Griffin peppers Boulevard Park book with South Side stories

Brian Griffin’s new book about Boulevard Park includes a healthy dose of personal tales.

That’s fitting, because Griffin grew up on South Hill, above the industrial properties that eventually became the park. As a kid, he played in the remains of the lumber mill that once filled the site.

“I was trying to impart what it was like to be a Southsider,” Griffin said.

Griffin and other members of the Rotary Club of Bellingham played a leading role in the creation of Boulevard Park. Bob Moles Sr. was the head of the club committee that worked on the project.

Moles died last year, but not before he asked Griffin to write a short history of the club’s work on behalf of the park.

As he dove in, Griffin realized there were interesting and important stories to tell about the people, businesses and events along that stretch of Bellingham’s waterfront, stories that, over time, set the stage for the park.

The result: “Boulevard Park & Taylor Avenue Dock on the Old Bellingham Waterfront” recounts the origin of what may be the city’s best park, and weaves it into the tapestry of Bellingham’s early settlement, the rise and fall of canneries, mills and the other waterfront businesses, and the people who made it all happen.

Dozens of maps, photos and illustrations lace the text.

“I do hope that readers come away with a better understanding of the community,” Griffin said.

The impetus for preservation began in the mid-1960s when people feared that new apartment buildings would block those stunning views of the bay and islands from Boulevard and South State Street.

A group of women who called themselves YWCA Eco- Action lobbied for zoning changes to halt buildings that would block the view. They lost, but their effort sparked wider interest in creating a park.

The Rotary Club took up the torch in 1973, approaching property owners about their willingness to sell, and lobbying tepid city leaders to back the project.

Ken Hertz, then county parks director and later Bellingham mayor, favored the idea of a park and had the county acquire some waterfront property as early as 1968.

City leaders eventually came around to the idea, and Bellingham voters approved a bond issue in 1978 to raise money for the park.

Among the officials at the park’s dedication in 1980 was City Councilwoman Ann Rose, an Eco-Action member.

A decade later, Griffin and two business partners tried to rebuild Taylor Avenue dock and develop an “urban village” nearby. The project fell through, but Griffin and his partners urged the city to buy the land at the upland end of the dock.

The city did, setting the groundwork for the refurbished Taylor Avenue dock and the new boardwalk that connects to Boulevard Park. Just one of many decisions, happenstances and quirks that have shaped the waterfront through the decades.

“I finished the book with the knowledge that nothing is permanent,” Griffin said.

Dean Kahn’s column runs on Sundays and Mondays. If you have a suggestion for a column, contact him atdean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or 715-2291.