Built in 1929, Mount Baker Apartments to get new roof, other fixes

The eight-story brick Mount Baker Apartments are pictured on Thursday, Jan. 19, in Bellingham.
The eight-story brick Mount Baker Apartments are pictured on Thursday, Jan. 19, in Bellingham. eabell@bhamherald.com

A nearly $3.8 million renovation of the historic Mount Baker Apartments, built in 1929, will begin in the coming weeks.

The downtown Bellingham building at 308 W. Champion St. has 84 units.

On the ground floor of the building are businesses that include Mount Bakery, The Temple Bar and The Black Drop. Access to them won’t be affected by the renovation of the eight-story brick building, according to Steve Powers, division director for Catholic Housing Services, which manages the apartments and building.

Renovations will include a new elevator, new roof, new circulation system, new boiler for heating, new electrical service entrance panels, an expanded fire sprinkler safety system and masonry work, Powers said.

Improvements also will be made to each apartment, based on need and available money.

Dawson Construction is the project contractor and RMC is the architect.

Funding for the project comes from a number of sources, including two from the city of Bellingham – $235,008 through the federal Community Development Block Grant and $564,992 from a housing levy Bellingham voters approved in 2012 for affordable housing.

Financing for the work brought with it new low-income requirements for tenants, Powers said, adding that six of those tenants had income that was too high to continue living in the Mount Baker Apartments.

They were given 45 days to move out, which end Jan. 31.

“We have given them their final month’s stay without rent and are not charging the normal damage/cleaning charges we would generally charge at move out,” Powers said. “We believe this will assist them with the move-in costs of a new apartment.”

The new requirement means all 84 units will be set aside for low-income households – up from 59.

To qualify to live there, a single person, for example, can have an income of $14,700 a year up to $29,400 annually.

The project will disrupt the remaining tenants, who will have to temporarily move to other apartments in the building while their floors are being worked on.

They also won’t be able to use the elevator for about 12 weeks while it is being replaced, Powers said, so hotel stays will be provided for residents who can’t use the stairs.

The building stands on the spot once occupied by The Fair Department Store, which was built in early 1890.

Charles Cissna, who built the store, was known for his Cissna script, which he issued during the depression of the 1890s. The script, issued in amounts from 5 cents to $5, was accepted by other merchants, as well as The Fair. Fire destroyed the building in 1928.

It was replaced with the current building, which the Bellingham City Directory referred to as the Cissna Apartment Hotel starting in 1930, according to the city of Bellingham.

The architect was Thorton F. Doan, a prolific Bellingham designer known for his work on more than 50 school buildings in Washington state, according to the Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation.

“Planned and built during the boom just before the stock market crash of 1929, while not quite as grand, the Cissna Hotel was a contemporary of the Bellingham Hotel, the companion piece to the Mt. Baker Theatre. In 1940, the Bellingham Herald referred to the Cissna as one of Bellingham’s ‘modern’ hotels with 99 rooms,” according to a city document about the Downtown Bellingham Historic District.

The building became the Mount Baker Apartments in 1941, according to the city.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea