Living with a legacy
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, Fall 200

Eldridge home is steeped in history

Avid Bellingham boaters Dennis and Julie Fox set a course for the past with the recent purchase of a 1906 Eldridge home.

And what a house. Even in the history-rich Eldridge area, its provenance is exceptional. Designed by Henry Bacon, the architect of the Lincoln Memorial, the four-story 5,800-square-foot house is the only home in the neighborhood that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places

To become the guardians of such a historically significant place was somewhat of a surprise for the Foxes. Though Whatcom County has been their home base for almost 30 years, the couple had spent the past decade on the water, sailing from Nova Scotia to Trinidad and everywhere in between. Two years ago they crossed the Atlantic and spent the summer in the Mediterranean.

“We retired 10 years ago after selling our core business, Hydro Swirl,” says Dennis. The couple also own Bellingham’s Hampton Inn. “We decided we could make more money or we could make more time.”

After purchasing a 58-foot Kadey Krogen trawler in 1996, the couple began sailing year-round. “We sold our home on the lake,” says Dennis. “We didn’t even have a car.”

But the siren song of six grandchildren was strong, and it lured them back to the area. They set foot on dry land high above Bellingham Bay.

In 2004, the couple first purchased a smaller home in the historical Eldridge neighborhood. But after a year and a half, they decided to move the 1916 structure and build a new home in its place to take full advantage of the spectacular water views.

Dennis and Julie moved to a rental home on the other side of town. But when the construction project on Eldridge was held up, they reevaluated their situation.

“Life’s short,” says Dennis. “We had no back yard and no view. Keep in mind, we’d lived on a lake for 18 years and a boat for the last 10 years. We had to change the view.”

‘A great history’
When Dennis saw John L. Scott agent Peter Roberts pounding a for-sale sign into the Bacon residence’s yard, just three doors down from his new home in progress, he pulled over and introduced himself. He was determined to make the historic residence his and Julie’s latest land-locked home.

“We wrote an offer that night, and the next morning they accepted it,” says Roberts, who is president of the Eldridge Society for History and Preservation and president of the Whatcom County Association of Realtors. “It was lightning fast.

“This home has a great history,” Roberts continues. “It was one of the first to be identified as important when we applied for our status as a historical district in 1979.”

The Foxes see themselves as stewards of a precious part of Bellingham’s past. From the sturdy blocks of Chuckanut sandstone in the home’s foundation to the attic where the servants who tended the six-bedroom house slept, they marvel over details.

“You  don’t live in this home — you just become the caretaker until the new homeowner comes,” says Dennis. He notes the home has belonged to eight previous owners, including the Archdiocese of  Seattle, which used it as a home for wayward boys from 1979 to 1989.

They still plan to complete the renovation of the smaller house they relocated, but may surprise themselves

“Ultimately, we will get the house next door built within a year or so,” says Dennis. “Our dilemma then is how well we like this home. It’s going to be hard to give it up.”

Signature style
Designed by noted architect Henry Bacon as a wedding gift for his first cousin George Bacon, the home is a rare Whatcom County example of Greek Revival architecture. Henry Bacon went on to design the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1911, where his fascination with Greek and Roman temple design continued.

Design benchmarks of the style are the square columns that support an immense two-story portico. A semicircular fan light window tops the sidelight-flanked doorway, repeated with a half-round fan light window on the pediment. Below the eaves, dentils — projecting ornamental moldings — add grandeur and draw attention to the height of the house.

Dennis and Julie moved into the home this past June after hiring painters to remove wallpaper and refresh the interior. Their daughter-in-law Kim Fox is a contractor, and helped Julie with paint colors and other decorating decisions.

They then turned their attention to the landscaping. They tackled overgrown trees and shrubs that were shrouding the exterior’s handsome facade.

“We’re trying to get it so you can see the house,” says Dennis. “Bacon did it to make it look right and we don’t want to cover it all up.”

Because the home sits high above the bay with gasp-worthy water views and the San Juan Islands beyond, Bacon designed the two staircases on the main level to run along the front of the house — the main staircase is on one side and the servants’ staircase is on the other. This leaves an unobstructed view from the front door through the living room to the sweeping vistas.

Just off the living room is a water-facing dining room. The two areas are separated by massive pocket doors, designed to be slid aside by servants at just the right moment with the declaration that dinner was served. Faux marble and painted flowers decorated the fireplaces in these two rooms, which were replaced with crisp white paint to match the stunning trim and molding throughout the home.

Previous owners Bill and Vanessa Randall installed a small half-bath off of the dining room — the only bathroom on the main level and the only room with dark woodwork. They designed the diminutive space around a lead glass window purchased many years before in Australia.

The kitchen is large, with a second prep area and smaller sink tucked closest to the dining room. Julie had blue cabinets toned down with a striated paint technique, which softens the look and complements white tile countertops. What was originally a servants’ staircase, now stained a dramatic dark hue, curves up from the kitchen to the second-floor hallway.

The second floor landing, with its view outside across the portico’s small balcony, unfolds onto a broad hallway, one of Julie’s favorite features of the home. “The hall is so wide,” she says. “It’s such a grand feeling.”

Three bedrooms and a bath stem off of this ample hallway, with a master bedroom and adjoined sitting room spanning the entire back length of the house.

Complete with a third fireplace in the sitting room, the master suite is bracketed by a window-lined enclosed porch that overlooks the water.

Capping off the home is a spacious 1,000-square-foot finished attic space. The basement is also finished, housing three additional bedrooms.

Rooms with a view
In a home with so much character, it’s hard to single out the most striking design elements.

“For me, it’s the size of the rooms and how tall they are,” says Julie of the 10-foot ceilings on the main level and 9-foot ceilings on the second floor. “And I really love the woodwork. The house just has a personality that makes it really interesting.”

For Dennis, it was the view and the location first and foremost. But the house has also proved to be a stunner.

“It’s a period house and it looks right,” says Dennis. “No one’s messed it up. We’ll continue to do things that keep it a period house, but make it function better.”

Owning a century-old structure can intimidate some homeowners. Not Dennis and Julie. They know full well the TLC it will take to preserve the home. “It’s a lot more work to save a house than to build it,” says Dennis.

But he isn’t fazed.  “This is a snap compared to keeping a boat going,” he says. “On the boat we make our own electricity, our own water — it’s a little city. We deal with heating, cooling, hot water, ice. But you come into a house like this? At least it’s not rocking and rolling!”

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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