Ken Imus, the Bellingham-born businessman who made money selling cars out-of-state and then restored much of the historic Fairhaven business district, died at home Sunday. He was 90.
“Ken had the vision when no one else did when it came to Fairhaven,,” Ken Hertz, former Bellingham mayor, told The Bellingham Herald in 2006. “In the 1970s, many thought Fairhaven was a dead community, but he bought the property and saved the area.”
Ted Mischaikov, a developer who grew up in the South Hill area, said Fairhaven in the 1970s had many empty buildings in an area that was known more for its transients than for retail business.
“As kids we weren’t allowed to play in Fairhaven after dark, because it was a wild place back then, “ Mischaikov said in 2006, “Today Fairhaven is now the standard for people who want to create a successful urban area, and Ken’s commitment and perseverance made it happen.”
Early in his business career, Imus opened a Ford dealership in the Bay Area of California. With growing success in car sales, he moved to Texas to open another dealership in 1956.
While visiting family in Bellingham in the 1970s, Imus and his wife drove through Fairhaven, which at that time was a counterculture haven. Self-described hippies had started community gardens in the neighborhood, which was sometimes called the Haight-Ashbury of the North.
Imus encouraged others to invest in Fairhaven, including Phyllis McKee, who built the building at 1106 Harris Ave. in 2001.
“I am so sad to see him go,” McKee said. “He came in and really launched a revitalization of Fairhaven.”
Imus had recently finished restoring a four-story building in Texas. When they drove by the then-boarded up Marketplace building in Fairhaven, his wife, Barbara, pointed at the large structure and jokingly told her husband, “There’s one for you.” He bought it without stepping foot in the place.
The building became a sort of “semi-retirement” project for Imus. After the Marketplace was converted into what is now Sycamore Square at 12th Street and Harris Avenue, Imus bought several other properties in the surrounding blocks. Ken’s son Brad moved up to help oversee construction in the neighborhood in 1978.
Ken bought Fairhaven properties partly hoping their value would increase, but the project was not prosperous for the better part of three decades.
Early on, some people were not fans of their work in Fairhaven. The Imuses faced unhappy crowds on more than one occasion when their bulldozers were ready to clear land for construction.
Despite their slow start, with many tenants coming and going in the first decades, the buildings in Fairhaven are busy now. In 2006, about 50 business associates, family and friends gathered to pay tribute to Ken Imus with a plaque mounted on a brick wall in the courtyard of 12th Street Village, at 12th Street and Old Fairhaven Parkway.
In recent years, Ken turned his attention to Blaine, working on developing several buildings in the downtown core.
Ken’s father worked in construction and built their family home on Bakerview Road in the 1930s. That might have influenced his son’s passion for construction. Ken once recalled his father bringing home buckets of crooked nails that would otherwise be tossed out. Ken and his brother spent hours helping straighten the nails.
There will be a celebration of Ken’s life at Westford Funeral Home, 1301 Broadway, Bellingham, at 11 a.m. on March 27, according to his obituary.
The Bellingham Herald Business Editor Dave Gallagher contributed to this report.