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Bellingham, Washington
City
Aerial View of Bellingham, Washington.jpg
Official seal of Bellingham, Washington
Seal
Nickname(s): City of Subdued Excitement
Bellingham's location (red, southwest corner at lower left) in Whatcom County (brown, northwest corner at upper left), in the state of Washington
Bellingham's location (red, southwest corner at lower left) in Whatcom County (brown, northwest corner at upper left), in the state of Washington
Country United States
State Washington
County Whatcom
Incorporated July 29, 1904
Area
 • City 28.90 sq mi (74.82 km2)
 • Land 27.08 sq mi (70.11 km2)
 • Water 1.82 sq mi (4.71 km2)
Elevation 69 ft (22 m)
Population (2010)
 • City 80,885
 • Estimate (2015) 85,146
 • Rank US: 385th
 • Density 2,986.9/sq mi (1,153.2/km2)
 • Urban 114,473 (US: 275th)
 • Metro 212,284 (US: 209th)
Time zone PST (UTC−8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC−7)
ZIP codes 98225-98229
Area code(s) 360
FIPS code 53-05280
GNIS feature ID 1512001
Demonym Bellinghamster
Website www.cob.org

Bellingham (/ˈbɛlɪŋhæm/ BEL-ing-ham) is the largest city in and the county seat of Whatcom County in the U.S. state of Washington. It is the thirteenth-largest city in the state, with 85,146 residents in 2015 as estimated by the US Census, or sixth-largest by metropolitan area after Seattle-Tacoma, Spokane, the northern side of the Portland metropolitan area, the Tri-Cities, and Yakima. The boundaries of the city encompass the former towns of Fairhaven, Whatcom, Sehome, and Bellingham.

Bellingham is the northernmost city in the contiguous United States with a population of more than 50,000 residents. It is acclaimed for its easy access to outdoor opportunities in the San Juan Islands and North Cascades as well as proximity to the cities of Vancouver and Seattle. It is also famous for the large quantities of Canadian tourists and shoppers who visit daily to take advantage of relatively cheap gasoline, airfare and other products.

History

B'ham Fairhaven 04
An old bank building, built in 1900 in the Fairhaven Historic District.

The name of Bellingham is derived from the bay on which the city is situated. George Vancouver, who visited the area in June 1792, named the bay for Sir William Bellingham, the controller of the storekeeper's account of the Royal Navy.

Prior to Euro-American settlement, Bellingham was in the homeland of Coast Salish peoples of the Lummi and neighboring tribes. The first Caucasian settlers reached the area in 1854. In 1858, the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush caused thousands of miners, storekeepers, and scalawags to head north from California. Whatcom (Bellingham's original name) grew overnight from a small northwest mill town to a bustling seaport, the basetown for the Whatcom Trail, which led to the Fraser Canyon goldfields, used in open defiance of colonial Governor James Douglas's edict that all entry to the gold colony be made via Victoria, British Columbia.

Coal was mined in the Bellingham area from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. It was Henry Roeder who had discovered coal off the northeastern shore of Bellingham Bay, and in 1854 a group of San Francisco investors established the Bellingham Bay Coal Company. The mine extended to hundreds of miles of tunnels as deep as 1200 feet. It ran southwest to Bellingham Bay, on both sides of Squalicum Creek, an area of about one square mile. At its peak in the 1920s, the mine employed some 250 miners digging over 200,000 tons of coal annually. It was closed in 1955.

Bellingham was officially incorporated on November 4, 1903 as a result of the incremental consolidation of four towns initially situated around Bellingham Bay during the final decades of the 19th Century. Whatcom is today's "Old Town" area and was founded in 1852. Sehome was an area of downtown founded in 1854. Bellingham was further south near Boulevard Park, founded in 1853; while Fairhaven was a large commercial district with its own harbor, also founded in 1853.

