On December 16, 2023, Bellingham tragically lost one of its historic buildings and an enterprising community member to a fire. The Terminal Building was Fairhaven’s oldest surviving structure, and the fire claimed the life of 39-year-old Nate Breaux, owner of the building’s Harris Avenue Café and Old Independent Coffee House.

Over subsequent months, the community has worked to grieve and heal from these losses. As an earlier LocalTalk article describes, Village Books and Paper Dreams has begun collecting community stories, writing, art, and photography about the Terminal Building.

“It was prompted by the response to the Terminal Building burning down and this outpouring of a desire for people to remember and share the stories and share in the grieving,” says Village Books co-owner and steward Paul Hanson. The owner approached Village Books with the idea of putting together a guest book where people could write down stories.

Hanson was inspired to dream up something a little more permanent with information captured far and wide. “People have been happy to be able to share and look forward to closure to the grieving process — and also a chance to celebrate the renewal.”

This collection is still in progress; folks are invited to send submissions to terminalbuilding@villagebooks.com.

The building’s shell was completely removed within a few weeks of the fire. Photo credit: Anna Diehl

“A couple of ideas we’ve had is a public reading here at the store or on the site of when the building starts going up again,” Hanson says. “Also, depending on how many we get, we might collect those into a book to commemorate it.”

With over 130 years of continuous commercial use, the landmark still stands tall in Fairhaven’s memory.

Early History

Built between 1888 and 1889, the Terminal Building exemplified the High Victorian Italianate style. Named the Evans-Fick Block for owners Evan Evans and Henry Fick, it used a wooden frame and imported bricks. Its first commercial occupants included Denny Butler’s Sideboard Saloon, George D. Pierce’s barbershop, and Jarvis and Odell Cigars and Billiards.

“I didn’t realize it was the oldest building in Fairhaven,” says Hanson, who also didn’t initially understand why it was called the Terminal Building. “It’s where the streetcar was set up and that’s where people got on.”

After the loss of the Terminal Building, the only remaining individual building on the National Register of Historic Places is Fairhaven Library (built 1904). Photo credit: Anna Diehl

The City of Bellingham document on the Terminal Building notes its name may have taken influence from Fairhaven’s early dream to become the Great Northern Railroad terminus. When the railroad went to Seattle in 1891, Fairhaven’s economy declined — dovetailing into the panic of 1893. The Terminal Building has only now joined other vanished landmarks from the vision of “Imperial Fairhaven.”

“Researching that, we then started to see what the subsequent buildings are,” says Hanson. “Paper Dreams is, I think, third in line.”

The Terminal Building’s later occupants would include real estate offices and Will Berthiaume’s Terminal Store, which provided a soda fountain and grocery for visitors waiting for the streetcar.

In Living Memory

The Terminal Building originated a local mainstay, Tony’s Coffee, in 1971. During Fairhaven’s hippie years, it became a popular gathering place. Tony’s moved its roastery to its present location in 1995, and in 2022, the Old Independent Coffee House took its place in the Terminal Building under the new name.

In the wake of the fire, Tony’s raised over $10,000 for the Breaux family with a commemorative mug depicting their old building.

While the Tony’s mug is no longer for sale after reaching its fundraising goal, other designs have been created to honor the local community. Photo credit: Anna Diehl

“As long as anybody’s been here, it’s been such a fixture and a place for people to meet,” Hanson says. “It’s like a shorthand; it’s the place where you say, ‘Let’s meet at Tony’s or let’s meet at the Old Independent.’”

In 1975, the Terminal Building joined the National Register of Historic Places with an engraved plaque.

“I don’t know if people took [it] for granted,” says Hanson of the historic building. “When something is around long enough, they just think, ‘Oh, it’s a given it’s always going to be there.’ I hope that for [other] fixtures in Fairhaven that never becomes the case, and we always value them while they’re here — not only after they’re gone.”

While there are no exact plans for what will replace the Terminal Building on the vacant lot, Village Books is hopeful for a new structure that would pay tribute to the area’s history. Photo credit: Anna Diehl

Moving Forward

Village Books has tentative plans to collaborate on commemorative efforts with organizations such as Whatcom Museum.

“I think remembering our past is very important,” says Hanson. “That’s one of the things we do here: help to tell the story of our history to see where we came from. And not necessarily to define that this is the way we’ve done things and how we always should do things. But it’s good to know your heritage and your history.”

The vacant lot still awaits city plans, but stewards are hopeful for a fitting tribute in the building’s place.

“We’re always telling that history of Fairhaven and of Village Books here in Bellingham to our new employees who just moved here, [or] new Western students,” Hanson says. “We say, ‘Okay, we’re the stewards of history and here are the stories,’ because people remember these and it’s important to be remembered. I think we all want to be witnessed. We all want to be seen and this is an exercise in seeing our institutions and the people who built Fairhaven.”

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