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Puget Sound Naval Shipyard still defines Bremerton, but what about the future?

A statue of a worker near the water front in Bremerton, next to a round plaque commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
Emil Moffatt
Bremerton's past, and much of its present, is defined by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

For more than a century, the fortunes of Bremerton, Washington, have been largely shaped by events around the world. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard has played a critical role in building and repairing ships in times of war and peace. And the Navy and the shipyard still provide jobs for tens of thousands in Kitsap County.

But for many who live and work in Bremerton, it’s the day-to-day details – like where to live, how to get around and what to do for fun – that are top of mind when they think about their city.

Rhythm of Bremerton

You have to go all the way back to 1891, when, as the story goes, William Bremer sold 190 acres of land to the U.S. Navy to build a shipyard off Sinclair Inlet.

In the intervening 133 years, this small city; current population 45,000, has seen highs and lows. It’s seen visits from sitting U.S. presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and upgrade after upgrade through the years to keep up with the changing needs of the Navy.

Today, just as the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard remains vitally important to the U.S. Navy, it also remains a vital part of Bremerton, with so many facets of life here revolving around it and the 12,000 people who work there.

A landscape photo of Bremerton's waterfront with a marina in the foreground, the Naval Shipyard and downtown in the background
Emil Moffatt
Development along the waterfront in Bremerton has changed the look of downtown over the past 20 years.

“The biggest rush hour we have here is when PSNS gets let out and when they're coming in in the morning, and when they're leaving in the afternoon,” said Bremerton real estate agent Daphne Gibler. “Because they go through Gorst, which is kind of the little inlet and outlet of the peninsula.”

Gibler’s RE/MAX office on 4th Street in downtown Bremerton occupies an old storefront just a few minutes walk from the Naval Shipyard. Gibler moved to Bremerton in 2000 and through her job of helping people buy and and sell houses, has kept a close eye on the ebbs and flows of housing market.

“We have had a huge change in the military influx and outflux. We are constantly turning over here in Kitsap County, because we are a military town,” Gibler said. “Sometimes they come buy, and rent [to a tenant], and then eventually sell when they find they're not coming back”

A portrait of Bremerton resident and real estate agent Daphne Gibler insider her office
Emil Moffatt
Real estate agent Daphne Gibler moved to Bremerton in 2000, and says much has changed in the city since then.

That constant flux also extends to ships, as they come and go through the years. At some point this year the USS Ronald Reagan is expected to relocate to Bremerton for maintenance after a decade in Japan.

Development of downtown Bremerton

The boom-and-bust nature of Bremerton has been a fact of life for decades. But that may be slowly changing, with the development of the downtown core over the past two decades, spearheaded by former mayor Cary Bozeman. The waterfront adjacent to the Naval Shipyard and the ferry terminal now has more restaurants, hotels and coffee shops.

There’s also a new arts district planned for downtown, inspired by the jazz legend Quincy Jones, who grew up here. Bremerton's current mayor Greg Wheeler said fostering the city's music scene can attract audiences and artists.

"We want to be that place where you discover your passion, you develop it and your first venue is Bremerton: Quincy Square," Wheeler said.

Gibler said even with all the changes, Bremerton remains a relatively affordable place to live. While there’s a shortage of housing here too, the median sales price for homes in Kitsap County remains substantially below – about $350,000 below – what they are in King County.

“The price differences are quite drastic,” Gibler said. “You have to want to be able to commute especially, well, if you can catch the ferry, I say go for it.”

Two Kitsap County Fast Ferry vessels traverse the waters near the ferry terminal in Bremerton
Emil Moffatt
The Kitsap County Fast Ferry has helped fill the transportation void with Washington State Ferry runs limited between Seattle and Bremerton.

The ferry system

The Washington State Ferry system is the other vital cog that makes Bremerton go, when it actually goes.

The ferry provides direct access across Puget Sound from Seattle’s waterfront. But aging boats in the Washington State Ferry system means the Seattle-to-Bremerton route is currently limited, with about one sailing in each direction every three hours. The introduction of the Kitsap County fast ferry has helped for walk-on passengers.

For folks like David Albright, a freelance video and podcast producer who lives in Bremerton but does a lot of work in Seattle, it can be a challenge to go between the two.

“On a normal weekday, if you’re commuting to work you get your schedule down, the fast ferry takes 30 minutes,” Albright said. “It’s just a little harder for impromptu visits."

A portrait of Bremerton resident and freelance videographer David Albright seated at Evergreen Rotary Park
Emil Moffatt
David Albright was inspired to compile his book, Urban Bremerton, during the pandemic when he and his partner would take long walks around the city.

After a decade living in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, Albright along with his partner moved to Bremerton in 2018.

“That was kind of tech-boom-era Seattle,” Albright said. “A lot of articles and people were talking about leaving the crazy West Coast tech cities and moving to smaller places where you can still have a good quality of life, but it was a little bit cheaper.”

And they found that life in Bremerton, embracing their new city. Two years later when the pandemic hit, Albright was inspired by the buildings he saw on their long isolated walks through Bremerton. He set out to compile a book of photos and essays about the city’s infrastructure called Urban Bremerton: A Journal of Bremerton's Built Environment.

“People either talk about the past of Bremerton, its booms during and after World War II,” Albright said. “So it’s kind of like looking back, or they are presenting sort of an idealized version of what it is or could become. And so [the book was] kind of just trying to present it as it is, and as...if you were to move here how you would experience it, cause I don’t think that’s something that’s really done.”

KNKX reporter Freddy Monares contributed to this report.

Emil Moffatt joined KNKX in October 2022 as All Things Considered host/reporter. He came to the Puget Sound area from Atlanta where he covered the state legislature, the 2021 World Series and most recently, business and technology as a reporter for WABE. Contact him at