July 16, 1971
by Don Hannula, Times Staff Reporter
BELLINGHAM — Peter Gittlen, 24, junior-high-school teacher was "tired of all the big cities.”
A native of Detroit, he had taught two years in Philadelphia, spent some time in Berkeley, then decided he "wanted to see the Northwest Mountains.”
He wound up here and serves as a bookkeeper for the food co-op in South Side Fairhaven, heart of this city’s sizable hip community.
Gittlen had a good draft lottery number, banked much of his $7,000-a-year earnings as a teacher and figures he can survive on that nest egg without steady work possibly for five years. his work for the co-op, which serves the hip community and turns over an average of about $3,000 a month with no profit motive, is without pay.
"I’m really happy here,” Gotten said. "But I can see this area being completely overrun with too many people.”
Cheryl Diane Douglas, another Californian, was tired of big city life and was planning to head for Canada. She picked up a Northwest Passage, Bellingham based underground newspaper, in Seattle’s Id Bookstore and "like the way it was written.”
She does layout and editing for the Passage — sans pay as is the case for all its staffers. She explained her addition to the hip community here by saying: "I was surprised the people here were as open ad receptive to a stranger.”
MELISSA, who preferred to use only her first name, grew up in Seattle, moved to San San Francisco, then brought her University of Washington degree in history and graduate work in education here to write for the Passage and teach in the hip community’s accredited private school for pre-schoolers through 12th grade.
Why Bellingham? Melissa said:
"The townspeople of Bellingham were able to relate to freaks and college kids — they’re used to crazy young people.” Many in this city would disagree. Though there is some truth in what Melissa said, a lot of citizens are uptight about Bellingham’s hippie population.
Mayor R.W. Williams said he "gets quite a few complaints” about hippies — mostly about several taking over a near-dilapidated home, then letting it go all the way downhill. "And they all seem to have a bunch of dogs,” Williams said. "We’ve got a leash law but it’s difficult to enforce.” He added:
As a result, Williams called for tightening up administration of the food-stamp program a year ago. Dean Rutledge, new Whatcom County public-assistance administrator, tightened up on verification of eligibility. He said the result was that Whatcom County dropped from one of the state’s highest average food-stamp per person bonuses ($18-plus) to $14.84 (well below the state average of $16.65).
WHATCOM County Sheriff Bernie Reynolds said there was been an increase in drug use in the county, but lawmen have been cracking down. He said one of the country’s problems is with hippies moving into unoccupied summer cabins after checking the assessor’s office on absentee ownerships.
But despite alarm express by some citizens, most members of the hip community still consider Bellingham a more friendly, open and tolerant town than most. That may be changing.
David Wolf, 24, who studied at the University of California, sold cameras in Seattle and now is a photographer-writer for the Northwest Passage, said: "When I first came here I saw things different than now. People smiled more. But now I’ve come to think the hip community and the straight community pretty much ignore each other. Still this is the only comfortable place I’ve found to live.
Buck Meloy, 31, another Passage writer-photographer who had worked in Chicago and New York in advertising, said the magnetism of Bellingham to him is it’s pace — "a fraction of a mile an hour.”
Not all Bellingham’s hip community is poured out of educational factories.
There are the likes of Michael the Archangel, who sold newspapers on Seattle’s First Avenue and now peddles the Passage at a profit of 12 cents a copy.
AND THERE’S "Cadillac,” Passage ad seller who says he got his nickname because "I used to own two of them.” He lives on food stamps, making candles and whatever. "The straight people here are pretty nice — even some of the cops,” he said. (2020 Note: Per Northwest Passage Co-founder Laurence Kee, Cadillac would turn out to be a Narcotics Officer.)
Frank Kathman, imposing 6-foot-81/2-inch founder and publisher of the 21/2-year-old Northwest Passage, left California because it became "so violent and so uptight.” He was very political, one of the organizers of the Peace and Freedom Party.
Now his yearning for the relaxed pace of rural life has taken him even closer to the country. He has moved from Bellingham to Wickersham, where he works on a farm and plans to raise goats and an organic garden. His thrust and that of his paper is ecology. He sincerely worries about his adopted Whatcom County losing its environmental quality.
Kathman said there is little political activity, by comparative standards, in the hip community in Bellingham and Whatcom County "because this seems to be a place of adjustment where people tend to lay back and get their heads straight.”
He describes the areas a sort of a "Northwest corner back eddy.”
KATHMAN believes the movement of hip people to small, self sufficient home-steads in the Wickersham Valley will continue to grow. "A person, family or commune may not be able to make it commercially on a small farm, but the land still will support life,” he said.
Living in an old Norther Pacific depot, with dogs, cats, goats, and an old Studebaker shell loaded with firewood outside, Kathman alternates stings at his typewriter for the Passage with smiling goats and pitching hay. He believes he has found the good life, at least for the time being.
Jerry Burns, 33, Arkansas native, who does commercial printing, writes poetry and lectures at Fairhaven (College), said he went to Berkeley because "that’s where I felt I belonged.” He said: "Then People’s Park broke out and I felt California had become paranoid.”
Someone put an ad in the Northwest Passage that a party would be held for "Jerry—Bellingham’s finest hippie mayor candidate.” It wasn’t meant for Burns but he though it was, attended and not is a candidate for mayor.
He has flirted with it government. Neighbors complained about his operating a printing plant in his garage along Chuckanut Creek, resulting in a rousing "anti-hippie” turnout before the Board of Adjustment which ruled the printing press had to go.
The thrust of Burns’ campaign is bringing people together to build a better Bellingham — straight people and hip people.
He feels the growth of the hip community has polarized the town and he’d like to reduce the schism.
Bellingham’s "finest hippie mayor candidate” entered the race with no intention of winning but he’s been making appearances before "straight” groups as well as in the hip community and now says: "I’m resigned to the fact that I may win.”
It’s not likely. But in Bellingham, "hip mecca of the West,” it is not impossible.
Project currently under development