Guest Column: The End of KVOS Influence on Mt. Constitution Summit

–by Rolf Eriksen —

As I have viewed the demolition of the KVOS building on the summit of Mt. Constitution in recent days I am feeling a bit wistful knowing that the influence that KVOS and its management has pretty well ended in multiple dump trucks full of debris.

As a child visiting Orcas in the summers of the 50s and 60s it was always part of the experience to go to the tower and sign the book that was in the summit house AND stop and plaster our faces to the row of windows that were in the front of the KVOS building and watch the magic of TV production. The destruction of the KVOS building may be a logical transition, but a few historical notes should be known to us all who appreciate the Stone Tower.

The CCC built tower, topped out on July 7, 1936, constructed from over 700 tons of stone quarried on the north shore of Orcas Island, served many purposes over the years; including a firewatch position for the Dept. of Natural Resources, an observation point and radio room during the Second World War, a point for locating various communication installations, and, of course, very special place with one of the most stunning views in the world that hosts tens of thousands of people every year. Quite possibly the reason that this special historical monument exists today is through the influence of KVOS.

Mt. Constitution tower, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, where radio antenna were installed before moving them to the KVOS tower, now demolished

As the tower aged and went into disrepair in the 1960s and 70s it became largely a communications installation and the doors and windows were boarded up and it emulated a porcupine bristling with dishes and antennas.

In 1973, largely unbeknownst to Orcas Island residents, a plan was developed to demolish the tower, and plans were drawn up in the image of the Seattle Space Needle to provide a better base for communications installations and a higher observation deck. This ALMOST happened in 1973. Luckily the Orcas Island residents caught wind of this plan in time to wage a PUBLIC OUTCRY that stopped this plan dead in its tracks.

Erling Manley, caretaker of the KVOS tower for years

At this point, the management of KVOS agreed to hire individuals to restore the tower to public use and the bulk of the communications installations were moved to a steel tower that was next to the stone tower. This was done in exchange for an extended lease for KVOS to use the summit as a broadcast point on its steel tower.

The CCC Tower, before antennae were removed to the KVOS tower

KVOS agreed to repair the damaged and degraded fencing, remove its multiple installations on the stone tower, add a wood floor to the summit house observation room, add lighting circuits, provide fencing around the steel tower base, and many other things.

More importantly, the devoted staff of KVOS, under the direction of Erling Manley stewarded the tower as if they owned it, keeping the lights, the road plowed, and so on.

Washington State Parks has only had its own plow for the last very few years. Again, the main thing that people should know is that the stone tower might well exist today because of KVOS and, in 1974, the Mt. Constitution Stone Tower was added to the Historical Register.

I think the role of KVOS should not be forgotten. The stories of certain dedicated individuals and their contributions to keeping the stone tower access open are endless and many times valiant and, in my mind, too valuable to be sent off island in dump trucks.

If you would like more information about the budget and plans for the summit, please contact Chris Guidotti at or at the park office. It is important for all of us to have a clear understanding of what is being planned and how our tax dollars are being spent.

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Guest Column: The End of KVOS Influence on Mt. Constitution Summit — 7 Comments

  1. Thank you Rolf and Orcas Issues for the wonderful column on KVOS! Also a sincere thank you to Mr. Manley, whom my wife and I ran into when we were hiking by the towers last year, for all his hard work.

  2. You really do learn something new every day. Thank you for the great article Rolf and for featuring Erling, too. Several things in your story that I had never heard. Very interesting history.

  3. Thank you Rolf. It’s interesting to learn of the evolutions the tower has gone through during its existence.

  4. Nice article Rolf. You and I know when you say KVOS you are talking about Erling . He has been and still is the one constant who has been on the Mt. for nearly 60 years.

    When the storms hit and the snow piles up, Erling is there, wind storms and downed trees he has a chainsaw in hand. All the lost hikers, and boiled over radiators he attended to over the years – staggering.

    Thank you Erling. I look forward to bumping into you whenever I am up the Mountain

  5. Wonderful story. Brought back memories of our summer trips to Orcas.