The Fairhaven Hotel: gone, but not entirely forgotten

There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

– Ecclesiastes 1:11

Fairhaven Hotel
The Fairhaven Hotel in its heday, ca. 1895. It stood for 63 years before being replaced by a service station (right).

The Fairhaven Hotel was built in 1890 under the auspices of James. J. Hill, Charles Xavier Larrabee and the Fairhaven Land Company. Total cost of the structure and its furnishings was $300,000, and the lumber, sandstone, and red brick was all procured/produced locally. This grand Victorian style hotel quickly became the centerpiece of Fairhaven’s “boom” years. It comprised over 100 rooms and boasted solid oak stairways with a plush carpeted lobby and multiple gaslight candelabras. It was lauded as the finest hotel in Washington. High society gathered in its dining room to enjoy multi-course  gourmet dinners at what now seems the ridiculously modest sum of $10.00. Mark Twain stayed there for several days in 1895, and reportedly played billiards at a posh and exclusive adjoining club. The hotel’s future seemed to be bright as the turn of the century neared. But as is common in “boom towns,” sometimes they meet with bust. The hotel’s fortunes suffered with a downturn in the booms that had previously characterized Fairhaven and its satellite towns of Bellingham, Sehome and Whatcom; the hotel closed and Charles Larrabee and his family moved in, making it their home until 1918 when the Larrabee home (now known as Lairmont Manor) was completed in Edgemoor.

The building was tried as a hotel again in the 1920s, under the name “Victoria Hotel,” with far less than stellar results. It then became the “Yoghurt” Sanitarium, the subsequent closure of which is understandable, if it was based upon the ideas of John Harvey Kellogg, who operated the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan at the same time, and advocated many curious health practices (among them yoghurt enemas and the application of phenol to the private parts to discourage “sexual self-abuse.”)

During the depression, the building was used for business purposes – most notably a women’s sewing center – then in 1937 the hotel was quit-claim deeded to Whatcom County by the Larrabee family. Early plans were to convert it to a hospital. In the name of “renovation,” everything above third floor was torn down, and the red brick was resurfaced with concrete. Ultimately, the building became home to the Fairhaven Boys and Girls club, as well as the location of wedding receptions and dances. It was after one of these dances in 1953 that the venerable old structure was gutted by fire.

The county condemned the ill-fated structure and sold it to the highest bidder willing to clear the site. Purchased for a mere $1200, it was converted to rubble in less than six months.The cleared lot was sold for $20,000 and a “modern” service station was built there, to serve the “alternate” Route 99 traffic coming off of Chuckanut Drive. The gas station structure still stands today (see accompanying photograph), and was for a time partly vacant and partly home to Cory’s [hot]Dog Hut, until the hot dog business moved in August 2012. I’m not sure what it’s being used for now, if anything.

One thing is certain. Only a handful of locals know, upon passing by its former location, that the site once was home to the grandest hotel in Washington State, and that almost 110 years ago, the famous Mark Twain rested his head there.

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