In 1890, Fairhaven developers bought Bellingham. Whatcom and Sehome had adjacent borders and both towns wanted to merge; thus they formed New Whatcom. Later, on October 27, 1903, the word "New" was dropped from the name, because the Washington State Legislature outlawed the use of the word new in city and town names. At first, attempts to combine Fairhaven and Whatcom failed, and there was controversy over the name of the proposed new city. Whatcom citizens wouldn't support a city named Fairhaven, and Fairhaven residents would not support a city named Whatcom. They eventually settled on the name Bellingham, which remains today. Voting a second time for a final merger of the four towns into a single city, the resolution passed by 2163 votes for and 596 against.

In the early 1890s, three railroad lines arrived, connecting the bay cities to a nationwide market of builders. The foothills around Bellingham were clearcut after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to help provide the lumber for the rebuilding of San Francisco. In time, lumber and shingle mills sprang up all over the county to accommodate the byproduct of their work.

In 1889, Pierre Cornwall and an association of investors formed the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company (BBIC). The BBIC invested in several diverse enterprises such as shipping, coal, mining, railroad construction, real estate sales and utilities. Even though their dreams of turning Bellingham into a Pacific Northwest metropolis never came to fruition, the BBIC made an immense contribution to the economic development of Bellingham.

BBIC was not the only outside firm with an interest in Bellingham utilities. The General Electric Company of New York purchased Bellingham's Fairhaven Line and New Whatcom street rail line in 1897. In 1898 the utility merged into the Northern Railway and Improvement Company which prompted the Electric Corporation of Boston to purchase a large block of shares.

Bellingham was the site of the Bellingham riots against East Indian (Sikh) immigrant workers in 1907. A mob of 400–500 white men, predominantly members of the Asiatic Exclusion League, with intentions to exclude East Indian immigrants from the work force of the local lumber mills, attacked the homes of the South Asian Indians. The Indians were mostly Sikhs but were labelled as Hindus by much of the media of the day.

Bellingham's proximity to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and to the Inside Passage to Alaska helped keep some cannery operations here. P.A.F., for example, shipped empty cans to Alaska, where they were packed with fish and shipped back for storage.

Bellingham circa 1909
Bellingham, 2010

Geography

The city is located at 48°45′N 122°29′W / 48.75°N 122.483°W / 48.75; -122.483 (48.75, −122.48). The city is situated on Bellingham Bay which is protected by Lummi Island, Portage Island, and the Lummi Peninsula, and opens onto the Strait of Georgia. It lies west of Mount Baker and Lake Whatcom (from which it gets its drinking water) and north of the Chuckanut Mountains and the Skagit Valley. Whatcom Creek runs through the center of the city. Bellingham is 17 miles (27 km) south of the US-Canada border and 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Vancouver.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 28.90 square miles (74.85 km2), of which, 27.08 square miles (70.14 km2) is land and 1.82 square miles (4.71 km2) is water. The lowest elevations are at sea level along the waterfront. Alabama Hill is one of the higher points in the city at about 500 feet (150 m). Elevations of 800 feet (240 m) are found near Yew Street Hill north of Lake Padden and near Galbraith Mountain. South and eastward of the city limits are taller foothills of the North Cascades mountains. Mount Baker is the largest peak in the local area, with a summit elevation of 10,778 feet (3,285 m) that is only 31 miles (50 km) from Bellingham Bay. Mount Baker is visible from many parts of the city and western Whatcom County. Lake Whatcom forms part of the eastern boundary of the city, while many smaller lakes and wetland areas are found around the region.

Bellingham's neighborhoods include Birchwood, Columbia, Lettered Streets, Barkley, Fairhaven, and Downtown, among others.

Surrounding communities

Climate

Weather chart for Bellingham, Washington
J F M A M J J A S O N D
 
 
4.7
 
46
33
 
 
3
 
48
33
 
 
3.2
 
52
36
 
 
2.7
 
57
40
 
 
2.5
 
62
46
 
 
1.9
 
67
50
 
 
1.2
 
71
54
 
 
1.2
 
72
53
 
 
1.8
 
67
48
 
 
3.7
 
58
42
 
 
5.8
 
50
37
 
 
4.2
 
44
32
temperatures in °F
precipitation totals in inches
source: NOAA
Old Main, Western Washington University
Old Main, Western Washington University in winter.

