South of downtown Seattle is an old Boeing airplane assembly plant that produced nearly 7000 Flying Fortresses while hidden beneath a roof with a fake suburban neighborhood on top. The site is now the source for a huge lumber salvage operation – Duluth Timber Company is now deconstructing the 1.7 million square foot facility and reclaiming the lumber for real homes. The beauty of reclaimed lumber is not just in its quality and size but in its history – and the 1/4 million board feet that will come out of this deconstruction has a lot of tales to tell.
The building’s unique role in history begins when John Stewart Detlie, a Hollywood set designer, helped “hide” the plant using design techniques used for film. The fake housing development covered nearly 26 acres with netting, plywood and chicken wire on top of the roof to thwart bombing runs by Japanese forces. One fake rooftop corner street sign read “Synthetic St. & Burlap Blvd.” The plant produced up to a staggering 362 planes a month, mostly the B-17 and B-29 Flying Fortress. The building was also one of the largest in the world with some of the longest single-span trusses in its time.
The Minnesota-based company Duluth Timber specializes in salvaging and selling wood from what they call the “industrial forest” — abandoned buildings and infrastructure across North America. The douglas fir beams used in the plant are mostly 8 inches by 20 inches and up to 25 feet long used for floor joists. Much of the best quality timber available in North America is from salvaged buildings, and the demand for the wood is high. Boeing Plant 2 holds 4 million board feet of lumber, but due to logistics with the height of the beams and cost of insurance and labor only 1/8 of it can be economically salvaged. A mini-yard is set up on the canal west of Lake Union to hold the FSC-certified timbers along with other materials.
Projects like the 23.2 House (whose design is based on the length and size of salvaged timbers and unique furniture designs) fully explore the beauty and function of one of the greenest building materials available. Deconstruction is now becoming a thriving business with good tax incentives, and many companies — from construction to retail — are looking for the salvaged materials.