Save City Hall? Make Museum!

Permalink +

Wed, Mar 31, 2010, 11:30 pm  //  Kamalla Rose Kaur

The restoration of Bellingham's 1892 City Hall Building after the tower and cupola burned in 1962 - and the simultaneous creation of The Whatcom Museum - involved the time and money of nearly everyone in Whatcom County. Leading the project was local visionary architect George Bartholick and Pacific Northwest painter, Pat Fleeson. The restoration of the 1892 Building took more than a decade.

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.”

“Your advice?”

“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!”

Civic Success

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!”

Pat Fleeson today

Rebuilding the tower and cupola. We did it!

Marian Beddill  //  Fri, Apr 02, 2010, 10:07 am


The P o t P.

Save City Hall? Make Museum!

Wed, Mar 31, 2010, 11:30 pm  //  Kamalla Rose Kaur

The Creation of The Whatcom Museum and the Restoration of Bellingham's 1892 City Hall

1 comments; last on Apr 02, 2010

The Way I See It - Cranes and cows

Wed, Mar 31, 2010, 6:59 am  //  Ham Hayes

Sandhill Cranes: the Columbia River Basin's swallows of Capistrano


From a Political Junkie: Rob McKenna’s Flight

Mon, Mar 29, 2010, 6:28 am  //  Riley Sweeney

In case you missed it, Rob McKenna, our Republican attorney general, joined several other Republican attorneys general

1 comments; last on Mar 30, 2010

Questions on Health Care

Sat, Mar 27, 2010, 6:45 am  //  Craig Mayberry

Some questions on health care reform to our Congressional delegation.


Riley Sweeney - Contributing Writer

Wed, Mar 24, 2010, 4:21 pm  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley Sweeney, former campaign manager turned citizen journalist


The Way I See It - Epic of Gilgamesh

Wed, Mar 24, 2010, 6:48 am  //  Ham Hayes

From the earliest known writings of humanity, we hear the voices of distressed peoples.

2 comments; last on Mar 29, 2010

From One Political Junkie to Another: Crawford’s Crappy Fix

Mon, Mar 22, 2010, 10:44 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Last 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

Eagles - 2, Herons - 0

Sun, Mar 21, 2010, 6:45 am  //  Ham Hayes

If you are going to visit the heron nesting area at Post Point Lagoon in the near future, you are in for a pleasant surprise.


The Way I See It - Healthcare Reprise

Wed, Mar 17, 2010, 6:59 am  //  Ham Hayes

Public approval of Congress continues to slide and for good reason.


From One Political Junkie to Another: Investing in Infrastructure

Tue, Mar 16, 2010, 6:59 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Supporting the proposed sales tax increase for the WTA - by new writer Riley Sweeney.

3 comments; last on Mar 21, 2010

Bellingham! It’s The Mercury!

Wed, Mar 10, 2010, 9:42 pm  //  Kamalla Rose Kaur

Maybe 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

The Way I See It - Choose your poison

Wed, Mar 10, 2010, 6:49 am  //  Ham Hayes

How we, the public, choose to respond to growing polarization in our society is crucial.

1 comments; last on Mar 10, 2010

Intraprising Government

Fri, Mar 05, 2010, 12:30 pm  //  Craig Mayberry

A novel approach to government monoplies


The Way I See It - The Fall of Science

Wed, Mar 03, 2010, 7:00 am  //  Ham Hayes

Enough has been revealed, written and said about “Climate-gate” for me to be alarmed.

7 comments; last on Mar 07, 2010


New Links

Bellingham Wins

Noisy Waters

Election Info

Election Results

WA State Elections
Whatcom County Elections

Coal, Oil & Trains

Coal Stop

Community Wise Bham
Powder River Basin R. C.

Local Blogs & News

Bellingham Herald

Bham Business Journal
Bham Politics & Econ
Cascadia Weekly
Ferndale Record
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
Latte Republic
League of Women Voters
Lynden Tribune
Noisy Waters
Northern Light
Twilight Zoning
Western Front - WWU
Whatcom Watch

Local Causes

Chuckanut C. Forest

City Club of Bellingham
Conservation NW
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lake Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
RE Sources
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary
Transition Whatcom
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice


- Whatcom County

Port of Bellingham
Skagit County
US House
US Senate
US Supreme Court
US The White House
WA State
WA State Elections
Whatcom COG

NWCitizen 1995-2007

Early Northwest Citizen

Weather & Climate

Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Climate Audit
Nat Hurricane Center
NW Radar
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That?


Adventures NW

Bellingham Wins
Edge of Sports
Entertainment NNW
Famous Internet Skiers
Recreation Northwest
Sailing Anarchy

Good Web Sites

Al-Jazeera online

Alaska Dispatch
Arab News
Asia Times
Atlantic, The
Change The Mascot
Common Dreams
Crosscut Seattle
Daily Kos
Daily Mirror
Drudge Report
Foreign Policy in Focus
Guardian Unlimited
Gulf News
Huffington Post
Innocence Project
Irish Times
James Fallows
Jerusalem Post
Joel Connelly
Juan Cole
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Le Diplo
Media Matters
Michael Moore
Middle East Times
Nation, The
New American Century
News Trust
Online Journal
Palestine Daily
Palestine News
Paul Krugman
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Progressive Review
Project Vote Smart
Sea Shepherd
Stand for the Troops
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
The Intercept
the Oatmeal
War and Piece
Washington Votes

Quiet, Offline or Dead

Bellingham Register

Bhm Herald Politics Blog
Bob Sanders
Carl Weimer
Chuckanut Mountains
Citizen Ted
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
David Hackworth
Facebook Port Reform
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Jack Petree
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Northwest Review
Protect Bellingham Parks
Sweeney Politics
The American Telegraph
Wally Wonders