Hendrickson Homestead: Landmark property pulled from Tacoma’s historic register

A 93-year-old former homestead added to Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places three years ago is no longer a local landmark.

On Tuesday, Tacoma City Council approved a resolution granting the owner of the J. M. Hendrickson Family Homestead to rescind the special designation, allowing the property to be developed in an effort to address financial and medical hardships.

The property, located at 1239 E. 54th St., belonged to several generations of one Tacoma family — the Hendricksons — and can be traced back to John M. Hendrickson, who was born in Norway in 1888 and immigrated to the United States in 1905, settling in Brooten, Minn., according to the original nomination prepared three years ago by an historic preservation consultant at the request of the property owner. A short time later, Hendrickson was hired as an engineer by Northern Pacific Railroad and arrived in Tacoma, where he met his future wife, Sara Ericson. On June 3, 1921, Hendrickson purchased the property for 10 dollars from Traders Trust Company of Tacoma. He built a house, garage, and barn by hand. The couple raised two children, and also farmed and tended to livestock on the property.

The homestead was nominated by the property owner, Carol M. Magelssen (Sara and J. M. Hendrickson’s granddaughter), in early-2011. Tacoma City Council approved a resolution in November 2011 adding the property — which included an historic house, garage, and barn — to the local historic register.

One year later, however, the property owner and a developer approached the landmarks commission with a plan to shrink the landmark’s boundaries so part of the property could be sold and developed. Commissioners toured the site in October 2012, held a public hearing to change the boundaries in April 2013, and made a formal recommendation in May 2013 to move forward with the boundary change. Tacoma City Council approved a resolution that changed the boundaries of the historic property from five acres to nearly 1.4 acres. The move preserved the historic house, garage, and barn while also freeing up the remaining property for residential development.

The issue was back before the commission earlier this year because the new boundaries “didn’t meet the needs of prospective buyers and the requirements for platting the property,” according to a report prepared by City of Tacoma staff. The landmarks commission reviewed the issue, held a public hearing, and eventually recommended removing the landmark designation based in part on the determination that “if most of the remaining vacant land was developed as proposed, most of the historic significance of the property as an agricultural property would be lost even if the historic house, garage, and barn were preserved,” according to a City staff report.

“The property owner wishes to remove the designation of her property, to allow for partial redevelopment, in order to alleviate financial issues caused by declining health,” City of Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight told councilmembers Tuesday. A prospective developer will allow Magelssen to remain in her house after the property is re-platted, according to McKnight.

Neither the property owner or the prospective developer testified during the council meeting this week.

“It’s a big deal to remove a property from the historic register,” said Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello on Tuesday before voting to rescind the landmark designation. “I checked in with a few commissioners on the historic preservation commission after I got my packet and saw this was on the agenda, and indeed confirmed that they didn’t take the position lightly. They did all their due diligence, held a public meeting, and did all their deliberation — and came to a unanimous conclusion.

“Be that as it may, I wanted to state for the record that this is not something that comes across our desks often,” he added. “It’s a very serious issue to remove a property from the register because we put a lot of effort into designating these properties for their value to our culture and our heritage and our history.”

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the J. M. Hendrickson Family Homestead, 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 first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengerssecond-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State; third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; and third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright. His work has 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.