Old Smoke

By Merrick Parnell

Fairhaven, a historical district, and once thriving city is tucked away in Northwest Washington, just south of downtown Bellingham. Its old brick buildings inhabited by charming and unique loft apartments, bars, restaurants and boutiques, line the cobblestone streets that slope down to the waterfront. One of these unique brick and mortars is the Fairhaven Smoke Shop.

Fairhaven Smoke occupies one of the oldest buildings in the historic downtown; the Mason Block. The Mason Block building was built in 1890 by real estate tycoon Allen C. Mason of Tacoma. The building cost $50,000 to construct, equivalent to nearly $1.2  million in today’s money.

The Mason Block Building in 1890 Photo courtesy of sycamoresquare.com

Present day Mason Block. Photo courtesy of Johnson Team Real Estate

The smoke shop has been there since 1985. The current owner Michael Waters is just the second proprietor of the establishment, which used to be a flower shop.

The shop transports its customers back to the days of yesteryear. Beautiful stained dark wooden humidors displaying cigars lines one side of the brick room, while shelves lined with jars full of bulk pipe tobacco are on the opposite wall. There are also additional display cases featuring hand made pipes. The window looking out on to the street has displays of old smoking industry relics such as cigarette tins and lighters. On the outside hangs a classic wooden sign.

An inside look of the nostalgic store Photo courtesy of fairhavensmokes.com

“Fairhaven Smoke serves customers from college students to old pipe smokers,” said Waters.

“Nostalgia sells…. especially in a tight economy,” said Waters referring to the vintage interior. “A business that isn’t afraid to invest in atmosphere and a pleasurable experience for their customers set themselves apart from competition.”

Tobacco has played a large role in American history. “Crops like tobacco supported the first American colonies and also helped secure loans needed to fight the Revolutionary War,” said Waters

In local Bellingham history, the tobacco industry has early roots. The article “Cigar Makers: Sweet Smell of Success” appearing in the Bellingham Business Journal states that in downtown Bellingham, there was a cigar store on every block on Holly Street from Railroad Avenue to D Street. Fairhaven had six, in the early 1900’s where smoking was permitted in theaters, restaurants, stores and offices.

Bellingham also had a cigar making industry with several factories. In 1890 John Gruelich, founded the first small factory on State Street. His company, La Paloma Cigars, became popular in Whatcom County’s saloons. Several others emerged in the early 1900’s. In 1906 Bellingham’s cigar makers were rolling 40,000 cigars a month, supplying a demand in which 4 out of 5 men smoked.

The Cascade Club in 1890 was located in the space that now is the Le Chat Noir restaurant. Photo courtesy of http://www.sycamoresquare.com/Historycascade.htm

Before Fairhaven Smoke, The Cascade, a men’s social club was up stairs in the Mason Block. They sold drinks and cigars to patrons. “The Cascade Club was one of the most impressive establishments of its kind known in any city of the west. 
The membership consisted of 100 of Fairhaven’s most prominent business leaders,” a website on the Mason Block Building stated.  Mark Twain and William Taft are said to have visited the Cascade Club.


Waters, M. (November 20, 2011). Interview by M Parnell [Personal Interview]. Fairhaven smoke.

Jewell, J. (2005). Cigar makers: the sweet smell of success. Bellingham Business Journal, Retrieved from http://bbjtoday.com/blog/cigar-makers-the-sweet-smell-of-success/844


Sycamore square history. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sycamoresquare.com/historysummary.htm

url: http://www.sycamoresquare.com/historysummary.htm

Published in: on December 7, 2011 at 12:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mount Baker Theater

Above: A picture of the Theater during the Opening in 1927. Photo courtesy of City of Bellingham's Historic Buildings webpage

 Article by: Merrick Parnell

The Mount Baker Theater has been a beacon of the performing arts in Bellingham since the 1920’s. It ushered in a new era of in Bellingham’s development.

