Located on the southeast corner of Eleventh Street and Harris Avenue, the two-story, pressed-brick, Romanesque Revival Nelson Block originally housed a bank. Designed by local architect William Cox, the building’s history embodies the perils of the boom-and-bust economy of Fairhaven.
The Nelson Block was begun in 1891 for Malcolm McKechnie during Fairhaven’s economic boom. By the time the basement had been excavated and a foundation of Chuckanut sandstone had been installed, however, Fairhaven’s economy had collapsed and work on the three-story building plan ceased. After ten years, James Purdy Nelson purchased the property and completed the building in 1900.
The building’s most distinct feature is the first-floor corner with its large, round-arched portal with an entablature bearing the inscription “Bank.” The date “1900” appears in the parapet of the cornered bay crest. The window openings on the first story feature segmented arched heads, and the second-story windows have rounded arches; the stories are separated by sandstone stringcourses.
The architect, Cox, was born in England and immigrated to the United States in 1887. Although he had no formal training, he opened an independent practice in Bellingham in 1889. He designed residences for a number of prominent Bellingham residents and partnered with F. Stanley Piper to design the Anacortes Public Library and Fairhaven’s Kulshan Club, both in 1909.
The building’s first tenant was the newly organized Citizen’s National Bank, originally called Henry, Andrews and Company. Other tenants over the years included a barbershop, bathhouse, billiard parlor, and saloon. In 1904, the Evening Herald was printed in the basement, and the Fairhaven post office was also located in the building for a time. The second floor was used for professional offices. The Nelson building was renovated in the 1970s by Kenneth Imus’s Jacaranda Development Corporation and is one of the best preserved buildings in the Fairhaven Historic District. Today it is occupied by various retail stores and restaurants.