Bellingham's climate is generally mild and typical of the Puget Sound region. The year-long average daily high and low temperatures are 59 and 44.1 °F (15.0 and 6.7 °C), respectively. Western Whatcom County has a marine oceanic climate that is strongly influenced by the Cascade Range and Olympic Mountains. The Cascades to the east retain the temperate marine influence, while the Olympics provide a rain shadow effect that buffers Bellingham from much of the rainfall approaching from the southwest.

Bellingham receives an average annual rainfall of 34.84 inches (885 mm), which is slightly less than nearby Seattle. As evident in the table below, November is typically the wettest month, with numerous frontal rainstorms arriving. Still, precipitation is distributed throughout the rainy period extending from October through April. Bellingham was reported to have the lowest average sunshine amount of any city in the US.

Despite this, Bellingham also has mild, pleasant summers. The hottest summer days rarely exceed 90 °F (32 °C) and the warmest temperature on record is 96 °F (36 °C) on July 29, 2009. This is markedly cooler than the record high for Seattle 103 °F (39 °C) and most other Washington locations. Drought is rare, although some summers are noticeably drier than others and some normally reliable wells have been known to run dry in August and September. Nevertheless, crops are more frequently ruined by too much rain rather than too little.

Bellingham's proximity to the Fraser River valley occasionally subjects it to a harsh winter weather pattern (termed a 'north-Easter') wherein an upper level trough drives cold Arctic air from the Canadian interior southwesterly through the Fraser River Canyon. Such an event was recorded on November 28, 2006, when air temperatures of 12 °F (−11 °C) were accompanied by 30 to 48 miles per hour (48 to 77 km/h) winds. Wind chill equivalents reached −10 °F (−23 °C) according to NOAA. Several days into this pattern, local ponds and smaller lakes freeze solidly enough to allow skating. Outflow winds can collide with a Gulf of Alaska moisture and create ice, snow, or heavy rains. This transition can also lead to freezing rain, referred to as a "Silver Thaw" that produces hazardous driving among other inconveniences.

Another weather phenomenon, known as the "Pineapple Express", happens in the autumn. For most of a day, an unusually warm and steady wind comes out of the south. It is essentially a reverse northeaster. (Some film of a northeaster and a "Chinook" can be seen at this link:.) A variation that occurs in winter following several days of northeast outflow winds described above can melt significant snow accumulations very quickly, pushing drainage systems to their limits.

Climate data for Bellingham, Washington (Bellingham International Airport) 1981–2010, extremes 1949–present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 65
(18.3)
72
(22.2)
76
(24.4)
78
(25.6)
90
(32.2)
93
(33.9)
96
(35.6)
94
(34.4)
89
(31.7)
78
(25.6)
73
(22.8)
67
(19.4)
96
(35.6)
Average high °F (°C) 45.6
(7.56)
48.3
(9.06)
52.2
(11.22)
56.8
(13.78)
62.2
(16.78)
66.6
(19.22)
71.2
(21.78)
71.8
(22.11)
66.9
(19.39)
57.9
(14.39)
49.7
(9.83)
44.2
(6.78)
57.8
(14.33)
Average low °F (°C) 32.8
(0.44)
33.2
(0.67)
36.3
(2.39)
40.0
(4.44)
45.5
(7.5)
50.3
(10.17)
53.5
(11.94)
53.1
(11.72)
47.6
(8.67)
41.6
(5.33)
36.7
(2.61)
32.0
(0)
41.9
(5.5)
Record low °F (°C) −2
(-18.9)
−2
(-18.9)
10
(-12.2)
24
(-4.4)
25
(-3.9)
37
(2.8)
40
(4.4)
38
(3.3)
28
(-2.2)
20
(-6.7)
3
(-16.1)
−1
(-18.3)
−2
(-18.9)
Precipitation inches (mm) 4.67
(118.6)
3.02
(76.7)
3.22
(81.8)
2.69
(68.3)
2.48
(63)
1.86
(47.2)
1.18
(30)
1.23
(31.2)
1.78
(45.2)
3.68
(93.5)
5.80
(147.3)
4.22
(107.2)
35.83
(910.1)
Snowfall inches (cm) 3.4
(8.6)
2.4
(6.1)
0.7
(1.8)
Trace 0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.1
(0.3)
0.9
(2.3)
2.9
(7.4)
10.4
(26.4)
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 18.2 14.8 17.0 14.7 12.9 9.9 5.9 6.6 9.9 15.3 19.9 18.3 163.4
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 1.8 1.4 0.5 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.4 1.5 5.8
Source: NOAA

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 8,135
1900 11,062 36.0%
1910 24,298 119.7%
1920 25,585 5.3%
1930 30,823 20.5%
1940 29,314 −4.9%
1950 34,112 16.4%
1960 34,688 1.7%
1970 39,375 13.5%
1980 45,794 16.3%
1990 52,179 13.9%
2000 67,171 28.7%
2010 80,885 20.4%
Est. 2015 85,146 5.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
2015 Estimate

As of 2000 the median income for a household in the city was $32,530, and the median income for a family was $47,196. Males had a median income of $35,288 versus $25,971 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,483. About 9.4% of families and 20.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.2% of those under age 18 and 9.0% of those aged 65 or over.

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 80,885 people, 34,671 households, and 16,129 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,986.9 inhabitants per square mile (1,153.2/km2). There were 36,760 housing units at an average density of 1,357.5 per square mile (524.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 84.9% White, 1.3% African American, 1.3% Native American, 5.1% Asian, 0.3% Pacific Islander, 2.8% from other races, and 4.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.0% of the population.

There were 34,671 households of which 21.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.2% were married couples living together, 8.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.5% had a male householder with no wife present, and 53.5% were non-families. 35.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.79.

The median age in the city was 31.3 years. 15.6% of residents were under the age of 18; 23.5% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 25.9% were from 25 to 44; 22% were from 45 to 64; and 12.8% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.8% male and 51.2% female.

Local culture

Events

  • The Ski to Sea race is a team relay race made up of seven legs: cross country skiing, downhill skiing (or snowboarding), running, road biking, canoeing (2 person), mountain biking, and kayaking. The racers begin at the Mount Baker Ski Area and make their way down to the finish line on Bellingham Bay. Organized by the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the event was first held in 1973 and traces it roots to the 1911 Mt. Baker Marathon.
  • The Bellingham Bay Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K & 5K is held annually on the last Sunday in September, attracting approximately 2,500 runners and walkers each year. The Boston-qualifier marathon starts near Gooseberry Point on Lummi Nation, offers island and mountain vistas while circumnavigating Bellingham Bay, passes through beautiful farmland and neighborhoods, follows waterfront greenways, then climbs above the bay before returning to an exciting finish in front of Depot Market Square in downtown Bellingham. The half marathon, 10K, and 5K races all start and end at Depot Market Square, with each course featuring some of the same scenic views as the marathon. 100% of net proceeds from the event benefit Whatcom County non-profit youth organizations.
  • The Whatcom Artist Studio Tour ]is a popular annual event featuring local artists, working in a variety of media. On the first two weekends in October, artists open their studios up to the public during this beloved community event, so that visitors can experience the local art community through personal connections with artists.
  • The Bellingham Highland Games & Scottish Festival is held every year at Ferndale’s Hovander Park the first full weekend in June. The outdoor event celebrates Scottish culture and heritage, with two days of games, spectator sports, dancing, music and food.
  • Whatcom Community College and Whatcom Human Rights Taskforce host the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference on MLK weekend every January. Event workshops, guest speakers, a silent auction and food address the general theme of Human Rights as expressed in the teachings of Dr. King. This event has been held since 1998.
  • LinuxFest Northwest is a free conference dedicated to discussion and development of the Linux operating system and other open-source and free-software projects. It is a weekend event held at Bellingham Technical College in late April or early May which draws more than a thousand enthusiasts from across the northwestern US and western Canada. Since the first conference in 2000 it has become one of the largest events of its kind.
  • The annual International Day of Peace is celebrated in Bellingham on September 21. The holiday was instituted by the United Nations as a 24-hour global cease-fire. The Bellingham-based Whatcom Peace & Justice Center publishes a calendar of upcoming activist events with a theme of non-violence, community dissent, and worldwide Peace.
  • The Bellingham Festival of Music is an annual celebration of orchestral and chamber concerts, held in July, hosting musicians from North American orchestral ensembles.
  • Bellingham Pride is a gay pride parade and festival held in July each year to celebrate LGBT people and their friends. The parade takes place on a midsummer weekend, passing through the downtown and ending in the public market area.
  • The Bellingham Wig Out, held each year the Friday before Memorial Day, is a celebration of fun and irreverent welcoming Spring. Events include the Wig Walk, a promenade of wig wearers through the downtown business district, a wig Competition, complete with categories from Wee Wigster to the Best Handmade Wig, and a Wig Out Party held at various locations that evening. The Wig Out folks also participate the next day in the Ski to Sea Parade.
  • The Bellingham Greek Festival is held each year in September the weekend after Labor Day at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church.
  • The Imperial Sovereign Court of the Evergreen Empire is a drag queen charity organization that has been in Bellingham for more than 30 years. The group raises money for scholarships and other charitable organizations and holds their largest event, Coronation, the second Saturday of January each year. The Bellingham Gay Pageant is held the third Saturday of each September.

Beer

Bellingham topped a 2015 list of Beer Snob Cities. It is home to nine breweries and an annual Bellingham Beer Week.

Downtown

Downtown Bellingham, Washington
Downtown Bellingham, Washington

In 2014, Bellingham's downtown was named #8 on Livability.com's Best Downtowns list.

The Bellingham Farmers Market is open on Saturdays from early April to late December. Originally opened in 1993, the Farmers Market now features more than fifty vendors, music and community events. There is a tradition that "on opening day a cabbage is thrown by a city official to a long standing vendor." The association also operates a weekly Wednesday market in nearby Fairhaven.

Local attractions

Upper Whatcom Falls-110506
Upper Falls in Whatcom Falls Park

Although Bellingham is smaller than neighboring metropolitan areas such as Seattle, Vancouver, or Victoria, the city and its surrounding region offer many attractions which are popular for both residents and visitors. The Whatcom Museum of History and Art sponsors exhibits of painting, sculpture, local history, and is an active participant in the city's monthly Gallery Walks which are pedestrian tours of the historic buildings of the city, offering history and art lessons for local schools and adult groups, and historic cruises on Bellingham Bay. The Bellingham Railway Museum is where one may find educational displays explaining the history of railroading in Whatcom County, as well as model trains, and a freight-train simulator. The SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention, formerly known as the American Museum of Radio and Electricity, is a unique local establishment which features a collection of rare artifacts from 1580 into the 1950s, providing educational resources about the history of electronics and radio broadcasting. The AMRE also operates KMRE-LP 102.3 FM, a low-power FM radio station which broadcasts a number of old shows popular many decades ago, as well as programming of general interest to the local community. Mindport is a privately funded arts and science museum, and is also occasionally involved in the Gallery Walks.

The scenic splendor of Bellingham and Whatcom County is appreciated by residents and tourists. Whatcom Falls Park is a 241-acre (0.98 km2) large public park encompassing the Whatcom Creek gorge, running directly through the heart of the city. It has four sets of waterfalls and several miles of walking trails, and is a hub of outdoor activity connecting and defining several different neighborhoods of Bellingham. Popular activities during warmer weather include swimming, fishing, and strolling along the numerous walking trails. About 31 mi (50 km) east of Bellingham the Mount Baker Ski Area is home to many of the world's first snowboarding champions, and it holds the world record for the greatest amount of snowfall in one season (winter 1998–1999). During most years the depth of accumulated snow exceeds 12 ft (3.7 m).

