Nine o’clock at the north end of Bellingham Bay. The lights of striving have blinked out in stores, banks and warehouses. Bats, owls and nighthawks apportion the sky.
On the broad tower of Bellingham’s relic Granary Building a circle of light appears, then the shadowed outline of a giant bat, its wings brushing the outer edges of the light.
Maybe not. Across the railroad track, on the roof of what used to be Dick’s Tavern, now housing George Dyson’s kayak workshop and design lab, a projectionist changes a slide. The image on the Granary gives way to a nearly forgotten trademark – a circle in a circle, with the words: Washington Egg and Poultry Cooperative Association.
The Granary guerillas are at it again.
The Co-op symbol fades, replaced by a message seen more and more frequently around Bellingham on signs and T-shirts. SAVE THE GRANARY, it says.
Once the center of an exuberantly thriving farm cooperative, Bellingham’s Granary Building now stands empty and forlorn. Of its dozen un-boarded windows, ten are broken or missing. Pigeons and Pacific storms move in, unimpeded by any care from the building’s caregivers, the Port of Bellingham.
Port staff, whose decisions traditionally guide those of the elected Port Commissioners, see the 84-year-old museum piece as an obstacle. It stands where the Port wants a new street to go, at the gateway to a someday-redeveloped waterfront.
As in Seattle, Everett and other port cities, Bellingham’s waterfront redevelopment question is politically ticklish. The city’s former Mayor, Dan Pike, was at odds with the Port on redevelopment issues throughout much of his one term in office. Their differences included the Granary and whether or not it has a future.
Pike narrowly lost the 2011 election to a fellow Democrat, Kelli Linville, whose campaign stressed collaboration and compromise. Mayor Linville has expressed concern that any debate over the Granary would get in the way of waterfront plans and set back the date when construction finally begins.
Redevelopment is a very big deal in Bellingham. Two hundred twenty acres of prime waterfront await tenants or new owners. That includes 137 acres of the former Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper factory, which the Port bought in 2005 for ten dollars and a promise to clean up GP’s mess. The Port’s hopes involve a near-total leveling of the dozens of GP buildings that dominated the area, followed by sale to a developer still to be named; one with the cash to create a new, upscale business/residential community featuring a yacht basin for vessels of a size bespeaking large bank accounts.
The Port and City of Bellingham have clashed repeatedly over some basic issues of waterfront planning. At one point the president of the port commissioners, Scott Walker, declared that the Port had given up working with the City and would go its own way. Reminded that the City of Bellingham remains the planning and zoning authority for every foot of land the Port owns, the commissioners returned to collaborative planning and the two governments now work, mostly, from the same blueprints.
A map on which they agree shows Bellingham’s downtown uniting with its waterfront at a point directly in front of the old Granary Building. Agreement falters at this intersection. The Port wishes a new street directly through the space where the Granary now stands. A newly-organized group of local architects, developers, historic preservationists, city council members and diverse Granary guardians want the street to go around the building, so that it might be renovated for some useful civic or commercial purpose.
Although it came under Port control with the GP property, the Granary had nothing to do with Georgia Pacific’s enterprises. Its history ties to poultry farming, and the vaguely remembered flourishing of a huge business built on collaboration and mutual trust.
Through the early 20th Century, Washington chicken farmers sold eggs as small, independent producers, subject to the vagaries of local markets. In 1917 one hundred or so met in Seattle and created their own marketing agency. It became the Washington Egg and Poultry Cooperative Association, whose members built the towered, fortress-like storage and processing building on Roeder Street that remains a Bellingham landmark. In the depths of the Great Depression — in 1936 — they had 23,000 members, statewide.
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