Opening in 1927, the theater was built by the Fox Movie Circuit and took just 14 months to build. The 1,638 seat venue was designed in a “Spanish-Moorish” style. The elegant trimming, elaborate carpet and ornate ceilings made the patrons feel like they were in a Spanish castle.

The Main Lobby of the Mount Baker Theater Photo Courtesy of Historylink.com

“The Mount Baker is an example of a palace movie house,” said tour guide Beth Selis. “Palace movie houses were luxurious and elaborate theaters. They made the viewers feel like they had been transported into  a lavish life style.” The theater also showed variety song and dance shows known as vaudeville. Vaudeville was featured at the Baker until the beginning of WWII, when sound was incorporated into film.

Robert C. Reamer, the building’s architect, was one of the most innovative architects living in the Northwest at the time. Reamer’s first claim to fame was the design of the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone Park.  The Bellingham Herald  reported the theater cost $400,000 to build.

The exterior of the building was fashioned with white plaster and red clay shingles, popular at the time. Probably the most recognizable feature is the tower, standing 110 feet tall. The tower was built to provide a source of distinction from the downtown buildings, and when the theater first opened, it housed a spotlight that was used during big events.

When the Baker originally opened, the theater was equipped for showing movies as well as vaudeville stage performances. The first movie ever shown in the theater was “Slide Kelly Slide,” a silent film about baseball.

“Flags and pennants have been fluttering for several days, giving that area a holiday appearance and an air of expectancy,” said the Herald article. The street in front of the theater was closed off, and an orchestra played out on the street in front of the theater before the premier. The showing sold out with an admission price of 35 cents a ticket, the equivalent of $4.55 in todays money

“Everyone who was anyone went,” said Selis. Among the noteworthy attendees were the architect, C.Reamer, the Whatcom County Tulip Queens and Pacific Northwest theater manager and president Harry C. Arthur.

The Mount Baker Theater had the most modern and top of the line production equipment of the era, such as lighting effects that could produce the illusion of snow and rain. The theater also housed a Wurlitzer that had a value of $25,000.The organ still remains today in playing shape and is operated on a hydraulic lift.

A view of the inside of the theater from the stage Photo courtesy of Whatcom-Bellingham Public Facilities District

“Eight vaudeville actors would occupy each room with their pets, children and everything else,” said Selis. When the theater was remodeled more modern dressing rooms were built, but the original ones still exist. When it was originally built the theater was equipped with just two 7 by 10  foot dressing rooms. Presently the theater does around 300 shows a year, ranging from musicals, concerts and Ballets. The theater also occasionally shows documentary and independent films such as Warren Miller’s ski movies.

“Mt. Baker Theater will open doors tonight.” Bellingham Herald, April 29, 1927, p1

Theater opening advertisement. Bellingham Herald, April 29, 1927

Selis. (2011, November). Interview by M Parnell [Personal Interview]. Mt baker theater.

Vanerway, R. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR. (1978). National register of historic places inventory nomination form

Mount Baker Theater webpage. http://www.mountbakertheater.com

Published in: on November 29, 2011 at 11:27 am  Comments (1)  

The T.G Richards Building (Lettered Streets)

Obtained Courtesy of the Whatcom Historical Society

Above: Early Photo of the T.G Richards Building as a Mercantile

Article By:

Merrick Parnell

Before the city of Bellingham came into existence in the 1890’s, it was the city of Whatcom, the ocean front settlement in the 1850’s. Whatcom was home to thousands of gold miners hoping to strike it rich in British Columbian Gold Fields. The T.G Richards Building is the oldest brick building in Washington.

In 1857, 800 ounces of gold was sold to the San Francisco mint from the Hudson Bay Company. This gold was prospected in the Fraser river Valley, in close proximity to Whatcom. The news of the prosperous gold fields spread, bringing 31,000 to the Bellingham Bay. With its closeness to the Frasier Valley, Bellingham Bay served as the main port and starting point for the miners to get supplies and outfit their prospecting expedition.

