Thanks to Kaveh Askari and Matthew Holtmeier, Oregon Cartoon Institute got to explore Bellingham, Harry Smith’s childhood home. For people who wish to retrace our steps, here’s the sights we recommend.
1. Harry’s homes.
Robert Smith, Mary Smith and two year old Harry Smith arrived in Bellingham in 1925. They moved into 1515 J Street, a two story 1910 Victorian, walking distance from downtown. Robert worked for Pacific American Fisheries, a company which his father, Harry’s grandfather, had helped form. Don’t have a picture for this house, but that’s alright because they were only there for a year.
The Smiths then moved to 1104 13th Street, a smaller house with a beautiful view of the bay in the Fairhaven neighborhood in South Bellingham. The cannery where Robert Smith worked was visible from the windows in the rear of the house. Harry lived there until sometime before 1937, when his family moved to nearby Anacortes. This house was built in 1922.
Strange but true: there was a For Sale sign on the front lawn the day we were there. Could be the house for you!
2. Whatcom Museum
Designed by a self taught architect who believed more is more, Whatcom City Hall has it all: towers, trims, peaks, gables, lightning rods, a clock, you name it. A triumph of imagination, this 1892 fantasia in brick was built on a bluff overlooking the bay. Landfill removed the bluff, but this structure survived urban renewal because it was so overbuilt that tearing it down would be too expensive. What a wonderful building! Now a museum, you can find it at 121 Prospect Street.
3. Mt Baker Theater
Second favorite building in Bellingham. From the outside, a dreary, cold, poured concrete shopping mall prototype with an stump of a minaret poking up from the middle of the block. Nothing to prepare you. Inside, another world.
Harry said his mother used to drop him off at movie theaters when he was a child. Perhaps this was one. It has been reverentially restored, and has the original furniture and light fixtures. Built in 1927. 104 N. Commercial Street.
4. Fairhaven Library
Another poured concrete temple of the mind. Harry later spent lots of time at the New York Public Library, researching obscure texts. Perhaps he got his start as a bookworm here, at 1117 12th Street, one block from his house. Built in 1905.
5. Railroads arrived in Bellingham in 1884.
No steam engines chug in and out of Bellingham today, but the ghosts of the town’s industrial past are everywhere. This photo is from 1924. Amtrak still has a station in Fairhaven. Last stop before British Columbia!
6. Before the trains arrived, people got around by boat.
These modern day tall ships are recreations of the ones which originally swarmed Bellingham Bay. The land you see behind the ships is the Lummi Nation, which Harry could see from his house, and which he visited by bike. The bay was empty the day we were there.
7. Pacific Highway/Chuckanut Drive
Harry grew up in a town which began its existence more or less as an island. When Bellingham came into being in the 1850s, it had no proper road. People came by boat or, later, by train. Chuckanut Drive was built in 1912.
Harry Smith scholars can end their day of exploration as we did, by watching a film at the superbly run Pickford Film Center, a duplex cinema whose motto is ”more than movies”. Matthew Holtmeier acted as the host of the evening. Kaveh Askari presented his experimental documentary Harry Smith of the Guide and took questions. I introduced Heaven & Earth Magic, and Dennis projected Oregon Cartoon Institute’s expanded cinema recreation of Harry Smith’s stop motion masterpiece. Packed house! Western Washington University is lucky to have two such serious film scholars, Kaveh and Matthew, teaching their students, and Bellingham is lucky to have such a great venue. Dennis and I enjoyed the entire trip.