Victory Park dedicated

There was a time when rows of neat little houses with spectacular views had large, grassy lawns and fragrant flower bushes.

Young children played outside in the quiet community while their mothers hung the daily wash on the clothesline to dry. The sound of big band music drifted down the block.

They were here then and they’re here now, and they’ve watched as the new grew old and has now become new once more.

A gathering Thursday brought the old and the new together. The memories came flooding back, as former residents of Victory Homes held places of honor at the dedication ceremony of Victory Park.

Back when Whidbey Island Naval Air Station was new, 200 little homes were built for military families off Regatta Drive at the Seaplane Base. Those houses were home to thousands of men, women, and children over the course of six decades.

The Victory Homes development was demolished last year — two of the units were preserved for history’s sake — to make way for 200 two, three and four bedroom townhouses to house military families on Whidbey Island in the 21st century.

Called Victory Park, the new development consists of modern, attractive homes with garages, large utility rooms and Corian kitchen counter tops.

The former residents, who lived in Victory Homes in the 1940s and 1950s, say the new homes are a far cry from the ones they lived in, but at the time, they loved living there just the same.

“It was delightful and it didn’t seem so little at the time,” Myra Christiansen said of Victory Homes No. 20, her home from 1948 to 1950. Christiansen’s husband was a sailor, and the couple moved into the military family housing unit when their daughter was three months old.

“She took her first steps here,” Christiansen said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday. “She had her first Christmas here.”

While Christiansen said that the old, smaller Victory Homes had bigger yards and an unobstructed view of the harbor, she thinks the “kids today” will like living in the new homes.

“They’re lovely. I’m sure everyone will thoroughly enjoy it,” Christiansen said while touring the fully furnished model.

Others remember feeling lucky to live in Victory Homes, some of which were as small as 325 square feet.

Dale and Peg Johnson remember exactly when they moved into Victory Homes.

“We moved in in August of ‘44, as newlyweds,” Dale Johnson said. “I was at the torpedo shop and she was the public works officer’s secretary.”

“That was the reason we got in,” Peg Johnson chimed in. “His (rank) was too low,” to qualify for military family housing.

When the couple first moved into unit 139, they had to burn coal for cooking and heating water. Because Peg Johnson was the public works officer’s secretary, theirs was the first housing unit to get an electric range and water heater.

From the eight months the Johnsons lived in their Victory home, they took with them an unforgettable memory.

“We lived two houses down from a guy that played piano for the Glenn Miller Orchestra,” Dale Johnson said. “We loved to sit outside and listen to that guy play.”

One woman left behind a little bit of herself that she went back years later to retrieve.

Helene Marsh lived in Victory Homes No. 1 from 1952 to 1957. She planted the original lilac bushes, which grew taller and more fragrant each year.

“I always kept telling myself I wanted to go back and cut a bouquet of those flowers,” Marsh said Thursday.

She did just that three years ago, when she returned to the neighborhood and knocked on the door of the house she lived in more than 40 years before. A young mother came to the door, and when Marsh told her the reason for the visit, the young woman invited Marsh to take all the lilac blooms she wanted. She left with two bushy bouquets.

The lilac bushes are now gone, and Marsh laments not coming by to dig up at least one and take it away before the old homes were demolished. She said she hopes someone might have dug one up and transplanted it elsewhere.

Sally Simpson lived in Victory Homes 43 in 1952 and 1953, when her husband, Martin, was stationed here. Their children Lorraine and Jim were teens then, and they still live in Oak Harbor today. The Simpsons’ house was one of the bigger ones, with three bedrooms. But still, they remember the house being small, especially by today’s standards.

“Like my husband says,” Lorraine (Simpson) Pratt said, “they were so small you couldn’t swing a cat in it.”

As Sally Simpson sat at the kitchen table of the newly built model home, she marveled at the differences between the homes she lived in 50 years ago and the homes now in their place.

“This is so nice,” Simpson said. “I think they listened to a bunch of Navy wives. It’s got a bunch of things we wanted.”

The new homes are opening up for residency and about 11 families have moved in so far. Several more are “coming online” per week, said Anne Baker, director of housing for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. The new townhouses average about 1,300 square feet.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Capt. Steve Black, commanding officer of Whidbey Island NAS, said about the new housing in his remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “But they’re here now and they’re wonderful.”

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