A ‘Special’ Spot Vanishes Brick by Brick

The old Morgan Block building in Bellingham’s historic Fairhaven section has been undergoing a facelift lately. Scaffolding now rises up the old brick wall on it’s exposed west side and workers daily painstakingly and carefully replace the crumbling old bricks with new ones.  And as they go up, the faded, painted advertisement for the once Washington-made Rainier Beer is vanishing entirely.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainier_Brewing_Company

This changing appearance of the aging wall will overall be a good thing for the building as it was in badly need of repair.  In fact, one of the building’s owners, Terry Nelson, alerted me last year the wall would be replaced.  I was grateful for the advance notice because that wall has become a local landmark over the years.  It’s a favorite location among my senior portrait clients for staging their photo sessions.  (More of my ‘Special’ senior portraits are posted on my blog’s Portfolio page.)

The old Rainier wall advertisement of Fairhaven's Morgan Block was a popular setting by seniors for their senior portrait.
The old Rainier wall advertisement of Fairhaven’s Morgan Block was a popular setting by seniors for their senior portrait.

Through the years, I have photographed many seniors with that charming wall and its simple message of “Special” as the background.  It seemed a perfect expression of the feeling each of them had about their senior year, the community they live in and, in particular, historic Fairhaven.

Now, it will be no longer.  At least not in reality.  But in the virtual world of digital photography, I have salvaged the wall in my image files in case someone comes along and wishes that they too could have had their turn beside the ‘Special’ sign.

Fairhaven's historic Morgan Block building was completed in 1890 for $8,000.  A local landmark, it has been a popular setting for many of my senior portraits.
Fairhaven’s historic Morgan Block building was completed in 1890 for $8,000. A local landmark, it has been a popular setting for many of my senior portraits.

The three-story building occupies a busy corner of Fairhaven’s business and shopping district.  Completed in 1890 by Phillip and Mary Ann Morgan, it first housed a saloon and a men’s clothing store on the ground level.  Windows on the upper levels of the building reportedly sported the advertisement: “private rooms for ladies.”  But a “proper lady” never dared go below 11th Street in those early days, according to local historical accounts.  However when co-authors Brian Griffith and NeelieNelson asked local historian Gorden Tweit if  a brothel had operated in the Morgan Building during Fairhaven’s early history, he replied matter-of-factly: “It had a bar with rooms upstairs, didn’t it?”

Markers such as this one can be found throughout fairhaven and notes curious local historical facts.
Markers such as this one can be found throughout Fairhaven and notes curious local historical facts.

Whether or not illicit sex was served up in those rented upstairs rooms, the building had another, rather unsavory distinction.  During the 1890s, it was the viewing area for the “unclaimed dead” for the transients who came to build the “New City of Fairhaven” and died of exposure, accidents or suicides. When their identities were unknown, they were loaded into a wagon and put on display in hopes that someone could identify them.  A small inscribed stone that sits in front of the building notes this fact for tourists.

Entry to the upstairs rooms of the historic Morgan Block building is through the green door at the street level.
Entry to the upstairs rooms of the historic Morgan Block building is through the green door at the street level.

The building itself is architecturally an example of the High Victorian Italianate Style.  A long staircase inside the heavy green entry door with the words: “Morgan Block” above it, leads up to the second and third stories.  Light streams through a light well open on the top floor and trickles down to the landing below. On the upstairs floors, tall doors, many with transom windows open into 18 large studio rooms now occupied by artists who are part of the Morgan Block Studio Collective.  The artists often host open houses so you can visit their studios and view their artwork and the building interior for yourself.

The symmetrical facade on the street level have wood-framed shop fronts on either side of a narrow central entry door to the upper stories.  One side is the home of the Good Earth pottery store showcasing the work of many fine potters from the region. The other ground level space is taken by Artwood, a shop selling beautiful, high quality work by local woodworkers. Both are well worth a stop if you’re in town.

The building has its own Facebook page if you want to learn more   https://www.facebook.com/MorganBlockBuilding?ref=nf. You can also soon read about it on Griffith and Nelson’s forthcoming website:  www.fairhavenhistory.com  More details about the building’s architecture can be found at the City of Bellingham’s page:  http://www.cob.org/services/planning/historic/fairhaven-district.aspx.

And that’s what has made the Morgan Block  so ‘special.’

Megan and Joy grew up together as best friends so when the time for their senior portrait, they wanted to be photographed together. We all had great fun during the photo session and the Morgan Block wall conveyed the message perfectly!
Megan and Joy grew up together as best friends so when the time for their senior portrait, they wanted to be photographed together. We all had great fun during the photo session and the Morgan Block wall conveyed the message perfectly!