South of the city of Bellingham one may travel along Chuckanut Drive (Washington State Route 11), a route which offers cliffside views of the sea, the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Mountains, the hills and forests of the Chuckanut mountains, and several small picturesque bays along the edge of the Salish Sea. Several miles from Bellingham in the southern part of Whatcom County there are many places enjoyed by vacationers and enthusiasts of outdoor recreation, including: Larrabee State Park (popular for hiking), Lake Padden (popular for swimming, fishing and golfing), and Lake Samish. To the east of the city lies Lake Whatcom, a beautiful natural resource which provides the local public water supply and is the source of Whatcom Creek. Between Lake Whatcom and Lake Padden is North Lookout Mountain, known locally as Galbraith Mountain, which is renowned for its many fine mountain bike trails.

In the waters of the Georgia Strait and Puget Sound it is possible to go whale watching. Several pods of orcas (killer whales) are known to travel from the open Pacific Ocean into the area, and families of these huge aquatic creatures can be seen swimming and hunting near the local bays and islands.

Bellis Fair, the city's main shopping mall, opened in 1988.

Transportation

Whatcom Transit Bus 01
Whatcom Transit bus in the Fairhaven District.

The Bellingham International Airport offers regularly scheduled commuter flights to and from Seattle and Friday Harbor, Washington, and regularly scheduled jet service to Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, and Palm Springs, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Reno, Nevada, and Phoenix/Mesa, Arizona. In 2010 Alaska airlines began regularly scheduled direct flights to Hawaii. The airport is home of the first Air and Marine Operations Center, to assist the US Department of Homeland Security with border surveillance.

Fairhaven Station provides Bellingham with regularly scheduled Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service to Seattle, Portland, Oregon and to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Whatcom Transportation Authority offers regular scheduled bus service throughout the Bellingham area and Whatcom county, including service to Mt. Vernon, Kendall, Sumas, and Blaine.

The Fairhaven section of the city is the southern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway. The ferry service offers vehicle and passenger service north to Ketchikan, Alaska and points north including Juneau and Haines. San Juan Cruises, located at the Alaska Ferry Terminal, provides seasonal passenger ferry service to the San Juan Islands / Friday Harbor.

Music scene

Bellingham has traditionally had a natural advantage of drawing many diverse and highly acclaimed acts to perform at various venues due to being located on a major highway halfway between two major cities. The presence of a large university-age population has helped Bellingham become home to a number of regionally and nationally noted musical groups such as Death Cab for Cutie, Odesza, The Posies, Crayon, Idiot Pilot, Mono Men, No-Fi Soul Rebellion, Sculptured, Federation X, The Trucks, Black Eyes and Neckties, Black Breath, and Shook Ones. Local independent record labels include Estrus Records and Clickpop Records. The town is also home to What's Up! Magazine – a publication devoted to the local music scene for over 15 years, as well as being the hometown of the worldwide "Lemonade Magazine" which is devoted to music and entertainment of all kinds.

Bellingham is also the home of an active classical music scene which includes the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, North Sound Youth Symphony, numerous community music groups and choirs, and the internationally recognized Bellingham Festival of Music.

Literary scene

Bellingham is home to an active writers community at the local universities and independent of them. Western Washington University's English Department publishes the Bellingham Review. In 2011 the city hosted the first annual Chuckanut Writers Conference, run by Whatcom Community College and Village Books, a local bookstore. Clover, A Literary Rag, a publication of the Independent Writers' Studio, has produced 9 volumes since 2010. The city is home to a number of well-known writers including Steve Martini, Clyde Ford, and George Dyson. Bellingham Public Library provides free library services at the Central Library, Barkley Branch and Fairhaven Branch. Holds pickup is also available at the BTC, WCC and WWU Connections.

