While the Flatiron Building has been a Bellingham landmark for over 100 years, it received Federal Landmark status in 1983 and, even more recently, Local status in 1994. Upon construction in 1907, it was one of the first reinforced concrete buildings in the city, and was also the tallest until 1926.
The triangular “flatiron” type of building was quite popular among American architects in the first decade of the twentieth century. Daniel Burnham’s 1902 Flatiron building in New York was the inspiration for many, including the one in Bellingham. The style was particularly fashionable in cities that have odd shaped blocks varying from the traditional grid system.
The Flatiron Building was erected for the Bellingham Bay Furniture Company; one of the city’s oldest furniture firms established by T.S. Hamilton in 1889. During the early part of this century, the company was one of the largest and best known on Puget Sound. Previously, the Bellingham Bay Furniture Company had two locations; one of which was in the old Bellingham Hotel. After the Flatiron building was completed in 1908, the Bellingham Bay Furniture Company moved in, remaining there until 1978.
Precautions were taken to minimize the high fire risk that furniture manufacturing has. A system of internal water piping was installed, and each floor was equipped with fifty feet of fire hose. A special “fireproof” room was built for the varnish room, which is the most flammable part of the manufacturing process. The impressive blaze that severely damaged the Flatiron Building in 1924, forcing a vent through one of the elevator shafts to the roof, made these measures appear futile. Repairing the damage took several years, when the building re-opened in 1927 a water tank and an internal sprinkler system were added.
After the Bellingham Bay Furniture Company left the building it sat vacant until renovations were completed in 1990. The renovations left original glass panes along the north wall of the building and used them in re-lights along the west and east interior walls; allowing the flow of natural light to reach the entire floor. Afterwards, the Flatiron building received an Award of Outstanding Merit, recognizing the owner’s accomplishments in maintaining the integrity of the original design.
The Flatiron building architecturally dominates its neighborhood due to its size and unique shape and is a distinct visual feature of the central business district. Accordingly, the present occupation of the Flatiron building by Veco Engineering has energized the entire neighborhood.
For more information see the B&B Furniture Building (Flatiron Building) National Register of Historic Places Nomination.