A red door along Cultus Bay Road in Clinton on Whidbey Island. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A red door along Cultus Bay Road in Clinton on Whidbey Island. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Purchase Photo

Whidbey Island’s roadside red door is a portal to nowhere

The door on Cultus Bay Road has been a South Whidbey Island icon for 30 years. Here’s the story.

It’s a door to nowhere.

You can’t go in or out. It doesn’t open. You can knock, but nobody’s home.

There is no home.

It’s just a door, standing alone along Cultus Bay Road, with nary a building in sight.

What’s up with that?

Herald reader and Lynnwood real estate tycoon George “Grandpa George” Caudill asked me to find out after seeing it on one of his Whidbey Island home-selling jaunts.

The mysterious Whidbey Island red door appears on social media posts and in a painting.

The house on the 17-acre property sits too far to see behind the red door along Cultus Bay Road in Clinton on Whidbey Island. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

The house on the 17-acre property sits too far to see behind the red door along Cultus Bay Road in Clinton on Whidbey Island. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

The door is on a rural byway off the Highway 525 intersection with Ken’s Korner shopping plaza in Clinton. Downtown Langley is about four miles north. The red door is three miles south.

I went to the scene. What a groovy sight that red portal to an alternate reality was. Good find, George.

I flagged down a woman riding by on a bike to ask if she knew the meaning of the door.

She looked at me, puzzled. “It’s art,” she said, and pedaled away.

Made sense. After all, this is Whidbey, a hub of creativity.

But it turns out the door had a function in its storied past. A red door has stood at that spot for some 30 years.

What started as clever marketing is a South Whidbey icon.

The door was put up in 1990-ish by Eric Will and his wife, Marlene, whose farmhouse was set way back from the road.

Dyanne Sheldon, who now owns the property, had the details.

“Eric was an inherently thrifty person,” Sheldon said. “The story they told us was he went to the recycling place on the island and he got a can of used red paint. He painted the front door of the little white farmhouse red and he painted the door of the wellhouse red and some rather decrepit doors on the barn, he painted them red.”

His frugality extended to making and selling shelves and benches from old doors. He had an extra door and some leftover red paint that he didn’t want to go to waste.

So Eric, a civil engineer by trade, put a red door by the side of the road. “He was a man with a hysterical sense of humor,” Sheldon said.

The door was a landmark for customers at what became the Red Door Farm. Marlene did tax returns and they also grew organic garlic for sale.

Eric would tell people, “Come down Cultus Bay Road until you see the farm with the red door and turn in.”

One day, the door was gone.

The red door had been stolen!

It hit the local paper and was big news. Nobody knew where it was. There were no leads. It vanished.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, two years later the door reappeared. It showed up one day, leaning against the posts. Eric placed it back in service.

And life was good again.

Sheldon, a restoration ecologist, and her spouse, Jean Singer, an organizational development consultant, were Seattleites looking to leave the city for island life in 2000 when the 17-acre property behind the red door went on the market due to Eric’s health.

The roadside door was looking a bit shabby, but that didn’t matter to Sheldon and Singer. They asked Eric if it was OK for them to keep the red door tradition going after buying the place.

Their housewarming present was a shiny surprise. “There was a brand new red door up,” Sheldon said. “That to us was a benediction, their blessing to us.”

Eric later told her, “We didn’t know if you were the right people to buy this farm until you asked us if you could keep the red door, and then we knew.”

The door has been a fun fixture.

“We’ve gotten used to vanpools who pour out six, seven, eight people who take turns getting their photographs taken by the door,” Sheldon said. “We had musicians stop with their instruments to have headshots taken. Many people go up and try the door handle to see if it works.”

It doesn’t. I tried.

The knob on the red door turns but the door doesn’t open. Many people try. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

The knob on the red door turns but the door doesn’t open. Many people try. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

Turns out the door is recognized by the U.S. Postal Service. As a test to see how famous that door was, Sheldon’s friend mailed a letter addressed to Red Door Farm, Clinton, and it was delivered.

At Clinton’s Maxwelton Beach community park, a teak bench is dedicated “In loving memory of the founders of the Red Door Farm.” Eric passed away in 2007 and Marlene in 2016.

Sheldon later learned the whodunit about the stolen door caper.

”I got on the Island County Transit bus one day standing by that red door and a woman who I’d commuted with for a year or so says to me, ‘Did you ever hear the story about when the door was stolen? Well, it was my son. He had stashed it back in the barn,” she said.

The woman’s husband discovered it and made their son return the door to the roadside where it belonged. The thief shall remain nameless.

A red door is here to stay.

“It has a south end identity,” Sheldon said. “If we ever sell this place there will be a contingency that someone has to pay attention to the door.”

She has replaced the door four times over two decades. Being exposed to the elements takes a toll.

So does peer pressure.

“One year we put up a slightly duller shade of red. We got feedback from people that a brighter shade would be better,” Sheldon said.

It’s hard to find vintage five-panel doors, she said, but someone always comes through with a donation.

“Knock on wood, so far we’ve never had to buy one.”

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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