On the corner of Fairhaven’s 12th Street and Harris Avenue, the past is rising to meet the future. Construction is underway on the new Fairhaven Tower, a retail and residential building with architecture paying tribute to the historic Fairhaven Hotel that once stood in its place.
This week, framing will officially begin on the five-story building, which will consist of 5,000 square-feet of first floor retail space and 35 apartments on the floors above. The project is on schedule to be completed next summer, and is supported by several local organizations, including property owner Alliance Properties, Peoples Bank—which is providing financing—and the Historic Fairhaven Association (HFA).
Ria Van Weerdhuizen, Peoples Bank Fairhaven branch manager and HFA board president, says it comes back to the responsibility of supporting the community and honoring history.
“As a community bank, it’s important for us to be part of efforts to create new local development while preserving the legacy of historical landmarks. We’re passing the history of this grand building and our village down to the next generation, and it means a lot to be part of it.”
Peoples Bank has actively supported the HFA since the Bank’s Fairhaven Branch opened over 20 years ago. As the fourth branch manager of this location and a ten-year veteran of Peoples Bank, Van Weerdhuizen has followed in the footsteps of her predecessors holding leadership roles in the HFA.
The Fairhaven Hotel operated from 1890 to 1899, a time that saw both growth and decline for the waterfront hamlet. The hotel was built in the hopes of convincing Great Northern Railway builders to make Fairhaven its terminus, but they chose Seattle instead.
Despite hosting famous guests like Mark Twain in 1895, the financial viability of the place diminished until it closed in 1899. Over the years, the building served as a tuberculosis sanitarium, an office building, private residences and a community recreation center before burning down in 1953. In its place came a gas station, which also eventually closed. Over the decades, the lot was used as a place for people to sell various wares, as well as a used car dealership. In recent years, it has remained empty, one of Fairhaven’s last vacant lots.
Travis Black, president of Alliance Properties, says they purchased the lot in 2005, and plans have been underway to construct something on it since about 2008. Concepts for the building included a hotel, condominiums, and a hybrid of the two, but an eventual plan settled on the mixed use concept of first floor retail with apartments on the floors above.
In planning the building, Black says finding a way to preserve history was never far from their mind.
“When we were in the design process, we were heavily influenced by a book about Fairhaven’s history and thought, ‘We can’t just build a building here without thinking about this hotel. We’ve got to do something that pays homage to what was here.’”
While modern building codes and changing architectural tastes ruled out some design options, the one that stuck was constructing a clock tower similar to the one that stood prominently on the old hotel.
“The tower is, hands down, the most significant nod to what used to be there,” Black says. “It was a big part of the identity of what the hotel used to be. We could have easily built the building as just one square with a roofline that ran straight, but we didn’t feel that was doing the site justice.”
The tower, Black says, is essentially its own project. It will be built separately, fabricated on the ground and given its own steel supports along with three clocks, each six feet in diameter.
“Think about it like a big LEGO that clicks into place,” he says.
The tower will stand 96 feet above the ground, 40 feet taller than the building’s roofline. This is, Black says, probably similar in height to the original tower. The reason the tower can be that tall today, he adds, is because unoccupied structures on a building don’t have height restrictions like occupied portions do.
Fairhaven Tower will also have some architectural arches similar to what the original building had. Black says they found several loads of old red brick from the original building while excavating the property. They discussed re-purposing it but, unfortunately, over time it had decayed and couldn’t be used.
A Focal Point
Scott Ward, executive director of the HFA, says the current experience of most people driving through Fairhaven is one that involves noticing the rather run-down, vacant lot. But soon, with Fairhaven Tower’s mix of contemporary use and historic architecture, that will change.
“Having it be developed in such a tasteful, thoughtful way is going to shift people’s understanding of Fairhaven, even if they’re just driving through,” he says.
After being designed by Zervas Architects, general contracting of the building is being handled by RAM Construction. Black says RAM has done a wonderful job, keeping the small and challenging site well-managed and on-schedule for completion.
As for tenants, Black says they already have significant interest from both residential and retail parties.
Van Weerdhuizen says a goal of the HFA—to promote Fairhaven as a vibrant, authentic community that helps create new experiences and connections while preserving historical character—will be reflected in Fairhaven Tower when it’s finished. It’s also why her work at Peoples Bank and with the HFA is so synergistic.
“One of our guiding principles at Peoples Bank is to support local organizations and serve markets where we can make a meaningful difference for customers, the community and employees,” says Van Weerdhuizen. “The Fairhaven Tower project is a unique example of where local economic development and the preservation of history can go hand in hand.”