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A rose by any other name

Former Griswold’s Office Supply space blossoms into the Olympia Green Living Center

The old Griswold’s Office Supply in Olympia has unique ambiance, says building owner Clifford Lee.

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"That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." - William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

This weekend, Evergreen Shakespeare's production of Romeo and Juliet is blooming in the former Griswold's Office Supply in Olympia, which was gutted by fire in 2004.

Soon, there'll be much more growing in the long-vacant building ... literally. Clifford Lee of Olympia, the building's owner, envisions not only a performance space, commercial and perhaps residential spaces but also a vegetable garden, growing indoors under a greenhouse roof.

"We want to let the light come in," says Lee, who has been working with a group of students from The Evergreen State College on plans for the building.

In fact, the light is already coming in - as is the rain. The play is happening in what is currently a concrete-walled courtyard.

"The fire completely gutted the roof, so it doesn't have any roof on it right now," says Lee, who bought the building four years ago. "It has a unique ambience because of that. We are trying to use it without developing it too much."

He envisions the Olympia Green Living Center as a multiuse space. He's most excited about creating a three-story-high and 100-foot-long green wall where food can be grown.

"We are trying to showcase the fact that a lot of building owners can do this," he says. "It will be a showcase and educational, and we want to grow enough food to sell. We might have a grocery stand in the building.

"Part of what we are trying to do is promote organic living."

The former high-tech businessman got interested in health, nutrition and gardening after being diagnosed with high cholesterol and heart problems. "I was able to help myself by watching my diet," he says. "I really want to promote that."

Besides renting space in the building, the business model will include setting up green walls in other buildings.

Lee is working with students from The Evergreen State College on developing the plans and improving the spaces and is looking for more volunteer help.

The group has a three-month temporary-use permit. By the end of that time, Lee hopes to have the green wall and some commercial space along Fourth Avenue ready. Office space, performance space and residential space, possibly set up as live-in artists' studios, will come later. "We're going to open the space in phases," he says.

Meanwhile, the building is hosting Romeo and Juliet in what is currently a concrete-walled courtyard measuring 120 feet by 40 feet.

"There are four big cement walls," said Juli Kimbrell, director of the gender-switched production, in which both star-crossed lovers are played by women. "There's graffiti in there and big rafters that have metal cross-bracing that were put in after the fire."

What the building doesn't have is a roof and electricity. "There will be a generator in a side room, and we might be able to borrow some power from Dumpster Values," Kimbrell says.

If that sounds like an odd place to put on a show, Kimbrell was glad to get it. She says she had a difficult time finding space for the play both on and off campus. (It opened last weekend at Evergreen's Soccer Pavilion.)

"When the building downtown came up, that was so exciting and wonderful," Kimbrell says. "It has offered a lot of challenges technically, but it's really exciting to have a space. We have a feeling of ownership. The owner wants us there and wants to help us."

Romeo and Juliet

Friday, June 3, at 8 p.m., Saturday, June 4, at 9 p.m.
Sunday, June 5, at 8 p.m., free
Olympia Green Living Center
(formerly Griswold's Office Supply), 308 Fourth Ave. SE, Olympia

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