‘Charming little hotel’ had 15 bedroom suites, cost $3 per day
The Silver Beach Hotel on the north shore of Lake Whatcom opened May 30, 1891, with a luncheon, dance, and accommodations that were “First-class in every respect.”
It was the dream of the hostelry’s investors, chiefly Reginald Jones, E.F.G. Carlyon, J.E. Baker, and A.L. Black, to develop Silver Beach into a lakeside resort. It was the champagne day of Bellingham Bay’s real estate boom.
The interior of the “charming little hotel” was ornately finished in redwood and had 15 bedroom suites. Lodging was a steep $3 per day, though discounts applied to stays of a week or longer. In addition, the hotel’s large dining room, “especially noted for its excellent cuisine,” could be reserved for private or club dinners. For the impulsive, a “wedding breakfast” could be “arranged for on short notice.”
Managing the hostelry was “genial Joe” Thatcher, who tended both the bar and the front-desk telephone. In 1891, when telephones were still a novelty, the hotel’s phone number was a scant 87.
Guests came and went via the horse-drawn Silver Beach Hotel Stage, owned and driven by George Geer, which traveled three times daily between the lake and the intersection of Elk (State) and Holly streets. Fare each way was 25 cents. The hotel also had a stable for use by patrons arriving with their own steed.
Geer’s stage became instantly obsolete on Feb. 18, 1892, when streetcar service to Silver Beach was inaugurated by the Fairhaven & New Whatcom Railway. Trolley fare to the lake was 10 cents.
However, shortly after the 1892 tourist season, Bellingham Bay’s speculative bubble burst. Rather than endure the hotel’s off-season, Joe Thatcher went into ranching. Even the streetcar company went into receivership. It would take nearly a decade for the local economy to recover from the hangover of the boom’s champagne days.
Leased by the Panter Improved Remedy Co., the Silver Beach Hotel was “newly papered, painted and refitted” as a sanatorium. A sparsely attended grand opening was held on June 8, 1893, hosted by the rehabilitation clinic’s director, George O. Smith.
Through “bi-chloride of gold” treatments, the hospital claimed “safe, sure and painless cure” for those who “habitually indulge liquors, morphine, opium, cocaine and tobacco.” But there weren’t quite enough folks ready to “try the cure and brace up.” The Panter Improved Remedy Co. did not renew its lease after the first year.
After surviving a forest fire in 1894, the hotel saw little use during the depression of the mid-1890s. When it did, as in July 1895, it was leased for two months by J.W. Morgan and George Gage. Their families had the place exclusively to themselves for the summer.
By the turn of the century, the economy was picking up and John Greulich reopened the hotel at Silver Beach. Greulich had a cigar factory on Elk (State) Street and the hotel’s clientele were bound to enjoy his brand of stogies.
Improvements were made to the hotel, notably the addition of a large dance pavilion adjoining the east side of the building which was completed in May 1901. Costing $2,000 to build, the pavilion had a varnished dance floor 36 feet wide and 60 feet in length. Outside, there was a 10-foot veranda from which “a grand view of the lake and surrounding mountains can be had.”
Inside the hotel, the original 15 suites were remodeled into 30 bedrooms, which were “always kept in the most cleanly condition.”
Yet the off-season remained a problem. The hotel survived the rainy months by having the only bar within quite a distance. With its liquor and cigars a boat ride away, the hotel served as a type of convenience store for the up-lake communities.
Some Silver Beach citizens were concerned that the beachside resort was becoming nothing more than a roadhouse. In March 1903, deputy sheriff John Parberry arrested August Johnson, the Silver Beach Hotel’s barkeep, for selling liquor without a license. The arrest served as a warning and was the beginning of a long feud over the booze question.
It didn’t help matters when David Wurtenberg and John Whalen took up management of the hotel that year. Wurtenberg’s day job was as a bottled beer salesman for the Bellingham Bay Brewery (3-B). His vision for the hotel as an outlet for 3-B “Export” confirmed the dark suspicions of many Silver Beach residents. John Whalen was soon advertising as the hotel’s sole proprietor.
In 1906, Clarence H. Chandler and William F. Gwynn bought the hotel and made it the centerpiece of a new 12-acre amusement park at Silver Beach. Costing $100,000, the new “White City” featured a merry-go-round, a 75 foot high Ferris wheel and a roller coaster built “under the personal direction of Charles Stauffer, of Pittsburgh.”
The hotel was renamed the White City Hotel and catered to the park’s guests. In 1907, William H. Oldwin became the hotel’s new chef. Oldwin, an African-American, was the former proprietor of the popular Mobile Restaurant at 314 W. Holly.
Throughout the summers, the White City hosted hot-air balloon ascensions, high-diving acts, baseball games, picnics and Chautauqua meetings. There were concession stands and game booths. For its Decoration Day and Fourth of July festivities, the amusement park had as many as 10,000 visitors.
But the White City only operated between May and October, as Bellingham’s wet weather simply wasn’t conducive to an outdoor amusement park. The off-season doldrums, which had haunted the hotel from the start, also plagued the White City’s business.
On March 21, 1908, Silver Beach residents voted to be annexed into the city of Bellingham. Ballots cast were 67 in favor and 28 against. At that time, municipalities issued liquor licenses. Chandler, seeking “the privilege to sell beer” at the amusement park, would need city approval.
But in April 1909, a local contingent of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), led by Thirza Rogers, Eliza Ford and Mary Hamilton, let the council know that they “protested in the most emphatic terms against any proposition to permit the sale of liquor at or adjacent to Silver Beach.”
Chandler’s rebuttal was that “some of the nicest ladies in Bellingham would like a glass of beer occasionally when they are on an outing.” He was not proposing to “conduct a disorderly place.” The City Council resolved that there would be no liquor sold at the White City, including in the hotel.
On May 26, 1910, Mr. Chandler was talking to friends at a Silver Beach grocery store, when “in the middle of a sentence he faltered, and staggering against the counter, on which he was leaning, dropped to the floor” dead. He’d suffered a fatal stroke.
John N. Noble ran the hotel and White City during the summer of 1911, but by October he opted out of a five-year lease. The White City continued under seasonal agreements for another seven years and the hotel went back to being called the Silver Beach Hotel.
In January 1922, the hotel was purchased by the Pacific Atomized Fuel Co., which began working a coal seam underneath the building. The former hotel was converted into a huge bunkhouse for the accommodation of some 50 miners. Its first floor was made into a large mess hall with adjoining shower room. The two upper stories were devoted to snoring chambers.
Other White City features found re-use by the coal company as well. Minus the carousel, the circular merry-go-round building was turned into a blacksmith shop. An ice cream-stand became equipment storage. The mine’s entrance was where the wooden roller coaster had stood and one can speculate whether or not some of its large beams ended up as bracing timbers down in the mine.
Coal mining at Silver Beach reached a dead end a few years later. The hotel, stripped of all luxury, stood derelict for the next six years. It was torn down in early 1930 on the order of Ethel Henika, who had acquired the hotel “as a partial payment on the debts that had accrued against the White City.”
The hotel had been located on what is now the bend in Poplar Drive, between North Shore Drive and Academy Street.