Milestones: Whatcom Museum historical center of city

Whatcom Museum of History & Art opened its doors on Jan. 23, 1941, in what had been Bellingham's City Hall, at 121 Prospect St.

A staff of volunteers leased the vacant and decaying structure, built in 1892, then cleaned and restored it. The first exhibits consisted of historical items and curios on loan from community members.

Three years later, a public vote turned over the exhibits to the city, which began operating the museum. That arrangement lasted until 1982, when the museum budget became a joint expense between the city and the privately operated Whatcom Museum Society.

On Dec. 10, 1962, an electrical fire nearly destroyed the roof and upper floors. Many exhibits suffered smoke and water damage.

Though some people wanted to scrap the damaged structure, museum backers rallied support and landed donations to restore the building.

In 1968, the museum reopened as the Whatcom Museum of History & Art, occupying the partially restored building.

Today, the museum and its adjacent buildings remain the historical center of Bellingham.