Brimming with both modern flair and historic charm, the Fairhaven Historic District is an iconic part of Bellingham. Filled with restaurants and shops that are popular with both locals and tourists, Fairhaven also contains more than a dozen buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Out of all its historic structures, the one at 1208 11th Street might be the most unique. Constructed in 1891, the Knights of Pythias Building is the only Fairhaven property under Daylight Properties’ management. Over the years, it has housed both beloved and unusual tenants and is now the home of Italian restaurant, Milano’s.
The New and Established
Sam Hassan, who moved Milano’s to Bellingham after 24 years in Glacier, is excited to be open after more than nine months of work with help from Daylight Properties.
“This is a magnificent building, and the location is incredible,” he says.
In addition to the normal prep work of opening a restaurant, Hassan worked with Daylight’s Bob Hall to remodel the front façade of the Milano’s space to look more like it did in the early 1900s. This included uncovering more of the building’s original lower brick and sandstone and moving the space’s windows further back from the sidewalk.
“It’s like you’re walking back in time,” he says. “People come in here and think it’s so cool that we have this big opening at the front of the building.”
Daylight Properties’ maintenance staff removed the façade put on the building, which included previous businesses that occupied the storefront, to reveal the original one. The staff worked closely with Sam and appreciated his expertise and clear vision he had for the space.
“We’re thankful of our long-term Tenants Drizzle Olive Oil and Vinegar Tasting Room and Colophon Café for making room and welcoming Milano’s to the building,” says Daylight Properties Leasing Manager, Jena Curry.
Colophon Café owner David Killian notes that being a longtime tenant in the building has allowed him to cultivate wonderful relationships with Village Books, who were former Tenants of the Knights of Pythias Building, and Drizzle over the years.
“There are challenges occupying the basement of a 130-year-old building, but I believe we have created a unique space that is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike,” he says.
Drizzle co-owner Dana Driscoll is in agreement.
“The brick walls and weathered floors have welcomed countless food lovers and aspiring chefs,” she says. “Locals and visitors alike appreciate the warmth and charm that the building and its tenants bring to Historic Fairhaven.”
Secrets and Séances
In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Fairhaven was a fast-growing city with hopes of becoming the westward endpoint for the Great Northern Railway. A handful of new buildings sprang up for retail business during this time, and the Knights of Pythias Building was among them.
Designed by architects Thomas Franklin Longstaff and Henry Nelson Black, the three-story building was constructed of brick and Chuckanut sandstone and built to house retail on its ground floor and meeting spots for two secret societies on its top floor.
The first, The Order of Knights of Pythias, was a fraternal organization founded in Washington D.C. in 1864. The Knights were the first fraternal group chartered by Congress, and follow principles of friendship, charity and benevolence—like many other fraternal groups in the United States. In the 1890s, they were quite popular locally. Their meeting space, Castle Hall, took up the entire back of the building and faced Bellingham Bay.
They were joined in their new building by the local chapter of the Freemasons, a society whose U.S. existence pre-dates the American Revolution. Their Masonic Hall meeting space overlooked 11th Street, and included a door with a peep hole that remains in place today.
Organizations like the Rathbone Sisters (a female version of Knights of Pythias), Brotherhood of American Yeomen, and Elks also shared these spaces on a rotating basis. Kolby LaBree, a Bellingham historian, also notes that Spiritualists—those who believed in communication with the dead—allegedly held séances here.
Eventually, change arrived for the building and for Fairhaven. The latter was snubbed by the Great Northern Railway and endured financial strife during the economic depression of 1893. The former lost the Freemasons to the new Scottish Rite Temple on State Street in 1905, while the Knights of Pythias moved in the 1920s, holding their meetings instead at the Leopold Building.
Today, the third floor remains mostly unaltered from its original appearance.
Hardware and Hippies
At street level, the building’s first tenants were McDougall & Dodson—a clothing company—and Gates and Fraser, a hardware company. By 1900, retail space was being shared by G.A. McIntosh Hardware Co. and a funeral parlor operated by Whatcom County coroner John M. Warriner; the parlor moved downtown around 1903.
In 1907, Adams and Co. Plumbing and Hardware replaced McIntosh; the three co-owners allegedly drew straws to name their company, and Eugene Adams won. Although the business existed in this name only a few years, “Adams and Co.” can still be seen painted on the back of the building, overlooking what’s now Fairhaven Village Green.
Adams co-owner Bert Groom changed the name to Groom’s Hardware in 1912 and would remain in the building until 1972. Groom lived on the second floor of the building from the 1930s to 1950s and is among the last residential tenants the building saw—legally, anyway. After second floor office and living spaces were condemned in the early 1960s, “hippie” squatters occasionally occupied the second floor until the lower portion of the rear fire escape was removed to prevent access.
Developer Ken Imus bought the building in the 1970s, and it sat vacant for several years. In 1982, Village Books moved into the ground floor’s left side, with the new Colophon Café on the right side. Both businesses expanded in the mid ’80s, when a staircase was built for easy access to the basement. Village Books left the building for its current location in 2004, and the Colophon eventually moved completely downstairs in 2014; one of the building’s original hand-cranked, non-functional elevators is used as a waiter’s station.
Now, it is in the experienced hands of Bob Hall and his management team. Hall is working closely with the City of Bellingham on plans to make the upper floors of this historic building usable for the public again.
“Over the years I kept wondering when the owner of the building was going to renovate the upstairs,” says Hall. “Well it never happened. So when an opportunity came up to buy it, I did.”