Historic Lairmont Manor in Bellingham celebrates centennial

Open house is May 18

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 12, 2014 

Lairmont Manor in south Bellingham has been the private residence of a prominent Whatcom County family, a home for nuns from the order that founded St. Joseph Hospital, and shelter from discrimination for famed black opera singer Marian Anderson when she performed in Bellingham in 1941.

In recent decades, thousands of people have visited Lairmont for weddings, funeral, recitals, fundraisers and other events both public and private.

Now people can tour the manor Sunday, May 18, learn more about its history and to enjoy music, refreshments and a silent auction, all to celebrate the landmark's 100th anniversary.

A century ago, businessman Charles X. Larrabee and his civic-minded wife, Frances, hired noted Seattle architect Carl Gould to design their family home. Charles died before work started, but his wife oversaw completion of the 25-room mansion.

"It's quite amazing that his wife took on the building of the home, in that era," said Susan Bjorklund, Lairmont's onsite manager and events coordinator.

Charles Larrabee made his fortune in mining, railroads, ranching, banking and real estate, including the famous Fairhaven Hotel. Frances Larrabee gained her own renown as an advocate for social change and women's equality.

Some of their civic deeds carry the family name; they donated land for Larrabee Elementary School and for Washington's first state park, initially called Chuckanut State Park but later renamed Larrabee State Park.

They also donated the land for Fairhaven Middle School, Fairhaven Library, Fairhaven Park and Pacific American Fisheries, and provided the land and building for Bellingham YWCA.

"They were certainly great stewards for the city of Bellingham," said Marilyn Burns, the docent educator at Whatcom Museum who will lead history tours of the manor May 18.

SEVERAL OWNERS

The Larrabees' two-and-a-half-story mansion presents a European look, with an exterior of clay tile, stucco, brick and terra cotta. Much of the work was done in Europe, including finished woodwork from Italy and glass doors and ironwork from Belgium.

Amenities included an intercom system, a central vacuum with outlets in the rooms, and an underground sprinkler system. In the kitchen, an original refrigerator, with wooden doors and sturdy metal latches, still operates, but with coolers instead of block ice doing the work.

Burns said the author of a book about Gould, the manor's architect, described the residence as having an "idiosyncratic design."

"That's a pretty good description," Burns said. "It has elements of several different styles."

After Frances Larrabee died in 1941, the property was sold to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, the Catholic order that started St. Joseph Hospital, as a place to train novice nuns. They called it Mount Saint Mary's Novitiate and Provincial House.

In 1967, a Bellingham couple, Joel and Barbara Douglas, bought the property and now operate it as a nonprofit. Joel Douglas said he came up with the name Lairmont Manor to reflect the history of the house, with "Lair" from "Larrabee" and "mont" from "Mount Saint Mary's."

"'Lairmont stuck," he said. "I like it. I like the ring to it."

IF YOU GO

What: Centennial anniversary of Lairmont Manor

When: 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 18

Where: 405 Fieldston Road, Bellingham

More: Event features history talks, garden tours, silent auction, refreshments and music.

Admission: By donation, proceeds benefit Lighthouse Mission. RSVP encouraged at lairmont100@gmail.com or at Lairmont Manor on Facebook.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-229 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com .

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