Save City Hall? Make Museum!Permalink +
Wed, Mar 31, 2010, 11:30 pm // Kamalla Rose Kaur
Yes, We Can!
“When I think about the 1892 building, it amazes me that just forty years after white settlers arrived on Bellingham Bay, those lumberjacks, fishermen and miners built that elegant City Hall,” Pat Fleeson reflects.
I'm visiting Pat to ask her about an important civic experience that occurred between 1962 to 1974. It was during my childhood here, when "we-the-people" of Whatcom County saved Bellingham's historic 1892 City Hall from ruin.
I tell Pat, “For me there is nothing more inspiring than when people in this region successfully work together, over many years, to achieve community goals – for instance, take the many heroes who recently fought against the Chuckanut Ridge development!”
“Yes! Thank goodness for neighbors who put the environment, beauty, community, culture, and good living above money,” Pat declares, then adds, “Bellingham stayed small for most of our history. In the last few decades we've doubled in size. Recent development has been shocking and frightening. We've accepted and supported environmental destruction, shoddy construction materials and methods, and inferior architecture.”
“Labor to make Whatcom County a wonderful place to live. One of the great joys of freedom is successfully merging our talents, resources and muscle to create a terrific home in this uniquely beautiful land.”
In 1993 the Bellingham Municipal Arts Commission and Mayor Tim Douglas officially honored Pat as one of Bellingham's “Living Treasures.” Pat is in her nineties now. She moved here in 1927, at age 11, when her father, Ralph Roberg, became the manager of the pulp mill, then The Puget Sound Pulp and Timber company. In 1948 she married Richard Fleeson, a Harvard Law School graduate from Kansas who became the lawyer for businesses like Seattle First National Bank, Intalco and Morse Hardware.
“I wanted to be an architect but I learned when I enrolled in the architecture school at the University of Washington that I couldn't measure, no talent for it. So I turned to my lifelong love of painting, and studied art.”
Over the years Pat has had many art shows including a one-woman show at the Whatcom Museum. Her paintings have toured with exhibits of Northwest art and she is a Signature member of the NW Watercolor Society.
The Old Museum
In 1929 Bellingham officials moved into a new City Hall across from the present downtown library. The abandoned 1892 Building was subsequently rented by the city to the Historical Society for one dollar and they opened up as Bellingham's first museum.
“It was Aunt Tilly's attic! An exceptional hobbyist ornithologist from Lynden named Judson stored his big birds with their eggs collection there, and who can forget the stuffed alligator?”
There was a huge Civil War flag, a Native canoe, and display cases packed with objects both rare and silly.
“Citizens donated some excellent pieces, yet many were just using the building as a free storage unit,” Pat recalls. “I remember there was a clump of mud, which someone brought from Missouri. They thought it looked like an elephant footprint, a mastodon!”
Fire and Failure
In 1962 an electrical wire shorted and fire destroyed the main tower and one cupola of Bellingham's historic first City Hall and jail.
“They only had $4000 insurance money, just enough to raze the building. Bellingham's downtown businesses coveted the land. My architect friend George Bartholick convinced me that we couldn't let it be destroyed, rather it should become a real museum. Unfortunately, there were no architectural plans! Still George thought he could create architectural drawings from old photos, which he did - and did perfectly. He told me, 'We can restore it in stages, one floor at a time. It should take about ten years!' I howled, 'Ten years?' I didn't want it to take ten years! But it did. It took over a decade of community effort.”
Their small group met and decided to hire a professional fundraiser to launch the project. Unfortunately his efforts proved costly and ineffective leaving them $10,000 in the hole with nothing to show for it.
“The City Fathers who put up the money decided to quit. They thought we should cut our losses - they stood up and left the meeting. But 'the ladies in flowered hats' - that's what the Smithsonian Institute called women like us - remained behind, determined.”
Awareness and Fund Raising
First Pat composed a letter to Bellingham service clubs asking them to each appoint a representative to create a working committee.
“They fell for it! So I wrote another letter and sent it to every church and club in the county letting them know that they could choose from any number of museum fundraisers - pancake breakfasts, dances, fairs, shows - just let us know when and where! They went for that too! And when these local churches and clubs sponsored their museum fundraisers, the Bellingham Herald advertised their events and our mission.”
