Oak Harbor renovation remembers veterans

Soldiers’ tribute locked in sentiment and steel

Oak Harbor’s newest tribute to the military is a sturdy heart where tiny padlocks can be hung in honor of military service.

Called “A Heart of a Soldier,” it hangs on the front of the former Feed & Seed building that’s been renovated into a complex of eight spaces available for small food outlets, artist’s studios, businesses and other tenants. Now called The Loft, it’s perched on a hill one block above SE Pioneer Way at 715 SE Fidalgo Avenue, and so far has three tenants committed to moving in early next year.

A combination artistic piece and memorial, the outline of the heart is welded from steel with a metal grate filling in the open heart. The sculpture was built at CNB Iron Works & Construction.

“I decided to have the sculpture made so people would have a special and lasting way to thank the soldiers in their lives for protecting our freedom, our rights and our lives,” said Annabelle Rockwood. She purchased the 10,000-square-foot building earlier this year and refurbished it inside and out with her husband and son.

Rockwood said the idea stems from love locks placed on bridge’s in cities around the world, most famously in Paris. Typically love locks are inscribed with names or initials of sweethearts and the key is thrown away to symbolize unbreakable love.

Colleen Hines, a friend of Rockwood, was one of the first people to honor the soldiers in her family. She chose her father, father-in-law (both deceased) and her Marine Corp son who served two tours in Iraq.

The colors of her locks — red, green and silver — symbolize specific colors of military branches associated with her family.

“It’s a great idea,” Hines said. “It’s a great way to give back to veterans and let them know they’re remembered.”

To date, about a dozen small locks in many colors — green, magenta, gold, silver — have been engraved and placed on the heart. Rockwood decided to give away the first 100 locks (along with the cost of engraving) at monthly public artist receptions at that The Loft. Custom Engraving & Embroidery in Oak Harbor is a veteran-owned business.

About 40 locks are still available. Rockwood plans to give them away starting at 5 p.m. Saturday Dec. 9 at a reception featuring art by high school students and several new local artists.

Built in 1937, the old Feed & Seed takes up half a block. It’s been many things over many years following its demise as the go-to store for agricultural needs. Among the many former tenants: nail salons, martial arts studio, massage parlor, illegal apartments, even the Whidbey News-Times perched there years ago.

Currently, The Loft is filled with a diverse collection of artwork from artists Whidbey-wide. The pop-up gallery, Skulpt Too, is the sequel to Skulpt, which filled an empty Pioneer Way storefront with art work in the spring.

Therese Kingsbury, founder of the quirky Rogue One Guerrilla Arts Network, approached Rockwood with the idea to fill The Loft with beautiful artwork while tenants were being sought.

Time will tell whether The Loft becomes a long-lasting touchstone for artists with studios and galleries as tenants.

On its exterior, they’ll always be the art of “A Heart of a Soldier.”

Locks symbolizing unbroken love and attached to bridges in cities around the globe — Amsterdam, Paris, Dublin, Canberra — became so popular in recent years that the practice is now banned for structural safety.

This spring, the city of Paris auctioned off some of the 45 tons of padlocks from Pont des Arts that had been attached to the bridge’s grill work over the past decade. The locks were artistically arranged in groups and sold with proceeds benefitting charities.

Rockwood has a plan in place should the heart become too crowded with sentiments of love.

“I’ll just move this one to the side of the building and have the artist make a new heart for the front,” she said. “Maybe one day, they’ll be hearts for soldiers lining the wall.”

The Loft is located at 715 SE Fidalgo Avenue, Oak Harbor. Small padlocks for the “Heart of a Soldier” sculpture will be given away starting at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9 at a reception featuring art by high school students and several new local artists. The public is also welcome to hang small padlocks in honor of veterans and loved ones actively serving in the military.

Building owner Annabelle Rockwood includes an explanation about the memorial sculpture on the front of the Oak Harbor building.

Building owner Annabelle Rockwood includes an explanation about the memorial sculpture on the front of the Oak Harbor building.