People speculated that Whatcom would emerge as the new gateway to the west, because of its important port location, and hoards of new settlers arriving everyday.
Many investors saw an opportunity to profit off the minors business, and the T.G Richards & Company was one of the first investment groups to invest in Whatcom’s future by providing settlements with supplies and a mercantile to help fill the miner’s retail needs.

The T.G Richards Group purchased the land on the tide flats on the streets of E and Center. This would be considered present day E and Holly Street, across from Northwest Recycling. The land was purchased for $600.00 from logging tycoon Russell V. Peabody who owned the neighboring sawmill. The deed that sold the property to the T.G Richards investment group was recorded on July 5, 1858.The Northern Light, the local newspaper at the time, published the first account of the building’s beginning in the July 24, 1858 issue. The article reads: “A load of bricks arrived from San Francisco, for the Richards partnership who are clearing ground for the erection of a two story brick store and banking house.” The publisher had a good view of the construction of the building because the paper offices were across from building site.
The July 31, 1858 edition the Northern Light gave an update: “Two story building of T.G Richards & Co commenced a week ago and is progressing finely. The walls have gone up some six or eight feet and have received the joist for the floor and the iron shutters and doors are in the ground so that no delay will be occasioned.”

In August 1858 an advertisement ran in the paper that read: “T.G Richards & Company having completed their new fire proof warehouse is now prepared to carry on a storage and commission business. Cash advances made on consignments and goods stored in our warehouse.”
The brick used to construct the building was manufactured in Philadelphia and shipped to Bellingham Bay via boat, and the entire building cost $8,000 to construct.

The mining boom in Whatcom ended when Victoria Governor Douglas decreed that all miners must stop in Victoria to obtain a permit before venturing to the Fraser River Valley.
William Bausman, the editor of the Northern Lights, left for San Francisco in the fall of 1858. Most of the buildings were transported to Victoria, to use their lumber to quickly construct new buildings for the new mining boom. Leaving the T.G Richards and the Hyatt Buildings standing as the solitary monuments of departed grandeur.
On May 6, 1863, the county government purchased the brick building for use as a courthouse. “As the county courthouse, much of the business of the community was conducted there,” said restoration project manager Rick Tremaine.
Since then, building has been used for many different purposes, such as a taxidermy shop in the 1950’s and a Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall before that.

Today the building is owned by the Whatcom County Historical Society. The society obtained it via donation by the Ackers who owned the taxidermy in 1954. The society is renovating the building. “The restoration project has a cost of about $550,000 and includes substantial repair to the brick, a new perimeter drainage system, new roof, and restoration of the building interior to its 1934 condition,” Tremaine said. “The building is a valuable asset not only to Bellingham and Whatcom County, but also to the state.”

Photo Obtained Courtesy of the City of Bellingham National Register of Historic Places web site

 The T.G Richards Building from the Wharf

A Merrick Parnell Photo

Present Day Photo of the T.G Richards Building

Notice that it is only one story, after they built the modern streets.

Published in: on November 10, 2011 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Baseball in Bellingham

Article By:

Merrick Parnell

For decades baseball has been America’s past time, and in Bellingham it’s no exception. The city of subdued excitement has hosted its share of minor league baseball. minor league baseball was first established in Bellingham in 1905 when the Bellingham Gillnetters played from 1905-1906 in the Northwestern League(NWL). The NWL featured four teams, the Vancouver Veterans, Everett Smokestackers and the Victoria Legislators. After the 1906 season Bellingham didn’t see minor league baseball again until 1938 when the Bellingham Chinooks started playing. In their first season the Chinooks claimed the league championship but the next year brought financial hardships forcing the team to move to Salem, Oregon.

Bellingham Chinooks

In 1977, the Los Angeles Dodgers moved their short season single A organization to Bellingham. The Bellingham Dodgers played for three years with just two winning seasons in 73 and 74. The 1974 season was their most successful, where they finished first in the league with a record of 52-32.

