Fairhaven: The Hippie Years
On July 16, 1971, The Seattle Times asked the following question. Bellingham--Hippie Mecca of the West?
The article, written by Times Staff Reporter, Don Hannula, proclaimed that Bellingham had gained a reputation as a "haven for long hairs". There seemed to be agreement that on a per-capita basis, Bellingham's hippie community ranked high if not the top in the Northwest for hippies... most concentrated on Bellingham's South Side, Fairhaven and Happy Valley.
January 18, 1972 the Western Front ran an article "Drugs, Disrespect will Kills Us" and included an interview with then-Mayor Reg Williams.
When asked if the old buildings in the Fairhaven district should be torn down, Mayor Williams replied, "If it is just going to sit there and deteriorate and become a slum, I say you're better off to tear it down."
Enter Ken Imus. A native of Bellingham, Imus moved to California and Texas and owned several successful car dealerships. As Imus told Ken Wilcox in a 2001 Watcom Watch article, when he returned to Fairhaven in 1972, he found the quaint little Fairhaven he remembers had changed. To reclaim it from the hippies and the smothering blackberries, he bought a number of buildings and empty lots outright. He admitted his projects were a disruption to the countercultural movement.
Ken Imus in front of the Dapper Gentleman in front of the Mason Block (now known as Sycamore Square).
Photo courtesy Gordy Tweit
By August 1972, Bellingham was in the news again, this time with an article by the Gannet News Service. Stanford Chen writes that the "migration to find Eden slowed considerably -- due to the tightening of the local food stamp program and that hip capitalism and commercialism has replaced the once funky spirit of the area."
The Protest of November 30, 1972
|SW corner of 11th and Harris (location of double-decker bus). |
Photo by Dennis Withner
Whatcom Museum Photo Archives
By November 1972, Ken Imus had purchased the Mason and Nelson buildings. He also bought the empty lot at the SW corner of 11th and Harris, once occupied by the Blonden Block. John Blethen, with permission from the former owner, used the corner lot for several years as a garden for his Toad Hall restaurant.
Sven Hoyt, an early supporter of community gardens, started a garden there that winter prior to his accidental death in July 1972. Emotions were running high. When a bulldozer arrived on November 30, 1972, ready to clear the property, protesters arrived shortly thereafter. Blethen left with a wheelbarrow of precious topsoil and was not involved. More of a skirmish than a riot, the event did result in arrests of the "Fairhaven Seven" who spent over a year in front of several judges at the Bellingham courthouse. Many heated letters to the editor give you a flavor of the times.
By February 1973, Ken Imus had closed beloved Toad Hall in the basement of the Nelson Block. In November 1975, the Western Front reported, "Kulshan Tavern passes on to fond memories". Writer Bob Speed wrote: "The South Side moved closer to death last week when it's heart quit beating and the Kulshan Tavern died." The Kulshan, located in the historic Waldron Block, was described as Bellingham's oldest watering hole and "one of the final gasps of hip tradition which began in the lazy hazy days of the sixties."
The End of the Hippies in Fairhaven
John Blethen, former owner of Toad Hall, describes the end of the hippies this way. "One day the hippie movement just ended and now we are going to do something else, now we are going to be making money. Some kind of genetic call. It was very weird. Suddenly there was a core of values shift--people wanted to make money and get on with their lives."
According to long-time resident, John Servais, by 1973, Ken had bought most of the buildings, kicked the hippies out and the magic was gone. Most importantly, the military draft had ended, and with that the active opposition to the war ended. With that danger gone, they all got back to living. So Fairhaven went dark, starting in 1973 and did not revive until 1980, when Chuck and Dee Robinson brought energy back with the opening of Village Books in the Knights of Pythias Building.