Inn at Lynden
Downtown Lynden’s renaissance began with a fire. The 2008 blaze, sparked by two teenagers, gutted the historic Lynden Department Store building, the two-story, century-old centerpiece of Front Street, and the city itself.
Nine years later, Lynden’s downtown, with the LDS building as anchor, appears reborn. On a day in late August, the newly christened Waples Mercentile Building, on the corner of Front and Fifth streets, is buzzing with guests in its new hotel, The Inn at Lynden. Outside, every patio table of the building’s ground-floor restaurant, Avenue Bread, is occupied. People are shopping at Drizzle, the olive oil and vinegar tasting room, and Village Books. Around the corner, craft beer house Overflow Taps is getting ready for afternoon customers, and the Bellingham Baby Company’s doors are open for business.
“When this building burned, you could feel the whole town deflate,” said Gaye Davis, between helping customers at Village Books, one of several Bellingham businesses to expand to Lynden. Now, “it’s woken up. It’s alive. It’s so exciting to be here.”
Residents are beaming because a piece of their personal history has new life. Former Bellingham department store clerk Billy Waples went on to become one of Lynden’s founding fathers and favorite figures. He started the Lynden Department Store, moving into the new building in 1914, where the business remained through Waples’ retirement in 1960. The store eventually closed, and while the building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, subsequent tenants never did as well.
The department store was where people bought their groceries, clothes, school supplies, cattle feed, farm equipment and bridles for horses, among hundreds of other things. Waples made the famed department store the town’s social hub. Waples would also hold huge community suppers at the store to get folks together.
Davis, a Lynden native, has a little-kid memory of a floor grate that blew hot air into the store. On cold days, she’d beg her mom to take her to stand on the grate to get warm. Grown women would visit for Marilyn-Monroe moments, then run away screaming and giggling. In more innocent (and less medically-informed) days, the shoe store had an X-ray machine imbedded in the floor, said inn co-owner Deb McClure, for the novelty of seeing a skeleton of your feet. “They just all get a glint in their eye when they talk about it,” said McClure of residents. “I felt like we got to know the building vicariously from them.”
After the fire, in 2008, McClure and her developer husband, Jeff, of Bellingham’s RMC Architects, and others bought the building. The McClures currently co-own it with Ferndale’s Teri and Matt Treat.
When touring the burned-out shell, Jeff McClure saw “this incredible structure, the healthy timber structure that was so prevalent in this building in its day, the early 1900s,” along with its heavyweight concrete walls, said Jeff. Plus, “we also knew how much this building meant to the history of Lynden…If we had torn the structure down, a lot of that history, at least the tangible (remains) of that history, would be lost.”
The remodel was finished in 2015. Inside, you can run your hands — and feet — over history. Salvaged original 2×6 fir floorboards, set on edge, comprise much of the retail and hotel flooring. Bygone-era columns and massive beams of old growth Douglas fir provide the framework for the $6 million remodeling project. The ground floor’s open design links shops with the inn’s lobby. Customers can order a sandwich, roam through the bookstore, buy infused olive oil and check into the hotel without ever opening a door.
The inn is warm, bright, and modern, with 35 rooms of distinct sizes and layouts. Nearly every room features century-old beams or a wall with original brick or concrete. Thoughtful touches are everywhere: hallway ice is available in bags rather than noisy buckets, furniture and bedding are locally sourced, a rotating exhibit of art from the city’s new Jansen Art Center adorns the walls. The lobby hosts a row of new cruiser bicycles you can borrow. Harder-core cyclists will find secure storage for their bikes.
Locals treat the building as an area attraction, bringing their out-of-town guests to take a look. “They all know the history and the story,” said Deb. “It’s not, ‘Look what they’ve done.’ It’s ‘Look at what we’ve got.’ It just kind of makes you smile.”