The Mariners planted their single A affiliate in Bellingham in 1977. The Bellingham Mariners also known as the Baby M’s played in Bellingham the longest.

Bellingham Mariners Logo 80s-90's


The Bellingham Mariners hosted many franchise greats such as Edgar Martinez, Dave Valle, Raul Ibanez, and Mike Soiccia.

The most famous player to play in Bellingham was Ken Griffey JR. JR came to Bellingham when he was just 17 years old, after being drafted out of Arch Bishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati. Griffey was selected first overall in the 1987 draft. In his first year with the baby M’s Griffey batted, .313 and hit 14 homers,  with 40 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. Before he advanced to single A San Bernardino in 1988.

Ken Griffey JR as a Bellingham Mariner

In 1994, the Bellingham Mariners moved their team to Everett, where they play currently as the Everett Aqua Sox. After the M’s departure the San Francisco Giants, came in to Bellingham for two years, leaving in 1996.

The Logo of the Bellingham Giants

The present day teams in Bellingham played in Joe Martin Field, which was built in 1964. The Ballpark seats 1,600. In 2007 it underwent major renovations, which included, new stonework, improving the main seating section and press box improvements.  The field was named after a local baseball ledged.

However the early teams, such as the Gillnetters and Chinook called Batersby field home, which is now the soccer field in front of  Whatcom Middle School.

Battersby Field, Home of the Gillnetters and Chinooks

Currently, Bellingham is home to the Bellingham Bells.  The Bells were established in 1999. There are several stories of how the Bells got their name, and all of them could be true, said General Manger  Blake Buswell. He shared that they were either named after a Bell company here in Bellingham, he also said “ Bells” was short for Bellingham or that the name could have been chosen to keep with the nautical theme.


Bellingham Bells new Logo

The Bells played in the Pacific International Baseball League, and then moved to the play West Coast League (WCL), a colligate summer league in 2005.  The WCL is a league comprised of nine teams hailing from, Wenatchee, Walla Walla, Longview, Bend, Oregon, Kewlona BC, Corvalis, Kitsap and Bellingham. The league was founded in 2005. The league uses wood bats that help pre-pare prospects for the big leagues. The WCL also prides themselves in long road and home stands that mimic the Pros and also prepare the players for the grueling schedule of the major and minor leagues.

The Bells are owned and operated by Brett Sports and Entertainment. Hall of Fame baseball player  George Brett is involved in this ownership group.  The Bells have established a good reputation in the community providing competitive baseball and entertainment.

Most of the players are regional said Buswell, but they are some from colleges across the country.  The Bells carry a 33 man roster of college players, some from big name schools. Infielder Eric Lane from Gonzaga and Outfielder Jeff Galeich stand out as the teams top prospects, said Buswell.

This season, the Bells, modified their uniforms to keep with more of a northwest theme. The red blue and yellow was replaced with navy green and silver, and the logo was changed to a bell. Buswell said that the uniforms were changed to have a more nautical feel.

“The Bells provide a place for the community to gather and connect, as well as developing young players” said Buswell.

Several Bell alumni playing in Major League Baseball, Jeff Francis of the Rockies, is currently the most note worthy, as he played in the 2007 world series. Other notable alumni include, Ty Taniubaum, Whatcom native who played for Toronto, Kevin Richardson, of the Texas Rangers and NFL quarterback Jake Locker.

NFL QB Jake Locker as a Bell with Teammates

Buswell, would like to one day have the Bells affiliated with the Major Leagues, but doesn’t see it happening soon.  “ Minor League Baseball is doing so well that no teams would move from a city at this time.” Said Buswell. Also, the stadium would have to make adjustments to comply with Minor League standards.

Below: Photos From Joe Martin Field

Published in: on May 18, 2011 at 10:03 pm  Leave a Comment