Eldridge Avenue Historic District
The Eldridge Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2016, The Gombach Group.
The Eldridge Avenue Historic District is a gracious residential area situated on a bluff overlooking Bellingham Bay. Character is imparted mainly by the impressive concentration of substantial 1885-1910 houses — many of which have been noted in print — and by the quiet suburban street vistas canopied with mature hardwoods and firs. Also, in the district are an Episcopal church campus with the original 1884 frame church used as a parish hall, a 13,000 sq. ft. playground, an unoccupied neighborhood grocery and a charming two-square-block park.
At the turn-of-the-century a visitor would have found a growing, healthy neighborhood studded with the larger homes situated on several building lots apiece. He would see several small groceries, a developing park and constant building of both larger and more modest houses — the larger attracting attention and procuring status for the builder who, by building a large house in the neighborhoods had thereby announced his financial (and usually social) arrival. The district was so desirable, in fact, that building did not appear to slow down even during the Depression of 1893.
The district was platted in 1881 and 1884 on land originally claimed under the Oregon Land Bill (Donation Claim Law), 1850-1860, by Edward Eldridge (western portion of the district) and Henry Roeder (eastern portion). The two claims included about 130 acres included in the existing district. Approximately 50 city blocks of 200 x 400 feet are within the district and it has about 900 structures including garages and outbuildings. Although the 80 foot wide arterial, Eldridge Avenue parallels the southeast-to-northwest orientation of the bluff, the flat plateau of 60 foot wide cross streets skew off and run directly north-south with right angle cross streets. The north-south streets were named for the most part for Roeder family members and the east-west streets were named for presidents.
Density is essentially "established suburban" and the district has an expansive uncrowded feel. Lots are roughly 50 x 100 ft. and houses are built on from one to three lots each, usually quite forward leaving large backyards serviced by 16 ft. wide alleys.
Architectural styles in the district range from the more common Stick Style, Queen Anne, Eastlake, Bungaloid, Mission, and Shingle to two monumental examples of Neo-Classical Revival. Many houses, too, contain elements from several styles: Queen Anne bays and turrets on Stick construction, Eastlake brackets on Shingle roofs. Mansard roofs and Oreil windows on Eastlake.
With the exception of a unique brick Queen Anne (the Bolster house), the entire district is constructed of the plentiful Northwest timber and is a tour de force of carpenter skills. Much unique mill and structural work is evident and the use of shingle products is ubiquitous.
A sign of status in the neighborhoods was to import finished pieces — mantels, hardwood flooring, doors, stairwells, pediments and the like — around the Horn from back East and Europe. Most of these pieces are still intact within the original houses.
Also, of note is the repeated use of art glass in differing forms: stained, etched, leaded or beveled in windows, doors and lighting pieces throughout the neighborhood. Adding to the district's air of stability is the recurring use of Cuckanut sandstone whenever stone work was required. Foundations, chimneys, stanchions and retaining walls throughout the district are of this rough-faced gray stone which was cut from the Roeder-Roth Quarry of Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham. This quarry, worked between 1856-1916, was used extensively in Romanesque buildings and supplied stone for at least two National Register buildings, the Portland, Oregon Customs House and Whatcom Museum of History & Art. The quarry was important throughout Puget Sound area because of its accessible waterfront location and the Northwest Coast shortage of non wood building material before the advent of iron and structural concrete building techniques (Ca. 1913).
Trees and green space play an important part in the neighborhood. No doubt influenced by the City Beautiful Movement, Henry Roeder donated two square blocks for a park that was beautifully landscaped in 1906 and named for Roeder's wife, Elizabeth. Although the pond fountain, band stand, well-maintained annual beds and ornamental metal work are no longer extant, visitors are struck by the variety of carefully chosen contrasting deciduous and evergreen trees and by the delightful use of open and covered landscaping space.
The streets themselves are recurringly lined with hardwoods — elm, chestnut, maples and oak — and along with its lesser plantings, Lobe Memorial Playground has a magnificent aging maple. Two trees in the neighborhood deserve note: the mature copper beech at the Pettibone house (1711 Eldridge) grown from a slip said to have been brought from England and the large elm tree at the Mason house (1621 Eldridge) taken from the Washington Elm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bellingham Herald, n.d. (1976, "Bicentennial Note").
Also, serving to differentiate the district is, of course, the bluff on the south with its magnificent views of Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands and Squalicum Creek on the west with its imposing ravine.
Although the historic feeling or character of the Eldridge District is mainly imparted by the larger more elaborate homes built before 1909 there are an equal number of carefully built smaller structures which carry out the neighborhood's established ambiance. The majority of these structures, referred to here as Recent Compatible/Altered Historic, were built prior to 1925 and are in a comparatively modest Bungalow, Stick, or simple wood frame style. The remaining minority of homes in this classification were constructed in the years before the second world war. The buildings in the Recent Compatible/Altered Historic class differ from the older homes in that most are built on single lots where the larger older houses were usually sited straddling two or more.
The intrusive structures have all been built since 1945 but their number is remarkably low.
The year 1909 was chosen as a watershed date in the classification system for the Eldridge District because it marks a distinct change in the architectural nature of the area. It also marks the approximate end of the district's historic high point of important personalities residing exclusively in the area. With the city's growth after 1909 several other areas in Bellingham became choice neighborhoods in which to build. The "Golden Age" of massive carefully crafted mansions in Bellingham was also coming to an end with the proliferation of specialty lumber mills which standardized building materials and consequently construction techniques. The fifty years of age criteria usually applied to National Historic Sites would find that only about ten percent of the structures in the Eldridge District would be excluded from eligibility, and among those only a few seriously violate the area's character. Informationally, we determined that the 1909 date revealed much more about the district than a constantly changing one since it is based on the area's own unique past. But the fifty year cut off date does illustrate a historic consistency within the district that is comparable with Historic Districts throughout the country and remarkable for the Pacific Northwest.
Without exception the early pioneer-promoters of North Bellingham chose to build their "career's best" houses in the Eldridge District. These houses stand today as elegant object lessons in Victorian attitudes towards architecture, community boosterism, beautification and style. Men whose names grace local streets, schools, parks and, in the county, a boon town all built their largest houses here using the latest styles and finest finished pieces to come in from Europe, the East and California.
The economy and population growth of Bellingham Bay itself ambled along fitfully from its founding as a sawmill site in 1853 until 1881 when the so-called "Washington Colony" was founded. This organization was a typical Western improvement society, formed by the leading men in the area for the purpose of community boosterism and economic improvement. Papers for this exclusive arrangement were drawn up by Judge Neterer who later built at 1700 Eldridge Avenue. Included in the roster were Edward Eldridge, Henry Roeder, C. J. Pettibone (representing heirs of R. V. Peabody, co-founder of the 1853 Whatcom Creek sawmill). William Utter, Euclid Van Zandt, T. C. Austin and John H. Stenger. Besides pooling resources to rebuild the 1853 mill and starting to advertise in the prairie states, the men also decided that Bellingham needed a showplace residential district and very shortly after Henry Roeder and Edward Eldridge each platted and started selling portions of the free land they had acquired under the Oregon Land Bill of 1850-1855.
Boundaries of the new residential district were easily definable by geography; on the southwest the impressive bluff overlooked the beach and bay. The area below the bluff later became the neighborhood bathing beach. On the west end the wide wooded Squalicum Creek ravine dramatically cut off the district. S. H. Siemons (2617 Eldridge) is the name most associated with Squalicum Creek; he had a shingle mill here and later ran a successful lumber business with his six sons.
The northern boundary of the district is the least distinct. Although it is generally drawn at North Street, several "Pivotal" and "Primary" residences are beyond North Street. The east and southeast boundary of the district are Broadway and Elm Streets. At Broadway the plateau slopes down into the commercial district of town and growth east of Elm Street is also commercial.
Within twenty years of the founding of the Washington Colony all of the founders, along with many newcomers, had impressive houses within the district and, almost in strict accordance with net worth, each house befitted its owner. The bounty of Victorian architectural styles filtering in from back East was translated into fir and shingle vernacular. The neighborhood has an unusually large representative sample of Victorian styles and is an extravagant display of the differing way wood can be shaped. Roofs are high-gabled, cross-gabled, mansard or domed. Eaves have projected rafters, boxed cornices, and every variation in between. Windows, especially those on the top floors are oval, round, square and every shape describable. But despite all this variety the neighborhood remains a cohesive whole because of its tree-lined streets, recurring use of the same materials and overall sameness of proportion and scale.
Although the district deserves note primarily for its impressive architecture and local historical reasons, two houses in the neighborhood deserve recognition for nationally important reasons: the George Bacon House (2001 Eldridge) and the Helen Loggie House (2203 Utter). The Bacon House, now home of the Bacon Home for Boys, was designed by nationally famous neo-classical architect Robert Bacon. He is the cousin of George Bacon and the architect of the Lincoln Memorial. The Loggie House was the lifelong home of nationally known artist Helen Loggie and would be individually eligible for Register status.
Social life in the 1885-1910 years paralleled economic life closely. Men who financed buildings downtown or banks or mines in Whatcom County all lived and entertained together in their Eldridge Area homes. Contemporary newspapers give rich accounts of these proceedings between the congressmen, bankers, mayors and businessmen of the county, and although the social life was a bit exclusive, there was no exclusiveness whatsoever in limits to house size or social class within the district. Side lots of the mansions were freely sold off to less prosperous newcomers from the Midwest, who were welcomed for the population growth and prosperity they represented.
Even with its smaller structures and less prosperous citizens, the neighborhood remained the most desirable place to live in Bellingham well into the 1920's. The district was eclipsed somewhat from the period 1930-1960 when the railroad switch yard below the bluff gave the neighborhood the reputation of being loud due to the noise of the new diesel locomotives. The demand for quality in-city housing reversed the downward trend in the late 1960's, however, and restoration work has been ongoing for approximately ten years.
The historical consciousness of the neighborhood is advanced and researched by the Eldridge Historical Society, many members of which are life-long residents. An active and knowledgeable Eldridge Avenue Residents Association concerns itself with upgrading the neighborhood through local political action. Since the bicentennial year, the residents have conducted a successful annual home tour which draws attention and pride to the district.
The changes which took place in the Eldridge District over the years and which filled in the once sprawling grounds around the earliest buildings can be best divided on either side of the year 1909. Although the property lines in the district were set in 1884 by the original settler in platting his donation claim most property owners built on more than one lot (50ft x 100ft or 50ft x 125ft) before 1909. But once the area's desirability was established an incentive developed for the property owners to sell off single lots being used only as lawns or grounds. The smaller houses built on these single lots reflected a change in taste concerning residential architecture. These newer, more modest buildings continued to utilize the local abundance of lumber and wooden building materials but they no longer emphasized the elaborate hand tooled details so important in the older, larger homes. They did not however conflict aesthetically with their senior counterparts, instead they filled in the neighborhood until by 1925 the street scenes looked, much as they do today.
The houses built between 1909 and 1045 (Recent Compatible/Altered Historic) are mostly one story, two or three bedroom single family residences. About two thirds of them are from before 1925 and are either a very simple but solid frame building or a Bungalow style. In some cases Eastlake or Stick style details have been added to the gables or porches of the frame buildings so that they add directly to the neighborhood character but even those which remain much like they were built contribute to the district's uniqueness.
Elizabeth Park, in the heart of the district, is the oldest public park in the county. It was created by city father Henry Roeder in 1884 and is named for his wife. It was renovated about 1900 along plans thought to have been drawn up by the Olmsted Brothers Firm which did another park in the city and were under contract at the time. It featured a bandstand, fountain, and waterway system for many years and is being restored by the city parks in conjunction with the district's historic preservation sentiment.
The existing Columbia school was built in 1928 to replace the previous school building which burned. The school yard today, as it has in the past, provides the young people of the area with many memories and the school's students have gone on to achieve in business, government, art, and several other endeavors. Both the present building and its predecessor are well documented in local writings and histories.