Once bustling Tacoma tide flats warehouse prepares for wrecking ball

It’s hard to imagine it today, but the sprawling, abandoned and boarded up warehouse near the corner of East 11th Street and Thorne Road on the Port of Tacoma tide flats was once a hub of economic activity and headquarters for two prominent Tacoma businesses.

According to Port of Tacoma staff and archival records available at Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room, the building was constructed in 1948 to serve Washington Steel Products, which was founded three years earlier in Seattle and prided itself as the only Pacific Northwest manufacturer of builders’ hardware such as enameled metal food drawers, revolving corner shelves, knobs, pulls and hinges. As the company grew, so did its manufacturing facility, with three building additions between 1950 and 1953 costing more than $1 million. At the height of its operations during the late-1950s, Washington Steel Products manufactured 450 products, employed 475 people, and boasted a payroll of $1.5 million. That success drew the attention of Chicago-based Ekco Products Company, which purchased Washington Steel Products in October of 1959. By 1963, however, manufacturing moved elsewhere and the plant closed.

The site wasn’t quiet for long.

In 1965, Brown & Haley, the Tacoma candy-maker that produces Almond Roca and dates back to 1912, moved into the 116,000-square-foot building and remained there for more than 40 years. Seven years ago, the Port of Tacoma purchased the property, located at 1940 East 11th Street, for $3 million and continued to lease the warehouse to the candy maker until August of 2007, when a city building inspector “red tagged” the structure, citing two broken trusses and extensive roof leaks.

Last year, the Port of Tacoma began to make plans to demolish the building. One Port staffer told commissioners the building had reached the end of its useful life. Another staff member told commissioners any historic significance had been stripped away and the structure was basically a shell of a building.

The Tacoma Daily Index photographed the abandoned building in March of 2012. Evidence of the candy maker’s presence still existed in some places: the building’s trim was painted the familiar pink color of Almond Roca tins; a faded sign directed delivery drivers to the receiving department; and a reception counter and empty office spaces were visible if you peered through through dust-covered windows. The Index returned to the site this week to find windows boarded over and the entire 5.6-acre property ringed by a chain-link fence.

The Port of Tacoma is expected to raze the building next summer and use the site to expand its operations.

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the demolition of the former Brown & Haley warehouse, 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.