The Power of the Internet: Digging Up Negro League History

As a follow-up to my own post: On the Baseball Trail in Historic Hot Springs, thought this piece might be of interest to some of you as well.

The Power of the Internet: Digging Up Negro League History.

On the Baseball Trail in Historic Hot Springs

Every summer, Hollywood pitches a new film about baseball to American moviegoers.  Although the sport isn’t as popular as it once was, Americans still regard it as their ‘game’ and the nostalgia for baseball’s golden age sets in.  This year’s baseball film entry is ’42’.  I finally had the chance to see it the other night and it hit a home run in my book.  It’s a solid baseball biography about the legendary Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers team owner Branch Ricky who had the courage to add Robinson to his roster of players.  The only fault I found with the film is that it wasn’t made long before now.

Ball players from baseball's major league teams arrived for spring traiing by train. The station is still in use today and houses display cases of baseball memorabilia.
Ball players from baseball’s major league teams arrived for spring traiing by train. The station is still in use today and houses display cases of baseball memorabilia.

As I watched, I thought of my recent visit to Hot Springs, Ark.  Before World War II, Hot Springs hosted most of baseball’s biggest teams for spring training.  The teams arrived by train and included the Chicago White Stockings (later to be the Cubs), the Cincinnati Reds, the Boston Red Sox, the Pittsburg Pirates and, of course, the Brooklyn Dodgers.  At its height, Hot Springs had five fields where as many as 250 players came to train.  Cy Young, Smokey Joe Wood, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth,Joe DiMaggio, Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean and yes, Jackie Robinson, were among the greats who trained or played in Hot Springs during its golden years of spring training.  In fact, more than half of baseball’s Hall of Famers trained there at some point during their careers.

They were attracted by the area’s natural mineral waters that gurgle up from inside the earth at 143 degrees. Native Americans first enjoyed the healing properties of the thermal waters. Soaking in the hot springs became part of the baseball player’s daily regimen during spring training in Hot Springs. Prior to or after a practice or game, players would take a plunge at one of the turn-of-the-century bathhouses located on the city’s Bathhouse Row.

Built at the turn of the 20th century, the bathhouses of Hot Springs were elaborate palaces for those who came to  'take the baths.'
Built at the turn of the 20th century, the bathhouses of Hot Springs were elaborate palaces for those who came to ‘take the baths.’

All of the historic buildings are now managed by the National Park Service.  (The area became a National Park  in 1921.)  These grand bathhouses, each with their own architectural style, were built by promoters in an effort to outdo one another and attract those who sought relief in the mineral waters. Only two still function as spas. The Buckstaff retains a traditional style treatment with men’s and women’s tubs located on separate floors.

The four baths at the Quapaw Bathhouse lie beneath stained glass skylights.
The four baths at the Quapaw Bathhouse lie beneath stained glass skylights.

The Quapaw was renovated and reopened in 2008 as a full-service spa with four co-ed soaking pools that range  from 99 to 104 degrees.  Like many who come here, I relaxed in the tubs after a refreshing massage.

Flags fly over the entrance that  welcomes guests to the Arlington Hotel.
Flags fly over the entrance that welcomes guests to the Arlington Hotel.

My friends and I also enjoyed a cool drink in the lobby lounge of the historic Arlington Hotel, located at the end of Bathhouse Row.  The grand old hotel remains a popular stop for travelers, just as it was in the heyday of spring training.  It too has its own bath house for guests.

On another day, you can take the self-guided tour of the Baseball Trail, just as I and my friend did.  At each of the 26 stops, a pre-recorded message, delivered on your cell phone by punching in a special code, takes you back to the bygone days of baseball.  At stop number 11, in front of the Arkansas Alligator Farm, you learn that Babe Ruth knocked a 573-foot homer from Whittington Park, once located across the street ,to that spot and and became baseball’s first 500-foot plus drive.  The astonishing hit remains remarkable even today.  Stop 21 is designated for Jackie Robinson who played an exhibition game at the Jaycee Field in 1953.

Stop number 18 salutes the start of spring training in Hot Springs in 1886.

Although the major leaguers left Hot Springs shortly after the  U.S. entered World War II in 1942, the hot, soothing waters of Hot Springs, Ark. continue to draw tourists who want to experience the bathing ritual as so many before them have done.  Some even fill bottles with the scalding water from the fountains found on the street in order to take  piece of Hot Springs, and a little of its history, home with them.

See more of  my photos of historic Hot Springs on my blog’s Portfolio page. http://cherylcrooksphotography.wordpress.com/portfolio/  Learn more about the historic Baseball Trail at http://www.hotspringsbaseballtrail.com/begin-your-journey/