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Friday, March 1, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Whale Festival In Bellevue Honors Oldtime Industry -- Whaling Ships Have Given Way To Yachts Today

Whalefest '91

Whalefest '91, the first festival in Bellevue to honor the city's roots in the whaling industry, will be this weekend at the Old Bellevue Public Market & Museum, 105 102nd Ave. S.E., six blocks south of Bellevue Square between the new Downtown Park and Wildwood Park. It will be held 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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BELLEVUE - Above the door leading to a basement office is a sign that says: William S. Lagen, Meydenbauer Bay Marina, American Pacific Whaling Co.

It's one of the last reminders of a major industry that shared the east side of the Lake Washington shoreline from the early 1900s to World War II.

The last place most people would expect to find remnants of the whaling industry would be among the expensive homes of the quiet tree-lined cove known as Meydenbauer Bay.

But where yachts that cost more than the average home are now moored, there once was a fleet of whaling ships that were part of the American Pacific Whaling Co.

For seven months out of the year from 1919 to 1942, the ships would be berthed at Meydenbauer Bay, where they would be repaired and made ready for the next whaling season.

Next to farming, the biggest industry in Bellevue at the time was the whaling industry, which employed more 200 people.

Now all that is left of the industry is in the basement office of William Lagen, a former Bellevue City Councilman and businessman whose Bellevue roots are five-generations deep.

This weekend, that whaling past will be the subject of Whalefest '91 at The Old Bellevue Public Market & Museum, 105 102nd Ave. S.E., just off Main Street in Old Bellevue. The festival will feature photographs and whaling equipment from the American Pacific Whaling Co. as well as exhibits from the Seattle Aquarium, Friday Harbor Whale Museum, American Cetacean Society and Audubon Society.

There will also be a skeleton of a common dolphin, the Delphinus delphis, on display.

The idea behind the festival was started by Gene Hayes, manager of the market and a person who has big ideas for downtown Bellevue. In addition to the festival and the public market, Hayes wants to make Bellevue the ``Walking Capital of The Northwest.''

``Redmond is known as the `Bicycle Capital of the Northwest','' said Hayes who greets people walking down the street with ``Hi, neighbor! Beautiful day!'' and talks faster than most people can walk. ``I want a sign on Main Street that says `Walking Capital of The Northwest.' ''

But before making Bellevue, a city where people are rarely seen walking anywhere, the walking capital, Hayes is going to have to pull off the Whalefest promotion. He said Bellevue should have some kind of acknowledgement of its past. Whaling came to Bellevue in 1919 when Lagen's grandfather, William Schupp, bought a whaling operation in Westport and moved to the eastside of Lake Washington shortly after the Ballard Locks were built. The locks allowed the 88-foot whaling boats to move freely through the lake. Lagen, who owns the marina, said his grandfather liked the freshwater port because it took care of the barnacles on the hulls of the ships.

Lagen was a crew member on his grandfather's ships when they left for Alaska waters in May and returned in September. ``We had to return in September because the weather turned bad,'' Lagen said. ``It didn't hurt the ships, but the lines couldn't take it. They would freeze and snap.''

Whaling was a hard, smelly business, Lagen said. ``It was a stinking profession,'' he said. ``You could smell a whaling station from 50 miles away. But after working around one for a few days, you couldn't smell it anymore. It was the smell of money.''

The ships brought back as many as 250 whales during the season and Lagen doesn't make any apologies for the industry that now is banned by this country. ``It was a pretty good sized industry around here. We had about 200 to 220 people.''

Bellevue's whaling industry went out of business in 1946, after it had been closed down by World War II. The whaling ships had been taken over by the U.S. Navy and turned over to the Soviets as part of the lend-lease program.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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