New Rocket Building in Fairhaven to offer rooftop dining and, yes, a rocket

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 17, 2013 

It turns out there's room for Art Deco in Fairhaven after all.

The new Rocket Building at 11th Street and Harris Avenue displays a distinct Art Deco look in the historic district that's peppered with late-19th century buildings built a good three decades before the rise of the modernist Art Deco movement.

New buildings in the Fairhaven core need to win design approval from the city of Bellingham, but city guidelines don't require a particular architectural style and they encourage new structures that aren't cookie-cutter repeats of what came before.

"Diversity is good within these districts," said Jeff McClure, the building's architect. "We didn't want to just copy what was here."

The project presented the added challenge of designing a building for one of the last undeveloped corners in the popular retail and tourist district.

"It was an out-of-the-ordinary opportunity to create something," McClure said.

Design elements found in several older Fairhaven buildings lived on to become elements of Art Deco, he said. Those include tall inset windows, vertical lines, and the use of contrasting materials for exterior detail. In the old Fairhaven buildings, that material was Chuckanut sandstone; in the Rocket Building, it's precast concrete.

While most older buildings in Fairhaven are red brick, the Rocket Building went with cream-colored brick for contrast.

The two-story building was built for Jim Swift, who owns Rocket Donuts in downtown Bellingham. The ground floor will house the second Rocket Donuts; an Acme Ice Cream outlet, also owned by Swift; and Fat Pie Pizza, another Swift business.

The west end of the building, by the pedestrian walkway that connects Harris Avenue to Fairhaven's Village Green, is the new home for A Lot of Flowers, the longtime plant and gift shop that used to occupy the corner in a rustic garden setting.

Bellingham's Design Review Board approved McClure's proposal in February 2012 after he simplified the corner entryway - which features a tiered crown atop the building - because some board members thought the entrance was a bit too Art Deco.

For pedestrians and customers, McClure retracted the building's footprint 9 feet to provide outdoor seating along the Harris Avenue side and outdoor display space for A Lot of Flowers.

ROCKETS AND VIEWS

The building won't have an outdoor rocket sculpture like the 25-foot one at the downtown doughnut shop, but a shiny rocket sculpture does hang from the ceiling in the corner space that will be home to Rocket Donuts and Acme Ice Cream.

Those businesses are expected to open by June 28, said Teri Treat, a company spokeswoman.

The indoor sculpture was created by Bellingham designer Alexei Ford, who made the downtown sculpture. It features a neon-light exhaust flame, and a camera setup that will project customers' faces onto a rocket window, making it appear they are passengers.

Fat Pie Pizza, which should open by mid-August, will be accessed through an arched doorway on Harris Avenue and an inside hallway from the ice cream parlor. There will be two levels of indoor seating for pizza eaters, and two levels of rooftop seating, too.

The lower rooftop level will be atop the A Lot of Flowers space. From there, metal stairs lead to the roof of the taller main building, where people eating pizza will be able to see Bellingham Bay and the islands beyond.

HAPPY TENANT

Penny Ferguson, who owns A Lot of Flowers, reopened her business in the new building earlier this year after occupying temporary space nearby during construction. She says her new location satisfies a wish list of basics she presented to McClure: heat, a sink, a bathroom, outdoor display space, and lots of windows.

"It has a definite indoor-outdoor feel," she said.

She also has something valuable that she never had when her business occupied a shed at 11th and Harris.

A lease.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com .

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