The building at 519 E. Maple St. is on its third life as The Alternative Library, but most Bellinghamsters still know it as the Karate Church.
Constructed as the First Presbyterian Church of Bellingham in 1889—a full 14 years before the 4 townships of Sehome, Whatcom, Bellingham, and Fairhaven incorporated to form the City of Bellingham—the building is a classic 19th century church building complete with whitewashed siding and a steeple. It was the First Presbyterian church of Bellingham for twenty years before the congregation outgrew the space and moved into the building they still occupy just one block west.
In 1973 the Bellingham Academy of Self Defense moved in, becoming the building’s most famous occupant.
But business waned for the Karate Dojo, and the 126 year old building fell vacant again until this year when a board member at the Alternative Library purchased it, giving the organization lots of room to grow.
The Alternative Library has big vision for the space that includes workshops, musical performances, and more. They are renovating as money and permits becomes available. One of their first changes was to remove the “S” from the old sign so it now reads “Bellingham Academy of Elf Defense,” a quirk appropriate for this former church, former dojo, current alternative library.