W.G. Clark Construction Celebrates 100th Anniversary
William George “Bill” Clark arrived in Seattle from Minnesota in 1906 and spent the next four years working for two firms. For Causey Lohsey Hastey & Dugan he worked as a timekeeper counting bricks laid on the Ravenna Trunk Sewer and as a foreman on a hydroelectric dam near Montesano. For George Ferguson the father of the founder of the present day Ferguson Construction he was superintendent on the construction of the “Geyser Basin” at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in 1909 now known as Drumheller Fountain.
In 1910 he ventured into self employment with a contract to quarry and deliver granite cladding for the support piers of the Celilo Falls railroad bridge over the Columbia River near the Dalles Oregon which is still in service. The project is known as Job #1 at W.G. Clark.
From then until the mid 1940s he built a strong business in small alterations and repairs such that he was able to survive the Depression due to relationships he had built. During the 1920s he built two apartments with a partner Morris Atwood for their own account which are still standing: the Clarwood at 805 Marion and the Mission Inn at 1743 Boylston. However both were lost during the Depression. His big project for 1929 was the Loyal Heights Elementary School designed by Floyd Naramore.
Bill’s son Don joined the firm in 1936 but left in 1940 to pursue a career in the Navy as a civil engineer to help build “the Arsenal of Democracy.” Don had the exciting opportunity to serve as the officer in charge of construction for two major armaments plants of over 1 million square feet each one for anti-aircraft guns and one for torpedoes. After attaining the rank of Commander Don retired from the Navy in 1947 and returned to the W.G. Clark Company with a desire to pursue much larger work than had been Bill’s norm. He soon took the lead in company management. In 1948 the company built the Washington State Patrol headquarters in Seattle; and in 1949 the Agricultural Science Building at the University of Idaho.
Don’s preference was for cast-in-place concrete structures and many were built over the next 20 years for clients as diverse as The Boeing Company the University of Washington Rayonier Inc. Cascade Natural Gas and the Atomic Energy Commission. In the 1950s work ranged from Hanford to Hoquiam to Anacortes and included the Northgate Theater and two major expansions of the Rayonier Pulp Mill in Hoquiam. Work in the 1960s included the southern wing of the Group Health Central Clinic a boiler plant addition and a 900-car underground parking garage both at the University of Washington.
The 1970s opened with a serious recession and Don at 60 pondered whether to close the doors or bring his son Chris into the business for a try at a third generation of success. Chris armed only with some summer field work experience and a liberal arts degree decided to take advantage of the opportunity and came on board in the fall of 1971. The challenge included not only the recession but the need to replace the talent pool that had worked for the company since the late ‘40s and was rapidly retiring. In 1972 the company did $600000 in business substantially down from the 1960s but the economy later improved and so did the depth of the new management team. For the next ten years the company focused largely on institutional renovation for public owners while also building for private clients such as The Boeing Company and Safeway. Interesting projects included the Northgate Mall enclosure the restoration of the Corner Market Building in Seattle’s Pike Place Market and the NOAA Operations Building at Sand Point.
In the early ‘80s there was another serious recession and lump sum bid public work was a very hard way to earn a profit. Projects such as a 10-story cast-in-place barracks for the Navy in Bremerton and the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia were sources of great pride but lean in profit.
In 1983 the company made a strategic decision to focus primarily on private work and pursue repeat relationships with private clients. Leading this initiative was W.G Clark’s subsequent ten-year relationship with Overlake Hospital during which W.G. Clark never left the hospital’s campus. In 1984 the company converted West Queen Anne School to a condominium for Val Thomas who became a long time client. By this time most of the current management team had been hired. By the late 1980s the company’s deep background in institutional construction was expanding from hospitals to nursing homes. Relationships were built in the community of nursing and retirement home operators that led to many large projects over the next 20 years. Another specialty that began in the late 1980s was cold storage and food processing which took the company as far as Los Angeles.
In the 1990s the management team continued to mature in its capabilities and all of the company’s specialties were experiencing strong market conditions. Volume grew from $25 million in 1990 to over $72 million in 1999. By this time retirement projects included a number of large multi story wood frame projects that were not unlike apartment buildings. At the same time Washington’s new Growth Management Act encouraged urban density and soon urban mixed use residential projects were in great demand. W.G. Clark was well positioned to be a very strong player in that market and in 1993 built its first such project the Villa Marjorie for Val Thomas. It was the first of over 100 residential projects the company has built or renovated since totaling nearly 13000 units including apartments condominiums hotels and senior living facilities. Also by this time most of the company’s work was being done on a negotiated basis. Preconstruction planning and a strong team approach became key components of the company’s services. Mike Ducey who joined the company in 1980 became president in 1997 and Chris Clark assumed the role of chairman. A few projects of this decade included the Central Washington Hospital Ambulatory Surgery Konoike Pacific Cold Storage Facility Bayview Manor’s South Slope addition Crista Shores Brittany Park Retirement Community University House at Wallingford The Seasons Apartments and the Leo K addition to the Seattle Repertory Theatre.
In the last ten years the company’s capabilities have continued to expand along with the size and complexity of its projects. Today the $75000000 Metro 112 mixed-use project currently under construction in Bellevue is the company’s largest to date. While the company’s multifamily and mixed-use and retirement facilities continue to be a primary market the firm has built many other notable projects in this decade. Among them are the Kent Pullen Regional Communications and Emergency Coordination Center the City of Seattle’s Joint Training Facility and the Campus at Kirkland all of which are LEED®-certified. W.G. Clark continues to perform a great deal of work for non-profit and community organizations with the Seattle Housing Authority King County Housing Authority St. Andrew’s Housing Group Youth Eastside Services Boy Scouts Girl Scouts and Boys & Girls Club among recent clients.
Among current work underway are projects such as Neighborcare Health’s Rainier Beach Clinic the mixed-use Broadway on Broadway the build-out of new space for the Elliott Bay Book Company and renovations to the Seattle Housing Authority’s Bell Tower.
The legacy of three generations of Clarks is today being carried on by a group of officers who are leading the company into its second 100 years and who strongly support the company’s long-time motto “Building Relationships Through Quality Work.”