By Stefanie Donahue
It’s not often that you come across a real estate listing that reads: “…could convert to a doomsday shelter and high-end home.”
The “one-of-a-kind” property rises six stories, features open-height ceilings and is built sturdy with four cement walls. “Let your imagination run wild,” reads the listing.
To locals, this description could sound familiar. And yes, it’s true, Birch Bay’s Cold War-era radar tower is up for sale. For the price of $1.5 million, you could be the owner of one of the most interesting spaces in Birch Bay.
“I looked all over and there’s really nothing close to this,” said broker for the property Kevin Geraghty. “I’ve never had anything close.”
The 20,420-square-foot radar tower sits on less than an acre in the center of Bay Horizon Park. It was built in 1961 and was used during the Cold War by the United States Air Force to monitor air traffic entering over the horizon, specifically on watch for Russian bombers.
Technically called the FPS-24 search radar tower, it’s one of the few structures that remain on the site. Barracks and other buildings, including one currently inhabited by Internet provider Frontier, remain active. The Lions Club and local parks and recreation district are also located on the park’s property, now owned by the county.
“This is the last piece of radar equipment on the base,” said owner Michael Paul as he walked around the property on a crisp September morning.
He purchased the radar tower in 2003 for an estimated $130,000 as surplus from the state and was the only one to submit an offer. Prior to Paul landing a deal on the property, the space was used for state archival storage until an improved facility was built in Olympia, he said.
Since then, Paul has made the space his own. Just one look at the property and you know he’s a collector – whether it be cars or cabinets, he’s got it all and each item has a story.
The circus truck sitting outside the building, for example, was used as a maintenance vehicle for Washington fairs, he said. With only 40,000 miles under its belt, Paul is sure it would make for an exceptional food truck one day.
The property is also home to a shortwave radio operating out of an old battery building next to the tower. A friend of Paul’s has a hobby, so he made it happen.
A self-proclaimed wood junkie, Paul has filled his ground-level storage to the brim with hand-crafted tables and wood pieces.
And that’s just what you find prior to entering the radar tower’s front door.
“I guess I’m a pack rat and entrepreneur all wrapped into one,” he said with a laugh.
Paul is nearing 70 years old and is a father of two.
If you haven’t met Paul before, you’ll quickly find out that he loves to travel. Often, he’s with his family in Seattle or in Nicaragua, where he spends about six months of the year. Sometimes, he’ll stay at home in the radar tower.
Paul has traveled to 126 countries in his career as a part-time adventurer and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. In fact, he doesn’t leave the house without a suitcase and passport. Really, you never know when you’ll find a good deal on a flight, he explained.
For years, Paul made his career in real estate, just like his dad. He knows the business.
Once in a while, he’ll spend his money on surplus properties sold through the state, including plots as small as 150 feet by 120 feet, typically along highway interchanges. His standard bid is $127.52, to be exact.
Inside the radar tower, items are stacked in piles from floor-to-floor and have either been donated by a friend or family, found at a sale or are temporarily being stored in the space for someone else, he said.
His living space is upstairs and is outfitted with a homemade wood stove, a bed, kitchen and reading material. A few steps up and Paul has access to unrestricted views of Mount Baker, White Rock and the San Juan Islands.
With just about 60 days on the market, the property has already sparked the interest of a few, Paul said. Geraghty has hosted three showings open to only pre-approved parties and half a dozen have already qualified.
One party was interested in using the space to grow organic mushrooms; another wanted it to live in. Perhaps someone will take up the suggestion to convert it into a “doomsday shelter.”
Whatever it may be, Paul is ready to let go. He plans to hold a two-day auction for the vehicles on the lot and a three-weekend auction for what’s inside the property.
“I’m ready to retire,” he said. “I just want to go travel. I want to be free.”
Photos taken by Stefanie Donahue and Brian Neal.