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Built in 1925, iconic and unstable gateway into Fairhaven Park to be torn down

The brick entry for Fairhaven Park on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Bellingham. The City of Bellingham plans to remove the gateway, built in 1925, because it is falling apart and poses a danger to the public. Planners hope to use some of the decorative pieces in a new entrance, which would cost an estimated $250,000, if the public raises money for the project.
The brick entry for Fairhaven Park on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Bellingham. The City of Bellingham plans to remove the gateway, built in 1925, because it is falling apart and poses a danger to the public. Planners hope to use some of the decorative pieces in a new entrance, which would cost an estimated $250,000, if the public raises money for the project. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

For nearly 92 years, the red brick pillars have welcomed visitors to Fairhaven Park .

Once there were six.

Now there are three pillars, the worn-down remains of an entry designed by architect F. Stanley Piper and built in 1925.

Soon there will be none.

The City of Bellingham plans to dismantle the iconic gateway to the park off Chuckanut Drive at the end of this month because the deteriorating pillars are unstable and unsafe.

“They’re beautiful, iconic, historic pillars with a great history. But they are at the end of their life,” said Nicole Oliver, parks development manager for the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department. “They’re hazardous. We don’t have a choice at this time.”

Crews will take down the pillars, salvaging pieces that could be used to replicate the 21-foot archway that carries the name of the park, which was established in 1906.

At least that’s the intention.

“There’s no approved plan,” Oliver said, “but we are storing those pieces in hopes they will be useful in some sort of reconstruction.”

Building a new one depends on the public donating an estimated $250,000.

The city doesn’t have the money in its budget, Oliver said. And it doesn’t want to use money from the Greenways IV levy approved by Bellingham voters in November, which includes a chunk for maintenance, because there is a backlog of other projects.

The price tag for the replacement could shrink if another group builds it and donates it to the city, which otherwise must pay a prevailing wage for the project.

“We’re happy to work with a group who may want to do that,” Oliver said.

Wood to stone

The six pillars were themselves a replacement for another entryway – one made of raw timber, like what one would see on a log cabin – and built in 1915. It rotted within a few years.

Piper, who designed the gateway, was an Englishman who settled in Bellingham.

He was known for numerous landmarks and residences throughout the city, according to Jeff Jewell, a researcher and photo archivist at Whatcom Museum.

The structures were built from 1909 into the 1930s. Among them was the Herald Building, what is now the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, the Bellingham National Bank Building and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“A high concentration of Piper-designed houses are in Fairhaven’s South Hill neighborhood,” Jewell said.

As for his contribution to Fairhaven Park, a photo taken by J.W. Sandison in 1925 shows four square pillars flanking either side of the main 21-foot archway.

Each pillar has a large round ball on it, known as a finial.

Each finial weighs about 500 pounds.

“For many decades, Fairhaven Park’s entrance pillars were the first thing you saw of Bellingham if you were a motorist arriving from the south via Chuckanut Drive (formerly the Pacific Highway),” Jewell said.

Jewell said Piper also designed the entry at Memorial Park.

Both entrances have square pillars with round finials. “They are bookends, north and south sides of town,” Jewell said.

Goodbye to history

The last time a pillar was taken down was in 2008, after a truck backed into it.

The city looked into rebuilding it then but didn’t have the money.

“That was right in the beginning of the recession,” Oliver said.

The city didn’t have money in the 1970s either, when the pillars were looking weathered with loose bricks and weeds growing between them, according to “A History of Bellingham’s Parks” by Aaron Joy.

A Fairhaven resident raised money to restore them, although it was unclear whether he was able to raise the $5,000 to $10,000 needed for the project.

A repair of some sort was done then, although Oliver said the city couldn’t find any records of it.

The pillars are made of concrete surrounded by brick veneer and cast stone. There is no metal support inside. They have been cleaned, patched and painted many times. The white finials on top are there by the force of their own weight; there no longer is any mortar keeping them in place.

“Those finials are basically sitting on top of dissolving material,” Oliver said.

An engineer has assessed them, and so has a historic mason. They can’t be saved.

“We don’t have any way to bring it up to code to be seismically safe at this point,” Oliver said.

And, so, they must go.

“I’m really upset by the whole thing,” Oliver said. “I don’t want to take them down. I love them.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

To help

People can donate to the estimated $250,000 project to build a new gateway for Fairhaven Park through the nonprofit Whatcom Parks and Recreation Foundation.

Do so by going online to wprfoundation.org, selecting the yellow “donate” button on the upper right and specifying “Fairhaven Park gateway fund.”

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