Luzon will come down Saturday

Tacoma’s city manager confirmed Tuesday the 1890s Luzon Building in downtown Tacoma will be razed Saturday.

During City Council’s noon study session, City Manager Eric Anderson said the building has been enclosed by fencing and the Tacoma Fire Department confirmed the building has been vacated. The contractor began to mobilize on the site Tuesday. He also added an effort to save the Luzon had ended (see editor’s note below).

“Saturday is the day the building is scheduled to come down because there will be fewer people in the area,” said Anderson. “There are two issues. As we take the building down, we can’t have it collapse and have bricks and other materials hitting people. We also need to be careful about asbestos. It is friable and we have to make sure we don’t create a cloud. We’re trying to balance everything.”

The building should come down right now,” he added. “It’s very dangerous. It may collapse at any time. What we are doing is securing the site as best we can, and we want to take down in a controlled way as best we can.”

On Sept. 15, the City announced it would take emergency action to demolish the crumbling six-story, 119-year-old Luzon Building before the end of this month.

The City’s action aimed to address its concern the building, located at the corner of South 13th Street and Pacific Avenue, will suddenly collapse due to an outside engineering firm’s report of roof, floor, and wall deflection; separation of floor framing from exterior walls; broken girder beams; and missing columns. On Aug. 11, the City shut down South 13th Street between Pacific Avenue and Commerce Street — a perimeter around the building — citing the need for public safety.

The City is taking the action under Tacoma Municipal Code 2.01.060.I, known commonly as the “Dangerous Buildings Ordinance,” which gives the City the ability to vacate a building, barricade public sidewalks and streets, secure the building from unauthorized entry, and shore up or repair the building if it believes the structure is “an imminent danger” to public safety. According to the code, if these measures still don’t address public safety concerns, the building may be demolished at the owner’s expense.

According to Anderson, the Building and Land Use Chief Charlie Solverson has reviewed the circumstances of the building and finds it does present a public threat of danger. “He has directed the building be demolished,” Anderson told councilmembers. He added it would take a contractor about five days to tear down the building. Anderson has signed an emergency contract for the demolition. Contractors aren’t expected on site until the middle of next week. Demolition and cleanup are expected to cost $600,000.

Anderson also said the City would try to salvage as much of the building materials as possible.

According to a Sept. 10 memo from Deputy City Manager Tansy Hayward to Public Works Director Dick McKinley, a notice was sent Sept. 4 to the building’s owner, Tacoma-based Gintz Group, advising that failure to address public safety concerns by Sept. 15 would result in emergency action by the City.

On Tuesday, Anderson responded to criticism the City is moving too fast in its decision to tear down the building.

“I am not at all happy about this building coming down,” said Anderson. He noted the city approved a $1.65 million low-interest loan for the Gintz Group’s plan to renovate the building. “For the last two years, we worked real hard to keep this building up. There was a yeoman’s effort to save the building. For a variety of reasons, we weren’t able to do it. It came to this point not in the last two weeks, but over the past 15 to 20 years.”

“I think everyone hoped this would work,” said Councilmember Rick Talbert of the plan to restore the building. “In reality, it didn’t.”

In an editorial published in the Index, Historic Tacoma Board President Sharon Winters commented, “We mourn the pending loss of the Luzon, the City’s most significant architectural treasure. But we must take the lessons learned from this . . . and put policies and incentives in place to preserve significant historic structures which have just recently come to be regarded as assets and economic development tools for the City.”

“I would love to report there’s hope,” Anderson said Tuesday. “But there is no hope.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article indicated a group of local preservationists who had tried to save the building had withdrawn its effort. This was incorrect. As the story developed, it became clear a prospective buyer had backed out of a possible purchase of the Luzon. The article has been modified to reflect this new information.

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On Tuesday afternoon, Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson sent the following e-mail to local preservationists regarding the Luzon’s fate:

As you know, the Luzon is an incredibly sad story, 20 years in the making as owner after owner failed to do basic maintenance that would have preserved the structure. We have worked very hard to secure a development that would save the building. The Council has indicated its willingness to put over $1.5 million into redevelopment of the building and has led staff in extensive efforts with the owners and proposed developers to save Luzon. In spite of repeated deadlines and constant encouragement, no redevelopment occurred. I hate to see the building go, but it is in imminent danger of collapse. When we received our first report on the building, we warned the owner of the problems and made it as clear as possible that something had to be done. You may remember the Council Study Session. Lots of negotiation, but no agreement to proceed. Then, more recent information resulted in the finding of imminent danger. Still, we kept the door open for discussions with the potential developer. To their credit they worked right up until about noon today to try to make it work. Unfortunately, they could not put it together. We cannot, even in the name of preservation, put people’s lives in danger: so we must proceed. The building will come down on Saturday, September 26th. We will try to deconstruct as much as we can. There are clearly portions of the building we want to preserve and we will work very hard to do so.

I am sorry we have to do this. I regret that the building cannot be saved.

Eric

The crumbling six-story, 1890s Luzon Building in downtown Tacoma. The City of Tacoma is concerned the building, located at the corner of South 13th Street and Pacific Avenue, will suddenly collapse due to decades of neglect. (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

 

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.