With the newspaper staff moving, here’s what’s happening to the iconic Herald sign

The Bellingham Herald says goodbye to its historic downtown home

The sign atop the Herald Building remains a centerpiece for downtown Bellingham, Wash., according to Kane Hall, whose dad Bob Hall has owned the 1926 building for 10 years. The Bellingham Herald offices move to Barkley Village Aug. 19, 2019.
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The sign atop the Herald Building remains a centerpiece for downtown Bellingham, Wash., according to Kane Hall, whose dad Bob Hall has owned the 1926 building for 10 years. The Bellingham Herald offices move to Barkley Village Aug. 19, 2019.

With the staff of The Bellingham Herald moving into new office space in the Barkley district, the company will be leaving a building that has played a key role in downtown for nearly 100 years.

Employees of the newspaper will move to offices at 2211 Rimland Drive, Suite 301 on Monday, Aug. 19. The move into offices that better fit a digital company is one of several changes the newspaper is making, according to Executive Editor Julie Shirley in her column earlier this summer.

The Herald Building on North State Street will keep its iconic look, including the Herald sign that lights up the downtown landscape, said Kane Hall of Daylight Properties, which manages both the building and the 10-foot-tall Herald letters. Kane Hall’s father, Bob, and David Johnston purchased the Herald Building and the sign from McClatchy, which owns the newspaper, for $2.35 million in June 2009.

The second floor the newspaper staff is vacating will undergo renovation and be available for lease. At 8,210 square feet, Daylight Properties would like to find a single user for the second floor but would also consider remodeling to create smaller spaces for multiple tenants, Kane Hall said in an interview. He expects the second floor to be used as office space.

The other floors of the building are nearly completely occupied and are home to a variety of tenants, including restaurants, retailers, salons and Western Washington University.

What the sign will represent going forward

The Herald sign on top of the building has been informally used for navigation by mariners and aviation since it was first installed in 1926, Kane Hall said. That, and the sense of place the sign gives to the community, are important reasons to keep it in place, he said.

The original sign was lit by more than 300 incandescent bulbs before changing to neon four years later, according to a 2016 article in The Bellingham Herald. Daylight Properties had new aluminum letters installed in 2016, creating a programmable LED lighting system that shows a variety of colors beyond the traditional neon red.

That sense of place the sign provides makes it a poignant centerpiece for events. On Sept. 25 the sign will play a part in the fourth annual Paint Bellingham Blue event that welcomes Western Washington University students back to the area. Kane Hall said last year 2,500 students marched from campus to the downtown area for a variety of events, including seeing the Herald sign turn blue.

The nightly illumination has been an off-and-on, but mostly off, operation for several years leading up to The Bellingham Herald’s centennial year of publication in 1990, according to previous Herald articles. It generally stayed on at night from 1990 until late 2000 during the energy crisis before consistently lighting up the night sky in 2006.

Herald sign.jpg
Photos of the Herald Building and sign on Thursday evening Aug. 1, 2019, in Bellingham, Wash. (photos © Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography) Paul Conrad For The Bellingham Herald

Retaining a landmark status downtown through the decades

The newspaper was not shy about describing the grandeur of its new building when it was completed in 1926. According to a June 28, 1926 article, about 6,000 people attended an open house event.

“The occasion was a red-letter day in the history of the Bellingham Publishing company,” the newspaper declared in the article.

In many ways, the building was a big deal for the community. It was the tallest in the city until Bellingham Towers was built in 1930. It was also the first concrete-and-steel building built in the downtown district, using steam heat that was cutting-edge technology at the time and is still in use today, Kane Hall said.

Over the years the Herald Building was the center for a variety of events. According to newspaper archives, Betty and Benny Fox introduced “Sky Dancing” to the community in 1934, when dance marathons were a thing. The couple spent 31 hours dancing and doing other stunts on a 24-inch-wide platform atop a pole that rose 75 feet above the roof.

The building has also been home to hundreds of tenants over the years, sharing space with the newspaper. According to records provided by Kane Hall, tenants on the ground floor included Ford’s Creamery Lunch, Bellingham Chamber of Commerce and the Northwestern Fur Shop. The fur shop was listed as a tenant from 1930-70.

Upper floors were populated with many professionals including dentists, doctors, architects, lawyers and teachers.

Bellingham Herald reporter Robert Mittendorf takes viewers on a video tour of the Herald Building in 2015. The newspaper moves to new offices in the Barkley District of Bellingham, Wash., on Aug. 19, 2019.

Building restoration work ‘tremendously gratifying’

After coming under local ownership 10 years ago, the Herald Building has been in a steady state of restoration. Bob Hall wanted to restore many of the original features, uncovering previously forgotten skylights and the red brick wall on the south side of the building. That wall, which is now part of Rock and Rye Oyster House, was covered for decades with drywall while the newspaper press did its loud, repetitive printing runs nearby.

Kane Hall said it was tremendously gratifying working with his dad restoring the building, adding that they gained quite a bit of experience that they were able to use in restoring other old buildings all over the state.

“We hope that the success of the Herald Building project inspires others to continue this meaningful work throughout the country,” Kane Hall said.

Kane Hall said they are sad to see the newspaper leave the building, but wish the company well in its new location.

“We do understand the need for (the newspaper) to adapt and stay competitive in an ever-changing media industry,” Kane Hall said.


New Bellingham Herald location

The Bellingham Herald offices moved Aug. 19, 2019, from downtown to the Barkley area. Customer service continues to be available by telephone at 360-483-4324 or self-service online. The news and advertising offices are now in the Dorothy Haggen Building in Barkley Village. The mailing address is 2211 Rimland Drive, Suite 301, Bellingham, Wash., 98226.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.