In 1966 Susan Barrow, who had restored the Alaska State Museum, moved to Bellingham as the first Director of the Whatcom Museum.
“Sue became my great friend. She not only knew all about museums, she knew how to raise funds. With Susan beside me I had the courage to visit Prentice “Bing” Bloedel and ask him for money. 'Will $25,000 be enough?' he wanted to know and I told him, 'No! That won't be nearly enough!.' Of course we were very unorganized compared to the normal complicated grant applications he received. We amused him, so he told us if we could raise $35,000, he'd give us $50,000!”
The Whatcom Museum opened in June 1974. A small group of Bellingham citizens had successfully inspired thousands to offer time and money to save Bellingham's 1892 City Hall Building, and creae the Whatcom Museum. When the tower was finally complete, Pat Fleeson took a white bed sheet and black paint and made a flag. She flew it from the pole atop the lovingly, accurately, restored main tower. It read “WE DID IT!”
Wed, Mar 31, 2010, 11:30 pm // Kamalla Rose KaurThe Creation of The Whatcom Museum and the Restoration of Bellingham's 1892 City Hall
1 comments; last on Apr 02, 2010
Wed, Mar 31, 2010, 6:59 am // Ham HayesSandhill Cranes: the Columbia River Basin's swallows of Capistrano
Mon, Mar 29, 2010, 6:28 am // Riley SweeneyIn case you missed it, Rob McKenna, our Republican attorney general, joined several other Republican attorneys general
1 comments; last on Mar 30, 2010
Sat, Mar 27, 2010, 6:45 am // Craig MayberrySome questions on health care reform to our Congressional delegation.
Wed, Mar 24, 2010, 4:21 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney, former campaign manager turned citizen journalist
Wed, Mar 24, 2010, 6:48 am // Ham HayesFrom the earliest known writings of humanity, we hear the voices of distressed peoples.
2 comments; last on Mar 29, 2010
Mon, Mar 22, 2010, 10:44 am // Riley SweeneyLast November, after the election, Bob Kelly decided to resign his seat so he could take a leadership role with the Nooksack tribe.
3 comments; last on Mar 24, 2010
Sun, Mar 21, 2010, 6:45 am // Ham HayesIf you are going to visit the heron nesting area at Post Point Lagoon in the near future, you are in for a pleasant surprise.
Wed, Mar 17, 2010, 6:59 am // Ham HayesPublic approval of Congress continues to slide and for good reason.
Tue, Mar 16, 2010, 6:59 am // Riley SweeneySupporting the proposed sales tax increase for the WTA - by new writer Riley Sweeney.
3 comments; last on Mar 21, 2010
Wed, Mar 10, 2010, 9:42 pm // Kamalla Rose KaurMaybe NOAA knows the truth about our waterfront. Our Port of Bellingham pretends it is not toxic. But it is criminally toxic.
2 comments; last on Mar 16, 2010
Wed, Mar 10, 2010, 6:49 am // Ham HayesHow we, the public, choose to respond to growing polarization in our society is crucial.
1 comments; last on Mar 10, 2010
Fri, Mar 05, 2010, 12:30 pm // Craig MayberryA novel approach to government monoplies
Wed, Mar 03, 2010, 7:00 am // Ham HayesEnough has been revealed, written and said about “Climate-gate” for me to be alarmed.
7 comments; last on Mar 07, 2010
Election InfoCounty Candidate Filings
State Elections Website
Whatcom County Elections
Coal, Oil & TrainsCoal Stop
Community Wise Bellingham
Powder River Basin R. C.
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Herald Politics Blog
Bham Politics & Economics
Bhm Biz Journal
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesChuckanut Community Forest
City Club of Bellingham
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Reduce Jet Noise
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary Building
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice
Port of Bellingham
State Elections Website
US - The White House
WA State Access
WA State Elections
WA State Legislature
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Nat Hurricane Center
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good Web SitesAl-Jazeera online
Change The Mascot
Foreign Policy in Focus
Innocence Project, The
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Paul Krugman - economics
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Stand for the Troops
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
War and Piece
NwCitizen 1995 - 2007Early Northwest Citizen
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Police Activity
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph