bremerton was incorporated on October 15, 1901, with Alvyn Croxton serving as the city’s first mayor. Progress in the new city soon faced a major crisis, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles Darling moved all repair work to the Mare Island Navy Yard in California in November 1902. Darling cited reports from commanders that the Bremerton waterfront was rife with prostitution, opium houses and frequent strongarmed robberies of sailors. Politics were probably also at play, as local newspapers reported that the city’s incorporation left the shipyard essentially landlocked without room to expand. A dispute ensued between Mayor Croxton, who wanted to shutter all saloons in Bremerton, and three members of the city council, who attempted to block his efforts. Croxton eventually won out, and the council voted to revoke all liquor licenses in June 1904. With the ban, Darling reestablished the navy yard as a port of call. Saloons had begun to return to business within two years, however.
Photo: Bremerton’s Municipal Officers in 1901, featuring Mayor Alvyn Croxton courtesy of Kitsap Museum.
In 1908, the city library and Union High School were established to serve the educational needs of the 2,993 residents recorded in the 1910 U.S. Census. During World War I, submarine construction and the addition of a third drydock caused the shipyard’s workforce to balloon to over 4,000 employees. Growth due to the war effort and the 1918 annexation of the city of Manette, east of Bremerton on the Port Washington Narrows, can be seen in the 1920 census, which reported a population of 8,918. Bremerton absorbed Charleston, its neighboring city to the south in 1927. The population reached 10,170 in 1930.
Photo: Washington School on Burwell Street built in 1919. Photo courtesy of Kitsap Museum.
Photo: Manette in 1907, courtesy of Kitsap Museum
Manette was linked to Bremerton by the Manette Bridge, a 1,573-foot (479 m) bridge constructed in June 1930. Prior to this time, the trip could only be made by ferry or a long trip around Dyes Inlet through Chico, Silverdale, and Tracyton on mostly unimproved roads. This wooden bridge was replaced with a concrete and steel structure in October 1949. It was replaced by the new Manette Bridge in 2011. At the shipyard, the 250-foot tall (76 m) Hammerhead Crane No. 28 was completed in April 1933. One of the nation’s largest, it is capable of lifting 250 tons and continues to dominate the Bremerton skyline.
Bremerton’s Admiral Theater opened in 1942 as a cinema; in the 1990s it was remodeled for performances and banquets.
Photo left: Opening in 1942 courtesy of the Admiral Theater’s Facebook Photos | Photo right: Admiral theater today courtesy of the Kitsap Sun
Presidential Visits to Bremerton
During the 1940s, presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman both visited Bremerton. Roosevelt made a campaign stop at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on August 12, 1944, giving a national radio address in front of a backdrop of civilian workers.
Local legend has it that a man in the large Pacific Avenue crowd yelled the infamous “Give ’em hell, Harry!” line for the first time. This is a matter of dispute, however, as local newspapers quoted the man as having shouted “Lay it on, Harry!” Despite this, there is a bronze plaque attached to the corner of the building declaring that spot to be the place where the phrase “Give ’em hell, Harry” was first uttered.
Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt speaking to all the employees of the Naval Shipyard. Courtesy of Kitsap Museum.
With the return of World War II GIs to the homefront, the need for post-secondary education became evident to officials of the Bremerton School District. Olympic Junior College (now Olympic College), a two-year institution, opened its doors to 575 students in the fall of 1946. Initially, it operated in the former Lincoln School building, gradually moving operations to World War II–surplus Quonset buildings at its current 16th & Chester site. About 100 students received associate degrees at the first commencement exercises held June 10, 1948. President Truman was in attendance and received the college’s first honorary degree. Operation of the college transferred from the school district to the state of Washington in 1967.
The 1950s and 1960s were a period of stability for the city. A second high school opened in 1956, and two comprehensive high schools operated in the city until 1978. Growth in East Bremerton necessitated the construction of another span across the Port Washington Narrows in 1958. The $5.3 million, four-lane Warren Avenue Bridge allowed for increased traffic on State Highway 21-B (now State Route 303).
