Tour de Whatcom is Tour de Force

Bellingham is a town that loves its bicycles but even more of them than usual could be found all over the surrounding streets and roads this last Saturday when hundreds of cyclists pedaled between 22 to 100 miles in the Tour de Whatcom.  The popular charity biking event is in its 13th year and this year benefited the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition.

The back of a cyclists racing jersey says it all.

It’s a colorful display of bicycles and cyclists as they whip across county roads, past lakes, through farm country, by rivers and along beaches with views of snow-capped Mount Baker rising in the distance all the way. The tour started and ended at the award-winning Boundary Bay Brewery in downtown Bellingham located directly across from the Bellingham Farmers’ Market which was also in full swing yesterday.  In fact, that’s why I was there. I spent two hours yesterday distributing postcards to people to promote the upcoming July 26th outdoor adventure film evening–Sports Shorts–being presented by CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival at Fairhaven’s Village Green.

The aluminum arch of the Tour de Whatcom’s finish line spanned across the street from the Farmers’ Market Railroad Depot buildings.

Afterwards, I wandered over the market and Boundary Bay for a closer look at the activity.  Boundary Bay’s beer garden was filling up with cyclists who had just come in and were thirsty and hungry.  Outside, a long line of cyclists strung down the street as they checked in their bikes into the secured bike parking lot set up in the street. Other muscle-weary cyclists were receiving  rubdowns under the purple canopy of the Massage Envy tent.  And some, as did my friend Audrey who rode the 22-mile route in the tour, mingled with the marketgoers to have a bite of lunch there.

Following a long ride, the massage tent was a popular place.

The entire place was bubbling with bikers, beer and booths full of farm fresh food and crafts.  It brought back memories for me of the summer my family and I spent a month in Bellingham prior to deciding to move here permanently.

We had rented a house from friends (long before VRBO or Air BnB existed) for the month of August. It gave us a chance to explore the area and experience it as if we lived here.  One Saturday, we strolled down to the historic Fairhaven area where we discovered a road bike race was about to get underway.  At that time, the race–the Old Fairhaven Bicycle Race–began on Fairhaven’s main street and the course tracked up and down the hilly Fairhaven area to eventually finish a little further down the street from where it started.

Cyclists line up in the Fairhaven Bicycle Race.

We nabbed a ringside seat with two of our sons at an outdoor table in front of the Colophon Cafe. The Colophon was favorite spot with my sons because of its ice cream counter where big scoops of the cold dairy delight were heaped on top of waffle cones for a dollar or so. The boys ordered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my husband and I had bowls of clam chowder.  We ate and watched as the nearly 20 riders whizzed around the corners.  Other race watchers stood behind or sat upon the hay bales that had been places along the street for the purpose of blocking off the streets and marking the course.  It was truly a fun afternoon and one that I’ve long remembered.  The photos I took that day preserve the day not only for me but for my sons who have long since grown up.

Racers round the corner while competing in the Old Fairhaven Bicycle Race.
Sporting his new helmet, my son readies to take off on his own bike ride. Notice the training wheels on the rear.

That was the same summer too, that my oldest son, Matthew, learned to ride a bike.  Neither I nor my husband recall now where we got the bike, but unlike in Los Angeles where we lived, the sidewalks of Bellingham’s South Hill proved a great place for him to hop on and take off.  He wasn’t a particularly coordinated kid when it came to physical activities but once he figured out how the chain drive of the bike worked, riding it was no problem.  He returned to L.A. ready to ride with his friends and we returned to L.A. convinced, in part by community events like the bike race, that we wanted to make Bellingham our new home.

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.

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 You can also soon read about it on Griffith and Nelson’s forthcoming website:  More details about the building’s architecture can be found at the City of Bellingham’s page:

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!

Along the Waterfront

One of the great pleasures of living in the Pacific Northwest, and Bellingham in particular, is being able to take advantage of our natural beauty on the water.   I went out earlier this morning before going in to work at the studio.

I was introduced to kayaking a few years after settling here and now paddle year-round as often as I can.  My paddling partner, Pat, and I  purchased our first kayaks together at least ten years ago and had been going out together ever since. Neither of us ever tires of taking the boats up and down the shoreline of the bay in either direction.  There is always something new to see.

The Pan American Fisheries building (left) sits on the Fairhaven waterfront, a reminder of a busy cannery era gone by.

From the water, you can better imagine Bellingham as it was in the early 20th century when sailing ships lined the waterfront loading lumber and fish and coal into their holds.  Pilings protrude upwards from the shallower sections of the bay where the canneries and loading docks once stood.  The “rock” of tin, as it is known locally, is a reminder of a time when the leftover material used in canning the fish was just tossed down into the water until it solidified into the boulder it is today.  At low tide you get a full view of its size.  Today only the Pacific American Fisheries building in Fairhaven survives from the once very prosperous cannery era.

The Alaska Ferry docks at the Fairhaven terminal on the waterfront coming and going on Fridays to and from Alaska.

At the Fairhaven terminal, just next door, the Alaska Ferry ties up on Fridays and, during the summers, every other Saturday. The ferry carries cars, trucks and people back and forth from Bellingham to as far north as Skagway on the Alaska Marine Highway.  It is a popular route for people travelling up the coast.  And the horn of the ferry can be heard all over Bellingham as it cruises in and out of the harbor.

For me, kayaking is a great way to relax and “destress”, even though you must always be careful and attentive to the conditions surrounding you on the water.   I manage to snag some good photos when I take a camera with me, tucking it safely into my life jacket to protect it from the damaging salt water.   With the  warmer, sunny summer weather, the lure of the water makes it very hard to stay indoors in the studio.    But grabbing a few shots during an early  morning or late evening paddle is  a wonderful way to start or end a summer’s work day.