By Ryan Wynne
On Aug. 24, a sparsely attended impromptu funeral was held at the intersection of Ohio and King streets. On that day, the former Diamond Jim’s Grill building, which has housed restaurants since the 1940s, was demolished as part of a city plan to improve safety in the area.
The demolition was anything but typical. Before bringing down the building, Ram Construction owner Mike Hammes and his crew went to the new Diamond Jim’s restaurant in the Fountain District for breakfast. Then the restaurant’s owner, Jim Green, went to their office of the day, his former restaurant site.
Green delivered the first crushing blow to the triangular building. Before crawling into the excavator, he said he wanted to help bring it down because he thought it might bring him a little closure.
“There are a lot of people around who are sad to see it go, including me,” Green said.
Green wasn’t the only former building tenant to bid the building adieu. Ed and Betty Brown also stopped by to say their farewells. Ernie Brown, Ed’s father co-owned a cafe in the building in the 1960s. Betty worked in the cafe at one point and Ed helped build benches in it.
Betty said it’s ironic to see the building torn down to make room for traffic improvements considering how sparse traffic was in the area when the Browns owned it. Their main customers at that time were mechanics and loggers and the streets were empty enough then for loggers to park their large logging trucks along the sides of all the streets, Betty said.
While they were reminiscing about the building and how it housed their restaurant and a barbershop when they were there, Hammes invited Ed to deliver the second round of knockout punches to the building. After some trial and error, Ed’s tongue poked out the side of his mouth and his eyes homed in on the building. As he dug into the roof with the clawed arm of the excavator he began to smile.
At the same time, Betty stood nearby watching without a smile. As Ed was climbing out, she even began to appear worried.
“Now don’t fall off of there,” she said to herself as she watched.
As Ed walked back toward Betty, he looked up to the sky.
“Sorry, Dad,” he said. “It had to be torn down. I may as well have been in on it. It brings back a lot of memories.”
Green also has memories in the building. He had been in there for 13 years and the new space doesn’t have the same feel, he said.
“A lot of people really loved it for its funk factor and coziness,” Green said, and his new space is much bigger.
As much as he would like to have his old spot back, Green said he understands that the building needed to come down. He worked with the city to find his new location. Still, he said it was hard to see it go.
The intersection has been listed as a high-accident location since 1998, according to a city of Bellingham press release. Currently, the King Street leg of the intersection is controlled only with a stop sign and turning conflicts result in a high number of accidents.
The project will eliminate left turns from King Street to the Interstate 5 ramp, the intersection at Ohio-James Street will receive a signal, and a westbound right-turn lane will be added on State Street from Ohio Street along with the new signal. The intersection at Ohio and State streets will also be reconfigured to improve eastbound left-turn movement and give truck traffic to access I-5.