Every town has something truly unique and in Centralia, it is RichArt’s place, aka the Styrofoam House, located on the corner of Main and M streets. Seventy-something Richard Tracey has been creating outdoor art for the past 25 years, using Styrofoam, metal, bicycle tire rims, yo-yos, plastics of all kinds and whatever else he can find.
The sign at the door said to come on in and we did. Every available space on the outside is covered and there are many “rooms” in the yard with very specific sculptures.
As we walked through his gallery yard to see his many creations, Rich came out and talked to us about his work. He brought us over to his current project of red balls and then showed us his bike adorned with plastic flamingos that he rides in the Seattle to Portland race. After the initial shock of thinking that he makes the 200-mile bike trip, he smiled and said he only rides from Centralia to Chehalis and back.
A small shuttle bus arrived at the Tumwater InterCity bus stop on Cleveland Avenue at 9:45 a.m—the street in front of Safeway. Twenty people boarded, filling all the seats. There was a shelf available for backpacks and duffle bags, and a rack in the front of the bus for bikes. While some of the people were regular commuters, others were traveling to Portland and beyond. It was a non-stop ride from Tumwater to Centralia’s Amtrak station.
When we arrived at 10:30 am, Tower Street (one block west of the Amtrak station) was just waking up on this unseasonably warm September day. The many antique shops were open but there was little traffic. As we walked, we looked at the posters in store windows and noticed that a photography exhibit was at the Jupiter Arts Center & Gallery. We walked to 235 N. Tower Ave but it was closed on Tuesdays.
We walked back toward Main Street and noticed a breakfast special at Albert’s Country Café and Pizza. We stopped in and had a solid breakfast for $5.00.
After visiting RichArt’s, we walked through the neighborhood to get back to the downtown area. Many of the homes had been restored to their Victorian-era painted beauty of many colors and lovely gardens along streets with large shade trees.
As we ambled along Tower Street, we noticed the art walls throughout the town capturing Centralia’s history, including timber, farming, and the Centralia massacre. One mural depicted former slave George Washington, born in Virginia in 1817 to a black slave and white woman. He was adopted by the white Cochran family, who moved west. He bought land in what was then called Centerville in the 1870s and is recognized as Centralia’s founding father. Centralia grew as coal became a prized commodity easily shipped by rail.
We ended our walk at the Olympic Club Hotel, a landmark of Centralia’s historic downtown. Built in 1913, this hostelry was long known as the Oxford Hotel with tales of bandits, bars and brothels. The McMenamins have restored this hotel and added their signature touches of a movie room and pool tables. We enjoyed some cold drinks and tater tots before catching the 3:13 p.m. bus back to Tumwater.
Details: How to get there:
Catch the 9:55 a.m. CAP shuttle at Tumwater Square, on the Safeway side of Cleveland Avenue. It arrives at Centralia’s Amtrak station at 10:30 a.m.
Walk one block west to Tower Street, which is the heart of downtown Centralia.
Return Trip: Catch the 3:13 p.m. CAP shuttle at the Amtrak station.
Cost summary: $1 each way. Total: $2
From Olympia’s transit station on Columbia Street, catch the route 12 or 13 bus, which stops across the street from Tumwater Square.
To go beyond downtown Centralia, check Twin Transit: http://www4.localaccess.com/twintransit/index.htm
The Twin Transit has a transfer station at Amtrak station.