Hosmer House: 1875 downtown Tacoma building nominated to historic register

A downtown building that was once home to a Tacoma founding father has been nominated to the City of Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places.

The 141-year-old Hosmer House, located at 309 S. 9th St., was originally built for the Northern Pacific Railroad and is the oldest known residence—and the second oldest building one of the oldest buildings***—in the city outside of Fort Nisqually, according to a landmark nomination prepared by Marshall McClintock, a board member of the non-profit preservation advocacy organization Historic Tacoma.

Originally located at 750 St. Helens Ave., the two-story American Italianate style building was the residence of Theodore Hosmer—who served as Northern Pacific Railroad’s first manager of the Tacoma Land Company—and his wife, Louise, between 1875 and 1882.

Theodore Hosmer was the first mayor of New Tacoma; president of Tacoma Light & Water and the Wilkeson Coal & Coke Company; and director of the Pacific National Bank. He was also a founder of the Union Club on Broadway and the Tacoma Yacht Club; president and founder of the Tacoma Opera House Company; a trustee of Annie Wright School; and a charter member of the Washington State Historical Society, according to the landmark nomination.

The Hosmers moved out of the building and left Tacoma for Philadelphia in 1882 after Louise became ill. Louise died in 1885, and Theodore briefly returned to Tacoma, but died in 1900 following a stroke.

The former Hosmer residence served as a boarding house between 1887 and 1904, when it was moved from St. Helens Avenue to its current location right around the corner on South Ninth Street, between St. Helens Avenue and Market Street. A daylight basement, entry stairs, and porch were added to the building at that time.

Ten years later, the building was purchased by Henry Rhodes, converted into individual apartments following a remodel by the noted architects Heath & Gove (designers of Lincoln High School, Pythian Temple, and many other landmark Tacoma buildings), and renamed The Exley.

Forty years later, the building was slated for demolition in order to make way for a parking lot, but those plans never came to be. By 1975, the building was condemned, boarded over, and a target for vandals. Five years later, a new owner ordered a major restoration, turning it into an apartment building. The building was sold to Pioneer Human Services in 1999. Today, the former Hosmer House is one of three Pioneer Human Services properties on the block that offer transitional and low-income housing

“Historic Tacoma and other preservationists in the city have worried over the Hosmer House for some time because it is as significant as it is and yet not on the landmarks register,” McClintock told Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission during a public meeting on Weds., April 13, at Tacoma City Hall.

McClintock and Historic Tacoma sent a letter to Pioneer Human Services on Oct. 21, 2015, to gauge the company’s interest in adding the Hosmer House to Tacoma’s historic register. Historic Tacoma did not receive a response, McClintock told the commission last week. In January, Historic Tacoma submitted the landmark nomination to the City of Tacoma’s Historic Preservation Office.

In February, Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight notified Pioneer Human Services of the nomination.

“As per the requirements for notification, we sent a letter to the property owner explaining the nomination and then offered a 30-day review period, which is provided for in code when the owner is not the originator of the nomination,” McKnight told the commission during the public meeting last week. “They expressed that they would like to extend that 30-day period, so we did so. This is the commission meeting following the end of that period. We have not received a position on this at all.”

“This nomination is a little bit different than most of the ones that come to the commission,” McClintock told the commission. “The current property owner, Pioneer Human Services, is not a party to the nomination.”

The Tacoma Daily Index sent an e-mail to Pioneer Human Services last week seeking comment on the nomination, but did not receive a response.

“I want to be very, very clear that Historic Tacoma believes that Pioneer Human Services has done an outstanding job in their almost twenty years of ownership of this building and stewardship with it,” said McClintock. “This is not about their maintenance of the building or anything like that. It is simply about making sure that this house is preserved going forward and is recognized as the landmark that it in fact is.”

Meanwhile, the nomination has received written letters of support from the New Tacoma Neighborhood Council, Central Neighborhood Council, the Tacoma Historical Society, the Heritage League of Pierce County, and Tacoma City Councilmember Robert Thoms.

“Historic Tacoma feels very strongly that the best way to put this building on the register would be at a time when there is not a crisis, when there has not been money spent, time spent in terms of plans or whatever and that it can be done without people getting heated or anything like that around it,” added McClintock. “That was the reason we felt that it was reasonable to bring this forward at this time.”

During the public meeting last week, Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission conducted a preliminary review of the Hosmer House and determined it met the criteria for nomination to the historic register. The commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the nomination on Weds., May 25, at Tacoma City Hall. More public meetings will follow as the nomination still needs to be approved by Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and Tacoma City Council.

A copy of the Hosmer House landmark nomination is available online here.

An audio recording of the Weds., April 13, Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting is available online here.

***NOTE: The landmark nomination prepared by Historic Tacoma notes (citing the Tacoma-Pierce County Buildings Index at the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room) the Hosmer House “[I]s the oldest known residence, and the second oldest building, in the city outside of Fort Nisqually.” Letters of support from the New Tacoma Neighborhood Council and Tacoma City Councilmember Robert Thoms note the building is the second oldest building in Tacoma. However, Holly Stewart at the Job Carr Cabin Museum in Old Town Tacoma notes, “Thanks for reporting on this. Great article, but one small error. St Peter’s Church in Old Town was built in 1873, so this must be the third oldest building in Tacoma.” The Tacoma Daily Index did a little more digging and found out the City of Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places indicates Saint Peter’s Church, located at 2910 N. Starr St., was indeed built in 1873. 

Historic Tacoma has nominated the Hosmer House, located at 309 S. 9th St., to the City of Tacoma's Register of Historic Places. The structure, which dates back to 1875, is one of the oldest buildings in Tacoma. (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

Historic Tacoma has nominated the Hosmer House, located at 309 S. 9th St., to the City of Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places. The structure, which dates back to 1875, is one of the oldest buildings in Tacoma. (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and the author of several books. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.