Point Defiance Lodge – now Visitors Center – recognized as historic

1898 structure is only remaining building from early days of Point Defiance Park

The Point Defiance Lodge, the home of the park’s Visitors Center, has won the support of state and city officials and is now recognized as a historic place on state and city registers of historic places.

On June 27, the Governor’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the state Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation approved the addition of the lodge to the state Register of Historic Places, and state officials formally recommended that the lodge receive national recognition and be added to the National Register of Historic Places. The final decision is up to the Department of Interior’s National Park Service. The same day, the Tacoma City Council authorized the listing on the city’s own register.

“I’m pleased Metro Parks’ preservation efforts have been honored this way,” said Andrea Smith, president of the Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners. “What was built as a family home for Tacoma’s first park superintendent is now a Visitors Center open to everyone who enjoys this gem of a park.”

Melissa McGinnis, the park district’s historic & cultural resources administrator, said the National Register nomination form requires thorough documentation of the building’s architecture as well as the history of the architect, builder and residents and, when appropriate, the building’s place in local, state or national history.

“Not only is it an honor to have a building placed on the various historic registers to signify the historic importance of the structure, but the nomination form and accompanying photos, maps and blueprints ensure that the building’s history is saved in perpetuity for any and all who want to learn about it,” McGinnis said.

The Point Defiance Lodge- now Visitors Center- as it is today. Photo courtesy Metro Parks

The Point Defiance Lodge- now Visitors Center- as it is today.
Photo courtesy Metro Parks

Point Defiance Lodge, circa 1900                   Image courtesy Jean Insel Robeson via Metro Parks

Point Defiance Lodge, circa 1900 Image courtesy Jean Insel Robeson via Metro Parks

The 2,857-square-foot lodge was built in 1898 to house Park Superintendent Ebenezer Roberts and his family. It also served as meeting space for Tacoma’s Park Board. Following Roberts’ 1908 retirement, the lodge housed a succession of park superintendents until 1980, when it was converted to a rental facility. In 2012, the house became the Point Defiance Park Visitors Center.

Perhaps most significantly, the lodge is the only one of Point Defiance Park’s original structures that still stands. As such, it provides a link to the park’s genesis as part of America’s urban parks movement, which spread nationwide after New York City’s Central Park was created in 1857.

Additionally, its design, the work of prominent Tacoma architect Carl August Darmer, combines elements of Queen Anne and Swiss Chalet architectural styles. Darmer himself described the building as rustic, perhaps because of its peeled log exterior, which recalls a chalet, as do its deep gable overhangs and the design of the balustrades surrounding the second-floor balconies. Among the lodge’s distinguishing Queen Anne features are its overall shape, its floor plan and the wrap-around veranda. The lodge was built without electricity or running water. It was lit with kerosene lamps and equipped with a woodstove for cooking in the kitchen. A hand pump brought water inside. In 1902, the lodge was upgraded with electricity and indoor plumbing.

In 1988, the lodge was extensively remodeled. Among other things, the electrical wiring and plumbing were upgraded to meet building code standards and the lodge became more accessible to people with disabilities. Today, the Lodge serves as the park’s Visitors Center, with information and exhibits about the park, its history and ongoing transformation. The building also is the office of the park’s uniformed ranger and interpretive guide and is staffed by Park Ambassadors eager to introduce newcomers to the 760-acre park’s attractions.

Besides the lodge, numerous other Metro Parks sites and facilities have been recognized by government officials for their historical significance. Among them are the Point Defiance Pagoda; Browns Point Lighthouse Park; the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum and its Factor’s House and Granary; and Wright Park and the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory.

- Metro Parks