Mead House: A Proctor area residence salvages Tacoma history

A single-family home dating back more than 100 years and located near Tacoma’s Proctor District has been nominated to the City of Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places.

The Mead House—located at 2702 N. Puget Sound Ave.—was built in 1903 and originally owned by Ferdinand and Laura Mead, who lived at the residence between 1903 and 1920. It changed owners one more time before Bill and Paula Keyser, a working-class couple (Bill was a Tacoma firefighter), purchased the home in 1956 and lived there for more than 40 years.

The landmark nomination was made based upon the one-and-a-half-story, 1,700-square-foot home’s architectural significance as a “fine example of the Colonial Revival – Bungalow style of architecture.”

Yet, equally as interesting as the home’s long history and architectural pedigree is the amount of salvaged and historically significant material that comprise the 112-year-old residence.

“Apart from the architectural significance, the Mead House showcases a locally significant collection of architectural salvage pieces incorporated into the house and yard,” wrote architectural historian Susan Johnson of Tacoma-based Artifacts Consulting in the landmark nomination she prepared on behalf of the current property owner, Lari Ryan. “These pieces have intrinsic value and are important to the house and its history, but they are not part of the eligibility consideration.”

What kind of Tacoma relics—or ‘Keyser Treasures,’ as Johnson refers to them—can you find in the Mead House?

A brick wall bordering a backyard garden includes terra cotta tiles and a figurehead of a helmeted firefighter—known as the ‘Head of Mercury’—that were salvaged from the former Fire Station No. 6 in downtown Tacoma. The fire station—once located in what is today Fireman’s Park—was built in 1890 and demolished in 1974. A 1949 photograph archived at Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room shows former Tacoma Fire Chief Charles Eisenbacher posing next to the figure, which was salvaged following an earthquake that year.

The Mead House also includes wrought iron fencing and ornate wood salvaged from the former Brooklyn Hotel, which was built in 1888 and later demolished. Similarly, elevator grilles were salvaged from the former Bonneville Hotel.

A bay window in the dining room—as well as two fire places located in the house—were salvaged from a mansion built in 1889 for the late lumber baron Henry Hewitt, Jr. The Hewitt House, once located at 501 N. 4th St., was demolished in 1957. Similarly, a leaded glass window was salvaged from a home built in 1890 for the late newspaper publisher Sidney “Sam” Perkins. The Perkins House, once located at 501 N. D St., was demolished in 1960.

Also, bricks in the garden wall were salvaged from a former Catholic girls’ school in Lakewood that was built in 1923 and demolished in 1954 in order to build a shopping center.

“The examples in this nomination illustrate the unique character of the house and the visionary preservation of pieces of Tacoma history by the Keysers,” notes Johnson. “Together, they made the house into something unique, a house where day-to-day life is surrounded by stories of Tacoma’s past. The house displays layers of history, from the original 1903 construction to the Keysers’ modifications that started when they moved into the house in 1956 and continued during their occupancy.

“This middle-class, industrious couple worked together to save elements of Tacoma’s history well before the architectural salvage trend of the present,” adds Johnson. “The house in turn is a testament to their creativity and strong work ethic.”

Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. on Weds., July 8, at Tacoma City Hall to review the nomination and determine whether the building is eligible to be nominated to the local historic register. Copies of the agenda and meeting materials are available online here.

If the Mead House meets the eligibility requirement, the commission is expected to schedule a public hearing for the nomination and gather public comments. Beyond that, the nomination will need to be approved by Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and Tacoma City Council before the property is added to Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places.

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and author of A Reporter At Large and Wah Mee. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.