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.

(UPDATE: Don’t miss Part II of this series).

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??”

You’re right. I totally left you hanging there. Was it a body? Hidden bags of money? Relics of years past? The mystery of what was inside the snack shack had me hooked, too.

When I was there, you bet I walked right on over to the grassy/sandy spot where the shack resides to investigate. The ground slopes down at the base of the building, so average-sized folks like me (I’m 5’6″) can’t see inside its little window without a boost. So naturally, I did what any normal person would do and stood on my tippy toes with my phone stretched over my head and pushed against the window again to snap some pics to find out.

To be honest, I was nervous to look at my phone screen for the big reveal.

Turns out … it wasn’t a body. Although I was fully prepared for such a sighting (kinda, lol). Thankfully, the building 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.  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:



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.

19 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!

      2. The house belonged to the Herring fisherman who donated it to the Demolay Boys. My mom and dad we’re caretakers -we lived there two different times -mid 70s then 78-86 (I graduated college 1984 and moved). Sadly we didn’t take a lot of photos of the house

  3. My Great Grandpa home steaded on 20 acres in 1889 ,came over from.Sweden,right next to Fox Island yaught club.Old farm house sits back in cove.Was one of the 1st store &Post office.My Grandpa rowed his woden boat to 6th Tacoma to drop off his fruit &vegetables,to the farmers market.Then he took foot ferry to Stadium to go to school.Come back get his $&row that wooden boat back to Fox Island.5 generations have enjoyed that place.I have a lot of history from gearing those stories.I have original picture of the store &post office in 1918.

    1. Kelle – this is such cool news! I will email you, I’d love to ask you some more questions on the history of this building and your experience with it! I know readers would love that too 🙂

  4. Years ago you were allowed to picked up clay babies flat crazy looking rocks, on that beach.I still have some.

    1. My uncle Charlie lived straight across in arletta. We would row across and hang out. Before that my grandmother sister and me old go to see who could find the coolest sand baby yes SAND BABIES.

  5. I remember back when I was apart of demolay we used to build insane bonfires that were huge and memorable. I think we even put a old couch on one. My memory is kind of fuzzy so forgive me. We also used to play Man hunt in the field

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