Local theater

Bellingham is home to a rich theater culture which is further boosted by the performing arts department at Western Washington University. There are several notable theaters and productions in Bellingham:

  • Bellingham Theatre Guild – This non-profit community theater is nearly 80 years old. Hilary Swank performed here before moving to LA to pursue her career in acting.
  • Historic Mount Baker Theatre – This beautifully restored theater built in 1927 features a fine example of Moorish architecture and is the largest performing arts facility north of Seattle. The theater is listed on the register of National Historic Places.
  • Firehouse Performing Arts Center, a Fairhaven firehouse converted into a dance classroom and theatre, features audience seating descending from the ceiling in a counterweight system and a radiant-heated wood floor. Performances include theatre, music, and dance.
  • The high schools of Bellingham School District perform a combined musical production every several years.

Bellingham Flag

Bellingham Flag
Unofficial Bellingham Flag

The Bellingham Flag, designed by Bradley Lockhart, was the winner of a contest held by the Downtown Bellingham Partnership in 2015. The flag design consists of a blue field, representing Bellingham Bay, four green stripes, representing the original four towns that joined to become Bellingham, two four-pointed white stars to represent the Lummi and Nooksack tribes, and three wavy white lines that represent 'Whatcom = noisy waters'.

While still unofficial, the flag has been presented to the City Council for consideration, and Lockhart has placed the design in the public domain. One of more than 50 city flag design projects instigated by the Roman Mars TED Talk, the Bellingham Flag has been widely embraced by citizens and businesses. It flies on local flagpoles, hangs in restaurants and breweries, and appears on t-shirts, stickers, and skateboards.

In recognition of his work on the flag and its success in the community, Lockhart was given a 2016 Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center Peace Builder Award and named to the Bellingham Business Journal's Top 7 Under 40 list.

Activism

Bellingham is home to the longest-running Peace vigil in the United States. Started by Howard and Rosemary Harris more than 48 years ago, it has seen more than 4 generations. It is held on the corner of Magnolia Street and Cornwall, in front of the Federal Building, every Friday starting at 4 pm and usually lasts until about 5 pm.

International Day of Peace has been observed for the last six years by hundreds of participants. The event commemorates the United Nations' observance of September 21 as a day for international peace and cease-fire. Participants hold a rally at Maritime Heritage Park, and then marched to an event at First Congregational Church.

The Whatcom Peace & Justice Center was founded in 2002 by local activists, and has been one of the most active such centers in the nation.

Bellingham has a strong chapter of Code Pink, Veterans For Peace, and also a chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Chapter #32.

Bellingham has two strong chapters of Food Not Bombs. The Sunday chapter has been serving for more than ten years. Food is served Sundays at 4:00pm at the intersection of Railroad and Holly. The Friday chapter serves during Bellingham's Peace Vigil on Cornwall and Magnolia, also at 4:00.

In October 2006, the Bellingham City Council passed a Troops Home! resolution, making Bellingham the first city in the state of Washington to pass the resolution. Two years later, the City Council passed a resolution urging elected representatives and the federal government to avoid war with Iran, becoming the first city in the state to do so. More recently, in 2012, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling upon the federal government to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in the case of FEC v. Citizens United by declaring that U.S. Constitutional rights apply to natural persons and not to corporations. In 2014, coinciding with Columbus Day that celebrates the arrival of European explorers, the City Council officially established Coast Salish Day to celebrate the Native American peoples who continue to call the geographic region their home.

In 2015 the Seattle Arctic drilling protests spread to Bellingham when a protestor chained herself to the anchor chain of a Royal Dutch Shell ship for 63 hours.

Future development

In March 2005, Kiplinger's Personal Finance named Bellingham one of the top retirement cities in the nation. Purchase price of homes has risen and rents have stably risen for the last decade. Many of the condominiums recently built as a result of the demand for affordable housing have subsequently become rental units.

Bellingham has seen a resurgence of real-estate development as house prices climb, caused in part by new residents moving into the community. In order to accommodate this growth, new properties have sprung up all over the city, including the Downtown, Fairhaven, Happy Valley, Cordata, and Barkley neighborhoods. The city has reiterated their commitment to developing a wide range of housing options for all income categories, while retaining the integrity of existing communities. Annexation of surrounding rural lands has been kept to a minimum due to public concern for environmental preservation, but several controversies have risen over the city's decisions to counteract the loss of land by allowing taller buildings in the city core, major new development on previously undeveloped land, and a lack of parks and open spaces in some of the more recently developed areas.

