Bellingham architect Jim Zervas to be honored posthumously

The Bellingham Business Journal

Jim Zervas, a distinguished Northwest architect and planner for more than 50 years, will be honored posthumously with a lifetime achievement award by the American Institute of Architects.

Zervas was instrumental in shaping the Bellingham and Whatcom County community. He passed away on Nov. 2 at the age of 84.

His career as an architect began as an apprentice with the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1961, Zervas established his practice in Bellingham. His projects always embodied thoughtful design, environmental respect and civic context.

He carried that aesthetic into an active role in the recognition and protection of the community’s natural treasures. In the mid-1960s Zervas became the first chair of the Whatcom County Parks Board.

“Without Jim’s leadership, many of our parklands would not exist today,” said former Bellingham Mayor Ken Hertz in a press release. “Jim saw a need to afford everyone access to our unique environment.”

As chair, Zervas oversaw the hiring of the first park director and promoted Whatcom County’s first bond issue, which ultimately preserved more than 4,000 acres of waterfront properties. Zervas’ insistence on quality over quantity in park-land development led to 11 national park awards for excellence in design.

Parks acquired and improved under Zervas’ tenure on the board included Pine and Cedar lakes, Hovander Homestead, Silver Lake and Silver Lake Equestrian Park, Lake Samish parks, the Roeder Home, Lake Whatcom park land, Point Roberts Lighthouse Park and other lands yet to be developed.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Zervas was retained by Whatcom County government to help lead the design and building of the many senior centers serving the community today.

“For over 40 years, Whatcom County government leaders sought out Jim’s wise counsel and vision in the development of the civic center and many public buildings,” said County Administrator Dewey Desler.

Zervas was a community builder and cared equally as much for local historic treasures. In the early 1980s, Zervas played a key role in saving and restoring Bellingham’s Mount Baker Theatre when a group of investors who owned it wanted to convert it into a multiplex movie theater.

Along with three others, he formed a committee to raise money and persuade local governments to contribute to its purchase. He then became the first president of the nonprofit corporation that owned the Mount Baker Theatre and later developed a long-range plan of capital improvements that have since been completed.

“Without him stirring the pot, none of the things we’re doing today would have been possible,” said Brad Burdick, executive director of the Mount Baker Theatre.

Zervas led or participated in countless city and regional planning studies over the last 40 years. His guidance was incorporated in plans for Bellingham Airport, Whatcom Community College, the Bellingham civic center, downtown commercial district and waterfront, and the continuing Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) effort.

Many local architects developed their skills under Zervas’ guidance and ultimately became colleagues and friends.

“Jim taught by example. I never heard him complain, say something negative about another person, nor raise his voice,” said Sharon Robinson, a partner at Zervas Group Architects. “He cared about his community and the world, and did everything in his power to contribute to both.”

The Northwest Chapter of the American Institute of Architects will honor Jim Zervas, a former chapter president and recipient of multiple architectural awards, during its annual design awards program on Dec. 6 at McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon. For more information about the awards program, visit

A short list of Zervas-designed projects in Whatcom County include:
• Community Food Co-op Connections Building (formerly Western Optical)
• Carver Gym addition and playfields, Western Washington University
• Kulshan Middle School
• Visitor’s Information Center, Western Washington University
• Whatcom Community College Master Plan
• Whatcom Counseling and Psychiatric Clinic
• Snowater Condominiums
• Jacob’s Landing Condominiums
• U.S. Coast Guard Station (1967)
• Ferndale Post Office
• Peoples Bank downtown Bellingham branch
• Numerous private homes in the Bellingham area


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