Downtown landmark is now ‘Austin-Kvelstad Pavilion’

Downtown Poulsbo's Kvelstad Pavilion will be renamed the Austin-Kvelstad Pavilion.

POULSBO — It was a win-win decision.

The Poulsbo City Council was faced March 18 with a decision to rename the pavilion at Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park. The sentiment was to honor Poulsbo booster Bill Austin with his name on the structure.

The problem for some in the community, however, was that the pavilion was already named in honor of a prominent Poulsbo resident, Rangvald Kvelstad.

The council’s solution: put both names on the pavilion.

“I would not want to remove a name, but to add a name,” Councilwoman Connie Lord said. “I would like it to be the Kvelstad-Austin Pavilion.”

Lord said she would like to have a plaque detailing each man’s contributions to the community.

Councilman Ed Stern liked the suggestion, but had one twist.

“Without splitting hairs, and splitting the community, I would like to suggest we switch it around and name it the Austin-Kvelstad Pavilion,” he said.

The decision comes shortly before Austin’s 80th birthday in May. The Greater Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce is planning an event to honor him on May 2 at the pavilion.

Before the decision was made, the issue drew a crowd of those for and against adding Austin’s name to the structure.

“The pavilion, the mural, senior center, Hare and Hounds, phone booth, Viking statue, Bight of Poulsbo, all the buildings in the intersection of Bond and Lindvig,” Ben Holland listed off for the council. “The Christmas lights, the Valentine’s lights, the Marine Science Center, the countless volunteer hours, fountains at both ends of town, Oyster Park. He’s relentless in the pursuit of the beautification of Poulsbo.”

He added, “All those have something to do with Mr. Austin, and I support renaming the pavilion in his honor.”

Margene Smaaladen had Kvelstad as a history teacher when she was in high school — she called him Mr. K back then.

“I was also here when the pavilion became the brainstorm of Bill Austin,” she said. “It was his idea and he built it. I remember Bill keeping watch over the pavilion during a huge wind storm because he was afraid it would blow down.”

Smaaladen also read from a 1984 newspaper article that quoted Kvelstad’s reticence about his name being attached to the pavilion.

“I know of at least 100 people whose names should be on that pavilion,” Kvelstad is quoted as saying.

“Without them, there would have been no pavilion. I was just a minor catalyst. There have been so many people working on it and so few getting credit for it. That’s why it’s extremely ridiculous to put my name on it.”

Others in the crowd agreed that the pavilion should be renamed in Austin’s honor, but not everyone.

“When you honor someone by naming a building for them, then remove that name for someone else, isn’t that dishonoring them?” Judy Morgan said at the meeting.

Morgan said the community has gone to great effort to brand the city as a Norwegian-themed town, in reflection of its earliest Scandinavian settlers, and removing a Norwegian name from the pavilion would be contrary to that effort.

Barbara Mitchusson, whose late husband, Mitch Mitchusson, served as Poulsbo mayor from 1985-1998, said, “I know my husband would not have wanted to change the course of our history by changing the name of the Kvelstad Pavilion. I urge you to consider naming another structure that has no name, such as the Marine Science Center.”

Both arguments faded to the sound of applause as the two-name compromise was made.

The namesakes

Austin, an English-born signmaker by trade, has long worked to beautify the downtown area. He bought and revitalized properties, and established a non-profit — the Bight of Poulsbo — to work on community improvement projects, among them construction of Kvelstad Pavilion. He served as a board member of the Marine Science Center and Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association.

In January 2013, the Chamber of Commerce presented Austin with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kvelstad (1906-1998) was born in Norway and was a longtime teacher in Poulsbo schools. As a historian and writer, he documented Poulsbo’s history in articles for historical society publications. He authored “Poulsbo, Its First Hundred Years” in 1986 and co-authored “Kitsap County A History: A Story of Kitsap County and its Pioneers” in 1981.

The Rangvald Kvelstad Teacher of the Year Foundation is named for him.