Downtown Bellingham buildings surveyed for possible historic listings


Some government reports deserve to collect dust on a shelf, but people interested in Bellingham history will want to take a gander at a new city document.

Thanks to a $10,000 state grant, Bellingham has surveyed 286 downtown buildings that are more than 50 years old. Along with photographs and details about the buildings, the survey says whether each building might be eligible for the city, state or federal register of historic places.

While details vary depending on which level of government you're talking about, owners of historic buildings that make one or more register can reap tax benefits and other incentives to help them fix up their property while respecting its historic look.

Katie Franks, the city planner in charge of the survey, said Bellingham doesn't want to arm-twist property owners into listing their buildings as historic, whether alone or as part of a historic district. Rather, the survey explains the possible benefits of doing so and indicates which buildings might make the cut.

"It's to provide a leg up," Franks said, "if people want to list their buildings."

History buffs also might enjoy the report's 17-page summary of the development of downtown Bellingham, from pioneer days to the 1960s. The report also includes a hefty dose of early downtown photos from Whatcom Museum's great photo collection.

The survey coincidentally yet nicely supplements a larger project to update Bellingham's master plan for downtown. During several events to gather public ideas, people often said historic buildings are a valuable asset for downtown.

"It was the No. 1 level of agreement in our survey," said Darby Cowles, the city planner overseeing the master plan.

Draft documents for the new master plan should be ready for public scrutiny early next year before going to the Planning and Development Commission for review and, later, to the City Council for possible approval.

For the update, Franks interviewed building owners about what has worked well and what has worked poorly when they remodel older buildings, including historic ones. Proposals soon will be developed to help property owners attract more businesses downtown while, the city hopes, preserving their buildings' historic appeal. The nature of those proposals is still in the works.

"It might be code changes, it might be procedural changes, it might be educational products," Cowles said.

Whatever form they take, let's hope they succeed in keeping the look of Bellingham's past alive while downtown develops anew.

"That sense of authenticity is what makes cities competitive," Cowles said.


To see the "Historic Resource Survey & Inventory Report" for downtown Bellingham, and related links, go to this webpage.

To contact Katie Franks, call 360-778-8388 or email


"The Mountain Runners" - the locally made, award-winning documentary about the Mount Baker Marathon in the early 1900s - is now available on DVD for $19.99.

The film, which premiered last spring, will have a DVD release party at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at Pickford Film Center, 1318 Bay St., and copies are already on sale at Whatcom Museum, Village Books, American Alpine Institute and at Allied Arts' Holiday Festival of the Arts.

The 90-minute film directed by Bellingham's Todd Warger and by Jet City Films founder Brian Young tells the memorable story of the marathon, which was held 1911 through 1913 and inspired today's Ski to Sea Race.

"Mountain Runners" has been shown at several film festivals and has won awards at festivals in Eugene, Ore., and Innsbruck, Austria. For more details, see

Reach DEAN KAHN at or call 715-2291.

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