Mystery at the Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit & Bella Bella Beach, Fox Island

kids on the shore

We solved a little mystery at the DeMolay Sandspit this week. Keep reading to find out just what the heck this boarded-up building is and what I found inside it 👀.

Here we are at Bella Bella Beach, a new-to-us spot on Fox Island, about an hour south of Seattle. The 3.5-acre nature preserve is officially called the Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit, but the locals here named it after the road it’s on. Does telling you this make us locals yet? 😉

The site was acquired by the parks dept for public use in 2010. It’s kid-friendly with one of the few sandy beaches in the area, picnic tables, and critters to scout at low tide (the rule here is don’t take home any shells, animals, or driftwood!). There’s also lots of parking, with about five spots along the fenceline plus a large dirt lot up around the corner.

trail sign with kids in the foregroundLocated at 55 Bella Bella Drive, the sandspit’s origins date back to three separate parcels handed down or sold to private parties over the years. In the centuries before that, the land was home to Native American feasts and ceremonies.

In the 1930s, which I find to be the most interesting tidbit, one of the private landowners allowed the Tacoma chapter of the Masonic DeMolay boys club to use the sandspit for cookouts and leadership outings. And the tradition stuck.

As such, I got to research a little about the DeMolay for this post, having never heard of it before. Turns out, it’s an exclusive membership-based fraternity for young men aged 12 to 21, with more than 1,000 chapters worldwide and fancy alumni including Walt Disney, actor John Wayne, and broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite.

Mystery & Intrigue

As soon as you get down to the water, this faded (and unfortunately boarded up and locked) smaller building overlooking the picnic area catches your eye. With its mossy rooftop and adorable porch, it seemed too small to be an old house. So what was it?! I immediately needed to know more. On city maps, it’s marked with a generic “picnic shelter/storage” description.  But because I love me a good architecture mystery (there’s even one in my novel!), I emailed that very question to a local historian asking about its beginnings. Webmaster John Ohlson came through two days later saying the faded yellow building was …

“… used by the Demolay organization during their summer camps, for cooking and distribution of meals and snacks.”

John Ohlson

So there you have it, the mysteriously quaint cottage is  …. a former snack shack! What good times it must’ve seen.

Calligan Castle

green building with red door

The other mystery building on site is near the middle of the property, away from the coastline.

In the 1960s, the Tacoma DeMolay built this wood-slatted clubhouse, which still stands today on the grassy hill between the beach and the parking lot.  Back in the day, it was affectionately known as the “Calligan Castle.” How cool is that?? I don’t know who or what a Calligan is … but now I want to! The kids and I walked right past it because I thought it was one of those larger park restrooms like the state parks have. But then after I realized what it really was, I went back to take some photos of it.

Being the nosey person I am, I pushed my phone against the first window to cut back on shadows and glare and got a peek at the interior! It looks like a venue to make summer camp art, don’t you think? It could be. But it’s all locked up for now.

“But wait, Tonya. The Calligan Castle is cool and all – but what’s INSIDE the former snack shack??”

Nope, it wasn’t a body. although I was fully prepared for such a sighting (kinda, lol). Thankfully, it only enclosed … kayaks! Red ones and blue ones and paddles and vests. The first image is the view through a crack in the building’s boards. The second image is the view from me standing on my tippy toes with my phone stretched up over my head and pushed against the window again. I don’t know who these kayaks belong to. But if I owned them, I’d put a plastic Halloween skeleton in one to freak out looky-loos like me! 😀

Snack Shack Pics

Here are a few more looks at the outside of the snack shack one more time, just because it’s a beautiful mystery-building to photograph:


Sidenote: Fox Island is just a neat spot in general. Being from California, I’m not used to having ample access to islands (or bridges!).

Island Bridge
Fox Island Bridge

The island is almost all residential, separated from mainland Gig Harbor by a body of water called Hale Passage. The Fox Island Bridge is right by our house in the Artondale neighborhood. There are no tolls and it’s low to ground with some water access for kayakers to load into the water.  As far as I can tell, the only major retailer on the island is a gas station mini-market.  According to the Fox Island Community & Rec Assn, there’s also a post office and other small businesses at the center of the island just off of Island Boulevard.

Another fun spot there is the Fox Island Pier that we visited when we first moved here in July 2021. The pier boasted fantastic views and also had those tourist telescope/binoculars stands that the kids had fun with.


About Tonya Strickland

Tonya Strickland is a journalist and Instagram influencer in the family and travel niche. A former newspaper reporter, Tonya shares unfiltered #momlife content about places to go with kids. Her family moved from California's Central Coast to Washington state in August 2020. Their adventures now continue in the Pacific Northwest.

7 thoughts on “Mystery at the Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit & Bella Bella Beach, Fox Island

  1. My dad just sent this story to me. We built the snack shack and added the second floor to the castle back in the late 90s and early 2000s. If you want to know more about them, feel free to reach out to me.

  2. I lived in the lower house as the caretaker for the camp in the early 2000’s. Also helped with all the buildings.

    1. I’d love to know more about the house that’s caving in to the right when you walk down to Bella Bella.

      1. Hi Nikki! Dan says he lived in the lower house as the caretaker for the camp in the early 2000s! I’ll check in with him to see if I can find out more about it and if there are pics!

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