Downtown’s Lost Block

When the Luzon Building is razed this weekend, it will be a significant loss to Tacoma’s architectural history.

The 119-year-old building was designed by Chicago architecture firm Burnham & Root, and was one of the first high-rise towers on the West Coast. It was the embodiment of engineering genius — sturdy brick shell, cast iron columns, and wood construction on the upper floors — that allowed the building to top out at a soaring height for 1890s Tacoma. It was an engineering model that would be copied, and opened the door to the future development of “skyscrapers.”

Earlier this month, the City announced it would take emergency action to demolish the building. The move aimed to address a concern the structure, located at the corner of South 13th Street and Pacific Avenue, will suddenly collapse due to decades of neglect.

Luzon’s demolition marks the loss of another historic building that once comprised a stretch of Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma. It is common to hear about other historically significant buildings near the Luzon that were demolished over the years in the name of ‘downtown revitalization.’

This week, the Tacoma Daily Index became aware of photographs documenting this activity during the 1980s. They are published here thanks to Ken House (a former archivist at Weyerhaeuser, a former member of Historic Tacoma’s Board of Directors, and currently a commissioner on the City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission) and with permission from Megan Moholt, Research Archivist at Weyerhaeuser. The photographs were taken by Columbia Cornerstone Development Company Photo Collection 2008-7, courtesy of Weyerhaeuser Archives.

House provided this background on the photographs:

I found these photographs when I worked as an archivist at Weyerhaeuser Company. They were included with photos I processed from Cornerstone Development, a former Weyerhaeuser subsidiary responsible for the demolition. As I recall they are scans of 35-millimeter color slides and the photographer is not identified. This is just a selection, but there are others.

The photographs are a small part of several boxes of Cornerstone Development photos that were in the Weyerhaeuser Archives backlog. I processed them to make them accessible. The Archives is open to the public as time allows. The majority of the photos were professional shots of Paul Schell and Cornerstone’s work in Portland, Seattle and Tacoma — building or re-doing buildings. In Tacoma, there were lots of photos of redevelopment along Commerce Street and Broadway.

The demolition slides were just a small part of the whole, but Cornerstone was clearly proud of what they were doing. There was little written material with any of the photos. The slides, as I recall, had captions about the demolition on the cardboard frames and holders — comments about the sad state of the buildings that reflected Cornerstone’s mind-set and opinion of historic architecture. As I remember, there were three or four types of photos — before, during, after, and celebration [of the demolition]. The fire hoses were used to keep down the dust. The celebration was some kind of on-the-street news conference . . . [and] it was clear they just mashed the buildings.

NOTE: The photographs accompanying this article are the property of Weyerhaeuser NR Company, and may not be used, reproduced or transmitted without the company’s expressed written permission.

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Luzon Building, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.