Bellingham’s Granary Building soon will have a heart transplant

Scaffolding covers the Roeder Avenue side of the Granary Building in Bellingham Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. The ivy heart is coming down, and will be replaced with a trellis heart away from the building in the same spot.
Scaffolding covers the Roeder Avenue side of the Granary Building in Bellingham Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. The ivy heart is coming down, and will be replaced with a trellis heart away from the building in the same spot. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

A beloved heart-shaped patch of English ivy that has become part of the Granary Building on Bellingham’s waterfront will soon disappear.

The piece of urban art has become a popular photo spot for residents and Bellingham visitors, and a symbol of the community’s love for the old cooperative building, which was built in the 1920s to store grain, eggs, and poultry for the county’s booming band of small-time chicken farmers.

Recently, scaffolding and screens have concealed “the open heart surgery that’s going to go on in Bellingham,” said John Reid, the Robinson McIlwaine architect who has been working with Harcourt Developments to design the building.

“New external insulation and cement rendering must be placed on the lower two stories of the building to meet code requirements, so unfortunately the ivy vines have to be removed,” Reid said in a Port of Bellingham news release.

“But the evergreen heart has become an iconic art feature in downtown Bellingham and Harcourt has plans to make it a permanent part of the newly renovated Granary Building.”

After the renovations, the Granary will get its new transplant: jasmine vine (in place of the invasive English ivy) will grow on a wooden trellis, similar to the size and shape of the existing heart. The new heart will be outside the building as near to the existing spot as possible, Reid said.

“After speaking with the Port of Bellingham’s horticulturalist, we decided a flowering evergreen jasmine vine would be a better alternative to English ivy,” Reid said. “Not only can this vine be shaped to form a large heart on the outside of the building, but it will have a spectacular display of intensely fragrant, cream-colored flowers in the summer.”

English ivy has been listed on the noxious weed list in Washington state, and the rootlets can work into wood and mortar on the side of buildings, causing structural and aesthetic damage.

As a symbol though, the heart is anything but noxious to those who are interested in the Granary’s history and future.

John Blethen, who with James Willson once presented a plan to buy and renovate the structure, said the heart really represents the life of the building.

“It’s part of placemaking – this is Bellingham and this is a statement about how we feel about our community; that’s really valuable,” Blethen said. “I think it makes people feel good about their community, just like that building is important, because it says Bellingham. It’s part of a co-op that was really important to this town in the ’30s and put a lot of food on a lot of people’s tables during the Depression.”

George Dyson has a view of the heart every time he steps out of his workshop at Dyson, Baidarka and Company at the corner of Holly Street and Central Avenue, a short block from the Granary.

He often sees people dressed to the nines park near his shop and go pose for pictures in front of the heart. Sometimes he gets asked to take their photo.

“It’s amazing how people make pilgrimages to get their pictures taken there,” Dyson said. “People will literally come from Seattle to take engagement photos.”

Perhaps the most whimsical part of the heart is the mystery behind who maintains it, trimming the ivy to keep the heart how it is.

“I think that’s part of what makes it interesting is it’s just something that happens,” Dyson said.

He said the only time he can remember seeing someone trim it was during a community effort to save the building a few years back, and that likely would have been Willson, who Blethen said helped prune it just before taking a group photo.

Though some suspect Dyson is behind the trimming, he said while he would love to take credit, he is not sure who keeps it up.

“There used to be some artists in the co-op building, but they’ve all kind of moved on,” he said. “It’s sort of a guerrilla thing.”

The Granary Building is on schedule to open later in 2017 with restaurant space, stores and office space. Harcourt bought the building for $200,000 as part of a 2015 agreement with the Port that outlines the first steps for the redevelopment of the waterfront.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil