Whatcom Museum Celebrates 75 Years of Art, Nature, and History

Free Celebration and Open House Event

August 02, 2016 - by Whatcom Museum

For Immediate Release: Bellingham, WA, Tuesday, August 2, 2016—The Whatcom Museum celebrates 75 years of bringing art, nature, and history to Bellingham with an open house celebration on Thursday, August 11, 2016. All three buildings on the Museum's campus—the Lightcatcher Building, Old City Hall, and Syre Education Center—will be open, free of charge, noon-8pm. The celebration, sponsored by Peoples Bank, will include a variety of activities, including exhibition and building tours, art activities for adults and children, live music in the Lightcatcher and Old City Hall, a sidewalk chalk art contest, food trucks, cake, and more! Mayor Kelli Linville will make welcoming remarks at the Lightcatcher courtyard at 3pm. The Museum invites the community to celebrate its history, and welcome the next 75 years of community engagement together.


“The Whatcom Museum is proud to celebrate this milestone anniversary,” said Executive Director Patricia Leach. “We are committed to continuing the legacy of providing art and history to the community.”


The Museum will also highlight newly designed history exhibits in Old City Hall. Using items from the Museum's collection and extensive photographic archives, these exhibits will tell the stories of Bellingham. Old City Hall will come alive through an orientation theater that will take visitors on an audio-visual journey spanning the building's 124-year history, as well as the city's early civic and political evolution. A new maritime history gallery featuring Bellingham's waterfront will give an overview of Bellingham Bay's history, from early steam ships, to fisheries, to notable schooners that sailed the bay.


“We've been working hard with a team of staff to prepare stories and items from our collection for these new history exhibits,” Leach said, “which we look forward to debuting at our celebration event.”


The Whatcom Museum began as a way of saving Bellingham's vacant and decaying Old City Hall building, built in 1892. It first opened its doors as the Bellingham Public Museum on Jan. 23, 1941. The first exhibits consisted of historical items and curios on loan from community members. John M. Edson, the Museum's founder, was an eminent ornithologist. The hundreds of taxidermy birds that Edson collected were part of the Museum's original displays in 1941, which can still be seen today in the Syre Education Center.


Attendance that first year was 5,166, but the Museum had to close for most of the next two years due to a lack of funds during World War II. In 1944, a public vote made the Bellingham Public Museum a City department.


On December 10, 1962, an electrical fire in Old City Hall destroyed the clock tower and much of the roof. This led to a twelve-year effort to fully restore the museum building that was crowned by replacement of the tower in 1974.


Through the years, the Whatcom Museum has grown and evolved to meet the interests of a changing community. From the opening of the Lightcatcher building in 2009 to the ongoing expansion of collections and programs, the Museum has continued to provide innovative and interactive educational programs and exhibitions to the community.


More than 5,000 visitors signed the first museum guestbook in 1941. Now, 75 years and a few name changes later, the Whatcom Museum has grown into the cultural center of downtown Bellingham. Its iconic buildings, first-class exhibitions, extensive collection, and varied educational programs serve more than 70,000 people each year.


For more information about the Whatcom Museum's 75th Anniversary Open House Celebration, including a schedule of events, visit www.whatcommuseum.org/75ann.


The Whatcom Museum's three building campus includes the Lightcatcher Building, 250 Flora Street, Old City Hall, 121 Prospect Street, and the Syre Education Center, 201 Prospect Street. For additional information about the Museum's hours, admission, membership, and offerings, visit Whatcom Museum.

Media Contact

​Christina Claassen, Marketing & PR Manager

Whatcom Museum



More City News >>

Subscribe to City News