Fred Bassetti left architectural legacy at Western Washington University

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 15, 2013 

Fred Bassetti

Seattle architect Fred Bassetti designed many of the buildings at Western Washington University.

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

You might not know Fred Bassetti by name, but there's a good chance you've seen, visited or spent time in one of the buildings he designed.

A well-known Seattle-based architect, Bassetti designed several buildings at Western Washington University from late 1950s to the early '70s. His campus creations include Carver Gym, the Humanities Building, an expansion of Wilson Library and the award-winning Ridgeway housing complex for students.

Bassetti died Dec. 5 in Oregon. He was 96.

Michael Smith, a principal at Zervas Group Architects in Bellingham, remembers when Bassetti would drop by the firm to say hello and visit with James Zervas, the firm's founder and a friend.

"You knew when he walked in the door," Smith said. "Shaking hands all around, slapping backs, a real jovial kind of person. When I was introduced, it was like we were best friends right on the spot."

Bassetti designed buildings throughout the Northwest and afar, and was active in the fight to save Seattle's Pike Place Market.

His early career got a boost when he won a national award for the Chuckanut Drive house he designed for Marshall Forrest, an attorney and later a Superior Court judge in Whatcom County.

Bassetti's first major project was the student union at Western, in 1959. In a WWU oral history interview in 2003, Bassetti said another firm had designed the building, but when that firm said it was too late to change its design at the request of campus administrator Barney Goltz, Western's board of trustees - newly enlarged with two new members, one of whom was Forrest - gave the job to him.

In the early '70s Bassetti designed the second major expansion of Wilson Library. In connection with that job, he recommended the artist Richard Beyer, who created the familiar granite sculpture on the north side of the library, "The Man Who Used to Hunt Cougars for Bounty."

Bassetti also created his own art piece, "Alphabeta Cube," an homage to language that was installed on the south side of the library but was later moved to Fairhaven College. The sculpture has a bronze polyhedron imprinted with the letters of the alphabet, numbers and the symbols for pi and infinity, enclosed by a dozen, 8-foot-long pieces of old-growth redwood.

Bassetti also won a national award for his design of the Ridgeway dorms. At first, campus officials envisioned the dorms going on flat land at the south of Western's play fields. But Bassetti explored the forested slope above the fields and proposed dorms nestled among the trees.

He knew that first- and second-year students who typically occupy dorms can be overwhelmed by massive dorms, so he designed Ridgeway as a cluster of smaller buildings, with entrances, lounges and floor plans that would make it easier for students to meet and make friends.

"It's a beautiful setting," Michael Smith said. "As a residential setting for a student, I can't imagine a nicer dormitory."

ELLIS MASSEY DIES AT 100

A service for Ellis Massey will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, at Immanuel Bible Church, 2000 W. North St.

Massey, who died Dec. 11 at the age of 100, founded a well-known local business, Massey Realty. He also was active in the community, running for the City Council and serving on Bellingham's planning commission and the Whatcom County Association of Realtors board.

After he retired, he took up oil painting, hiked, became active at church and traveled extensively.

I met him three years ago, shortly after he marked his 97th birthday by enjoyed a tandem sky dive for the first time in his life.

Appropriately, the back of his personal business card discussed the importance of attitude, concluding, "The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. ... I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it."

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

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