Effort underway to keep good times rolling

— Created February 18, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed Whidbey Weekly

An Oak Harbor man is asking the Whidbey Island community to help save an iconic part of history – the Roller Barn.

Oak Harbor businessman James Croft and his family are purchasing the historic building but need fundraising help to make it happen. Croft outlined his plans to save the structure Sunday evening at a community rally at the Roller Barn.

“To me, it’s about retaining a part of our heritage,” said Croft. “It’s important. All of us who grew up here remember the Roller Barn. It’s part of our community.

“This was originally a dairy barn,” he continued, referring to a historical photograph showing the barn when it was finished in 1913. “The land behind it doesn’t have any buildings around, it was by itself. So this barn actually got an opportunity to watch the entire city grow around it. Consider this – in 1912, 1913 they didn’t have a Makita drill on their site, they didn’t have power tools, they didn’t have cranes. That barn was built by bending that lumber…all of it was built by hand.”

The original 360-acre farm was owned by a sea captain named George Morse. James Neil purchased the farm in the early 1900s, hiring Otto Van Dyk to build the barn in 1912. Soren Rasmussen and Darrell Ellis purchased the property in 1950, converting the barn and opening it as a roller-skating rink.

The Boys and Girls Club of Oak Harbor has owned the property since 1994. The organization has moved into a new facility and is selling the Roller Barn to help facilitate renovations at its new location. After an initial offer to purchase and potentially demolish the barn fell through, Croft decided to step in. But he said he needs help to make it happen. He is hoping to raise $40,000 by Feb. 22 and another $40,000 by March 31 to seal the deal.

“I’ve never done fundraising,” he said. “I’ve owned businesses, where you do it on your own and use your own capital…but I’ve never done anything like this. This is all brand-new territory.”

In addition to selling mugs and T-shirts, Croft is selling annual memberships to help raise money. Cost will range from $19.99 to $999, and will feature options for basic, unlimited and lifetime memberships for one person or a family. People can also buy a “Gift of Skate” option, which allows those gift memberships to be donated to those who can’t afford to purchase one. Croft is also offering sponsorships at silver, gold and platinum levels. A Battle of the Bands fundraising event has also been scheduled for Feb. 22.

“The idea with Battle of the Bands is any local groups [or performers] can sign up. We’ll have an all-day concert where you can come and go as you like,” Croft explained. “There will be an admission fee and people will be asked who they’ve come to see. That group will get a check mark by its name and at the end, whoever gets the most check marks wins Battle of the Bands. You could actually be a terrible singer, but if you get the most people coming to the barn to see you, you win.”

The biggest thing for Croft in all this is preserving this part of Oak Harbor’s past. He said the Roller Barn has simply touched too many lives over the years to allow it to be forgotten.

“How many of you have actually been in here roller skating?” he asked. “And it doesn’t matter what generation you’re from. If you’re from the 50s when this opened up, you were one of the first to see it. If you were born in the 90s, well, you probably came here as a Boys and Girls Club member. If you were born in the 2000s and beyond, you’re still part of the Boys and Girls Club generation. I skated here in the 80s.”

Croft plans to bring back the fun and nostalgia of this community gathering spot while upgrading and adding to what will be offered. Short term goals include adding laser tag on the bottom level of the barn along with pinball and video games. Look for that to be up and running in February. Other plans call for bringing back open public skating and eventually, Croft wants to add youth sport skating, such as roller hockey, youth roller derby, speed skating and roller dancing.

An upgraded snack bar is part of the plan as well, in addition to adding a small, interactive museum focused on the agricultural history of the area.

Maintaining the connection to the Boys and Girls Club is also important to Croft. The proposed plan would allow the organization to continue to use the Roller Barn for its events, Frightville included, for at least the next five years. And, said Croft, contributing to the purchase helps support the community.

“Everything you donate to us, is going to give back to the community in one way or another,” he said. “If you give, we give back. If for some reason we are not able to make it, your money doesn’t just go away. Your money goes back to you. So if you bought a membership or you bought a sponsorship and [this doesn’t happen], you will get it all back.”

Long term plans include preserving the building itself, which needs some significant repairs.

“Once we get into the barn and are established, we’re going to apply for a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit for the barn restoration,” said Croft. “The outside of the barn is in need of help. Estimates to repair the roof, if we were to do just the shingles, we’re at about $150- to $200,000. The problem is the roof needs more than that. To re-engineer the roof, rebuild the roof, restructure those cupolas, we’re looking at probably between a half million to $750,000 remodel project.”

Becoming a nonprofit will allow them to go after some of the many grants available to historical buildings.

“Those grants will hopefully help us get to where we want to go, with the end goal of getting the barn rebuilt to the way it was,” he said. “On the exterior of the barn, there’s not going to be anything fancy added or anything new. We want to keep it as traditional as we possibly can.”

Ultimately, and because of the memories attached to the Roller Barn, Croft wants to protect the historic structure long into the future.

“Once this project is done, we are going to work to get this building added to the National Register of Historic Places, which at that point will protect it for life,” he said. “That is our long-term goal – to keep this in the community for the life of the community.”

If all goes as planned, Croft said a dual grand opening and 70th anniversary celebration will be held at the Roller Barn June 30. More information on the history of the Roller Barn and how to support Croft’s effort is available online at therollerbarn.com or find Save the Roller Barn on Facebook.