Waterfront redevelopment

Bellingham, Washington, harbor, filled with logs, 1972
The harbor of Bellingham, Washington, filled with logs, 1972

The Bellingham waterfront has served as an industrial center for the past century, most notably the area encompassing the former Georgia-Pacific mill. G-P purchased the Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company in 1963 and operated a pulp mill on the central downtown waterfront until 2001. In 1965, G-P built a Chlor-Alkali facility, which became a source of mercury contamination in the Whatcom Waterway and on the uplands of the site for decades. The documentary film, "Smells Like Money – The Story of Bellingham's Georgia Pacific Plant" tells the story of the site, which has since been purchased by the Port of Bellingham chiefly to create a marina in the 37-acre (150,000 m2) wastewater lagoon. The Port of Bellingham purchased the G-P site for $10 with the understanding that the port would assume liability for the contamination. The City of Bellingham and the Port of Bellingham entered into several interlocal agreements in which the City agreed to pay for all infrastructure costs, and the Port would create a marina, clean up the site, and retain all zoning.

The City and Port have entered into a partnership to redevelop the property, which has been unofficially renamed New Whatcom after the township of which the area was originally a part. A general plan for the city's waterfront was developed by the Waterfront Futures Group, and the new Waterfront Advisory Group has been convening to develop a more detailed plan focused on this particular site. The draft plan includes "a new city neighborhood with homes, shops, offices and light industry, as well as parks and promenades, a healthy shoreline habitat along Bellingham Bay..."

Some citizen groups have opposed the Port's plan, most notably the Bellingham Bay Foundation (formed in 2005). During the summer of 2006, the Bellingham Bay Foundation formed People for a Healthy Bay over a concern that many of the areas slated for development contained high mercury levels (as high as 12,500ppm in the soil under the former Chlor-Alkali facility). People for a Healthy Bay launched an initiative that would have required the City of Bellingham to advocate for removal of mercury to the highest practical level. The City successfully sued to keep the initiative off the ballot.

The Washington State Department of Ecology is currently reviewing public comment for the Port's cleanup documents of the Whatcom Waterway.

Ecology will host a second public comment period for the Cleanup Action Plan, at which time the specifics of the cleanup will be discussed and decided. The City of Bellingham and the Port of Bellingham will develop a Master Plan and implement tax increment financing for the City's portion of funding of infrastructure. Infrastructure alone is expected to cost roughly $200 million. Whatcom County has declined participation in the financing, citing unmet gaps in funding, a lack of benefit to the County, and the need for County taxes to go toward emergency, jail, and mental health services.

Sister cities

Bellingham maintains sister city relationships with five Pacific Rim port cities and Vaasa, Finland.

City State / Prefecture / Region Country Year
Tateyama Flag of Chiba Prefecture.svg Chiba  Japan 1958
Port Stephens  New South Wales  Australia 1982
Nakhodka Flag of Primorsky Krai.svg Primorsky Krai  Russia 1989
Punta Arenas Flag of Magallanes, Chile.svg Magallanes and Antártica Chilena  Chile 1996
Cheongju Seal of North Chungcheong.svg Chungcheongbuk-do  South Korea 2008
Vaasa Pohjanmaan maakunnan vaakuna.svg Ostrobothnia  Finland 2009
Tsetserleg Mn flag arkhangai aimag 2014.png Arkhangai  Mongolia 2011

Tateyama and Port Stephens are also sister cities with each other.

Bellingham Sister Cities Association is very active in promoting Bellingham's sister city relationships and is very well supported by the community. The relationship with Tateyama, the oldest relationship (which celebrated its 50th year in 2008), is the most active and includes regular events such as an annual city hall staff exchange and community cultural visits. Tateyama frequently fields a team for the annual Ski to Sea race, or at minimum has representation in the Ski to Sea parade.

Historical

Coordinates: 48°45′01″N 122°28′30″W / 48.750178°N 122.474975°W / 48.750178; -122.474975


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