Doug Fabre of Lakebay, 82, has been “buying and building” on the Key Peninsula since the 1970s, he said, but he’s got at least one more project in mind.
“I’ve been out here, oh, 55 or 60 years,” Fabre said. “I built a lot of stuff in Gig Harbor and Tacoma, and I built a lot of stuff in Key Center.”
That “stuff” includes the Key Center Corral; the apartment building above Key Center on 89th Street Court KP N; another apartment building and The Mustard Seed Project’s Crandall Center, both on 154th Avenue Court KP N; a 100,000-gallon water tank that supplies Key Center; and his meat locker and storage space where 154th meets 92nd Street KP N.
Fabre plans to turn the 3,000-square-foot downstairs portion of the industrial building into storage or manufacturing space for rent. The equally large upstairs is already rented. “Unless somebody wants to buy it,” he said. “That’s possible too. Rent or sell.”
The building, like the builder, has a storied history. Fabre designed and built it in the 1980s to process and sell fresh meat and sausage, but his partner bailed out and left him with a large industrial kitchen and an idea.
“This used to be my sausage kitchen,” Fabre said, describing one of four massive walk-in freezers on the premises. “I did it for over 20 years and I enjoyed every bit of it. I finally quit because I had to stay at home more because of my wife.”
Fabre’s wife, Michaela, or “Kayla,” was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis around 1970. They had four children, three of whom survive; all live locally and continue to work with their dad and manage his businesses. Michaela died in 2007.
Fabre installed meat lockers for rent in the building and serviced local hunters. “Sometimes they’d bring a whole damn deer in here and I just hung it up, skinned ’em out, saved the meat, made sausage or whatever they wanted,” he said. “All USDA approved. And it was good.
“I wish I could’ve kept this going, but times—they changed! People started using their own deep freezers and smokers. Twenty, 30 years ago, it was cheaper and easier to do it here. Just wasn’t in the cards.”
The large rooms now house remnants of the premises’ former activities: large-scale kitchen equipment, construction tools, plumbing parts, large compressors for the freezers; and a few personal items, such as an 1886 pool table, arranged for use in a side room.
“That’s an antique slate pool table; you can’t believe how heavy it is,” Fabre said. “I found it in a guy’s garage.” He also has the original clay billiard balls. “We used to have a lot of fun here—guys laughing, smoking cigarettes and all that.”
Fabre was born in Faribault, Minnesota. “I came out here in ’41,” he said. “My dad was at Todd Shipyard. We lived in Tacoma, South 15th and J Street. It was a pretty good little neighborhood down there.”
He first visited the Key Peninsula in the early 1970s. “I came out here with an old plumber friend of mine. See, I’m a plumber. ‘Come on to my beach place,’ he said, and we took a walk around, went down and talked to a guy who owned some property, and I bought it,” Fabre said.
He also bought a piece of property in Key Center, where he built the Key Center Corral in 1977.
“I put that whole thing together, designed it, put the false fronts on it. That turned out pretty damn cute. I didn’t want to sell it, but my wife got sicker, and then things really started to move fast. I was buying and building, buying and building, just to pay the bills,” he said.
Fabre is in the process of selling or disposing of equipment and furnishings from his soon-to-be storage space after a lifetime of work on the KP.
“I have seen a lot of changes here in Key Center,” he said. “I came out here when it was just an old gravelly road. It was all mom-and-pop then. That was when I was young and I had hair. Would’ve been good if it was still mom-and-pop, but now we’ve got streetlights; now we’re really big time.”