Nelson Block:  Tenants through the Years

1905 Rembrant Studios Photo courtesy Whatcom Museum
True to the BANK inscription on its corner, this building housed the reorganized Citizen’s Bank which had been located diagional on 11th and Harris. The newly named bank, Henry, Andrews & Co. operated here until it was replaced by Northwestern State Bank in 1906. Northwestern State became American National Bank which operated here from 1923 to 1934.

In the early 1940’s, Duane Haug, a life-long resident, remembers sneaking into the basement and playing in the piles of transactions and deposit slips that were left behind.

Brian Griffin, a native Southsider tried to purchase the Nelson Block in the 1960’s. The price was $12,000 and Brian could only come up with $9,000. A few years later, developer Ken Imus, purchased the Nelson Block along with much of Fairhaven in the 1970s and renovated the building. The corner bank location is now occupied by Three French Hens.

Upstairs Tenants

Medical and dental offices were located upstairs in the early 1900s. One tenant, Dr. Frank Wheaton was particularly popular. To hear local historian and former Fairhaven Pharmacist Gordon Tweit tell it, during the years of Prohibition, Dr. Wheaton, would write 7 prescriptions for Spiritus Frumenti (whiskey) or Spiritus Vini Retifcatum (wine). Charging $1 per prescription, Dr. Wheaton covered his overhead for the day. One "spiritus” prescription had instructions to "rub on shoulder”.

By the 1930s the offices were gone and the upstairs was known as the Bank Hotel, housing mostly fisherman from Norway. The hotel became residences for elderly in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The upstairs today are used as offices.

Basement Tenants

In 1901 a barbershop was located there, and according to Whatcom Museum Photo Historian Jeff Jewell, survived despite being run by brothers who had "the worst possible surname for men who made their living with a straight razor—John and Richard Sharpless." Their tonsorial emporium expanded to include a billiards.

In 1904 the Evening Herald printed a newspaper at this location.

In 1969 John Blethen rented the basement for about $100 a month; cleaning out yards of junk from previous tenants before he could open "Toad Hall”, a famous hang-out during Fairhaven’s "Hippie Years”. Relics from earlier times such as banker’s cages and post office boxes were used as décor items. Toad Hall was known for its enormous pizza, organic root beer made with honey, and bluegrass music. On movie nights, patrons could watch a WC Field’s movie and get a bag of popcorn for 50 cents. During those "Hippie Years” the basement doubled as a crisis center and crash pad. Toad Hall was visited by several prominent countercultural figures such as Ken Kesey, who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, and Gary Snyder, Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet, both associated with the Beat Generation as well as the Hippie Movement.

Nickels Bank Restaurant, The Hunt Restaurant, Spats Speakeasy, and Speedy O’Tubbs Rhythemic Underground operated in the basement through the 1970s to 1990s.

Currently the basement is empty. The late Ken Imus, former owner of the building, wanted it to be known that despite what has been written by a ghost society, a body was NOT found when the basement was renovated in the early 1970s.





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