The battleship USS Missouri, site of the Japanese surrender treaty signing that ended World War II, was assigned to the Pacific Reserve Fleet at PSNS in 1955. For 30 years, she served as the city’s primary tourist attraction. Hundreds of thousands of visitors walked the “surrender deck” before the ship was recommissioned in 1985. She was decommissioned on March 31, 1992 (final), and her name was struck off the register on January 12, 1995. In 1998 “Mighty Mo” was donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association and became a museum ship at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Photo: USS Missouri on 9/20/1988 in Bremerton. Courtesy of Kitsap Sun.
Population growth was flat, with 26,681 enumerated in the 1960 census, leading Bremerton leaders to annex the shipyard the following year in an effort to include stationed sailors in those figures. While the Vietnam War spawned protests and sit-ins on the Olympic College campus, the city was relatively free of civil disorder during the 1960s.
With the 1973 selection of the Bangor Ammunition Depot 12 miles (19 km) northwest of Bremerton as the Pacific home of the new Trident submarine fleet, residential and commercial development began to move north, closer to Silverdale, and farther from the Bremerton downtown core. Numerous failed proposals were made at redevelopment beginning in the early 1970s, including discussions of a waterfront hotel and the erection of a large canopy over the central business district. Meanwhile, most of the city’s office and retail space remained in the hands of Edward Bremer, son of William Bremer and the sole remaining heir to his wealth. (In order to receive their inheritance, William Bremer’s three children were honor-bound to never marry.) Bremer began to neglect his properties, never increasing decades-old lease rates and failing to make necessary maintenance upgrades. In 1978, the Bremerton City Council passed an ordinance declaring the entire downtown a “blighted area”.
In 1985, Safeco subsidiary Winmar Corporation developed the Kitsap Mall in Silverdale. With lower taxes and minimal planning regulations in the unincorporated town, Silverdale achieved virtually unfettered growth. Sears, J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward, Nordstrom Place Two, Woolworth and Rite Aid all closed their downtown Bremerton stores in the 1980s and ’90s. Upon the death of Edward Bremer in 1987, the Bremer properties were placed under the complete control of a trust held by Olympic College. Not being in the real-estate business, the college did not actively market its holdings, and the downtown was composed almost entirely of very large empty storefronts.
Despite a hard-fought battle throughout the mid-1990s by local politicians to have the decommissioned and mothballed USS Missouri, already in the Bremerton Navy Yard, stay in Bremerton as a museum ship and tourist attraction, Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton awarded the ship to the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hawaii, in 1998. It now sits near the USS Arizona Memorial to demonstrate where U.S. involvement in World War II started on December 7, 1941, and where it ended by the signing of the instrument of surrender by the Japanese on board the USS Missouri, on September 2, 1945.
Beginning with the building of a waterfront boardwalk and marina in 1992, Bremerton had begun the process of revitalizing its downtown community. That same year, the Bremerton Historic Ships Association opened the destroyer USS Turner Joy (DD-951) to public tours at the end of the boardwalk; the ship was built in the Puget Sound area in 1958, commissioned in 1959, and had played a back-up role in the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident that further escalated U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War with the Congressional passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, allowing President Lyndon B. Johnson to send fighting troops in addition to the “advisors” already on the ground in Vietnam.
Photo: USS Turner Joy docked in Bremerton. Courtesy of USSTurnerJoy.org
Bremerton saw the opening of the waterfront multimodal bus/ferry terminal and a hotel/conference center complex in 2004. The high-rise Norm Dicks Government Center also opened that year, housing City Hall and other government offices. The Waterfront Fountain Park and Naval History Museum adjacent to the Bremerton Bus/Ferry Terminal opened in 2007, and a newly expanded marina with more boat capacity was completed in 2008. Condominiums were built on the waterfront to lure more people to live and shop in the downtown area as part of the revitalization effort.
The 2.5-acre Harborside Fountain Park opened on May 5, 2007. Located on the waterfront just steps away from the Kitsap Conference Center, the park features five large copper-ringed fountains, wading pools, and lush landscaping. The park also home to the Harborside Heritage Naval Museum.