Summit Construction and Whatcom Museum for History & Art: Something Old, Something New

Innovative art space brings together Victorian architecture and 21st Century design.

Bellingham, WA — Described as “a place of wonder in a wonderful place,” the Whatcom Museum for History & Art is a fascinating blend of technology and tradition. Its buildings reflect over 120 years of Bellingham history and innovation, and their revitalization provided a unique challenge for one local developer.

As one of the leading forces behind the rebirth of historic Bellingham, the team at Summit Construction was thrilled with the opportunity to update the Whatcom Museum facilities, starting with the Old City Hall, a cherished Bellingham landmark. Originally constructed in 1892 to support the bustling port and mining town, the Old City Hall was built above an abandoned mining tunnel and designed by local architect Albert Lee.

In 1941, after a new City Hall was built, the Whatcom Museum took over the space, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. As the building aged, faulty wiring and other construction-related issues made the building an unsuitable home for fragile museum artifacts. So, the decision was made to upgrade and restore Lee’s Victorian masterpiece, one of the best examples of Victorian architecture in the Northwest.

Local contracting company Summit Construction was chosen to lead the project, which included restoring the Old City Hall as well as constructing a new, modern building. This family-owned firm has a long and successful history of Bellingham-area projects, both historical and modern. Well-known projects in the area include the restoration of the Waldron and Young buildings, Bellingham International Airport, and the Bellwether Gate mixed-use facility.

“As part of the Whatcom Museum redesign, we had the opportunity to work with Jim Olson of Olson Kundig, one of the country’s most innovative architects,” says a Summit spokesperson.

Together, the two firms created the Lightcatcher, a spectacular, 6,500-square-foot translucent wall structure. Incorporating materials native to the Northwest, the Lightcatcher building was the first museum facility in Washington State designed to energy-saving LEED Silver-Level specifications. Over 42,000 square feet in size, the building features an ever-changing showcase of art exhibitions and a fascinating Family Interactive Gallery, designed for people of all ages to learn through interaction, creative expression, and visual cues.

Thanks to the team at Summit Construction of Bellingham, WA, the Whatcom Museum will continue to embrace the future as it preserves the past, for the benefit of all. To learn more about the museum, visit: