Tacoma City Council will honor historic preservation award winners

The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has announced this year’s recipients of Outstanding Achievements in Historic Preservation Awards.

According to a statement released May 13 by Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight, the awards recognize accomplishments in preservation-related efforts such as nominations to the city’s Register of Historic Places, historic preservation and public service.

The awards are presented annually in May, which is National Preservation Month. LPC representatives will present the awards during the City Council meeting May 19.

This year’s award recipients include:

NOMINATIONS TO TACOMA REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES

– Congregation of the Park Universalist Church, 206 N. J St.

– Congregation of the St. Luke’s Memorial Church, 3615 N. Gove St.

– Frisko Freeze, 1201 Division St., Mark and Penny Jensen, property owners, and Marshall McClintock, author of the nomination

– Blue Mouse Theatre, 2611 N. Proctor St., Blue Mouse Associates, Inc.

HISTORIC PRESERVATION

– 1416 S. 5th St., Johnson-Gehri Residence, Jason and Tracy Karro, property owners
Public Service

– Historic Tacoma for outreach, advocacy and education to the community

For the first time this year, the LPC released a list of buildings deemed worthy of designation as city landmarks.

The list includes:

BUILDINGS DESERVING HISTORIC DESIGNATION

– First Congregational Church, 209 S. J St.

– First Lutheran Church, 524 S. I St.

– First Church of Christ, Scientist, 902 Division Ave.

– Sixth Avenue Baptist, 2520 6th Ave. (below left).

The Index has covered many of this year’s award winners and buildings deserving historic designation. Today’s edition includes some short articles on this year’s award winners.

– PARK UNIVERSALIST CHURCH —

To the casual observer, the former Park Universalist Chruch is just a small, single-story Craftsman-style building at the corner of North J Street and Division Avenue. But its age and connection to an iconic figure of Pacific Northwest was enough this year to put it on the City of Tacoma’s register of historic places.

For 99 years, the beige house with light blue trim has served several congregations of varying denominations. Today, it is home to the 150-member Center for Spiritual Living.
But one former churchgoer is of particular interest to local historians.

According to information gathered by Rev. Frances Lorenz, the Center for Spiritual Living’s minister, the late Murray Morgan — author of several books of Pacific Northwest history and a prominent Tacoma native whose namesake bridge crosses Thea Foss Waterway — was a regular parishioner. Morgan’s father, Henry, was a minister at the church for 40 years. And Murray Morgan’s wife, Rosa, taught Sunday school there.

“I think the motivation [for us to put it on the register] is that we regard the historic significance of this building,” Rev. Lorenz told the Index last year. According to the nomination application, the church’s story begins in the early-1890s, on a site blocks away. In 1892, Charles B. Wright donated a parcel of land at what is today North I Street and Division Avenue, as well as $450 toward construction of a church, to Tacoma’s Universalist congregation. The Universalists built their church, which opened in 1894 and was led by Rev. E. J. Feit. Three years later, Rev. Feit stepped down, which opened the door for Rev. Abbie Ellsworth Danforth, Tacoma’s first female pastor, in 1903. Morgan ministered at the church between 1912 and 1952. During that time, the church changed its denomination to the Divine Science, and was renamed the Church of the Healing Christ. Murray Morgan married his wife Rosa in 1939 in the church.

Last summer, Tacoma added the building to its historic register.

– FRISKO FREEZE —

The burgers are tasty. The fries are warm. The milk shakes are delicious.

But is 58-year-old Frisko Freeze worthy of historic landmark designation?

Yes, according to the City of Tacoma’s landmarks commission and city councilmembers.

“The building is a Tacoma icon,” North Slope Historic District board president Marshall McClintock told the Index last year. The idea to nominate the burger stand and its signature neon sign, located at 1201 N. Division Ave., traces back to a letter McClintock wrote last month to Frisko Freeze owner Penny Jensen.

“Marshall asked if I ever considered [putting the building on the register], which I had, but I knew it was quite a process,” said Jensen, who inherited the business when her father, Perry Smith, passed in 1990. “Owning a little business, it seems like I’m always buried in paperwork. When he contacted me and offered to do the work, I jumped at it.”

According to newspaper archives, Frisko Freeze was opened July 27, 1950, by Perry Smith. Smith told a reporter at the time that the name’s inspiration came from Seattle Rainiers broadcaster Leo Lassen, who was calling a game between Seattle and ‘Frisco.’ “So I decided to call my place Frisco Freeze,” said Smith, “but I changed the spelling.”

For McClintock, the experience of documenting Frisko Freeze’s history gave him a deeper understanding of the its cultural significance. “One of the things I discovered was that walk-up food stands are different from the drive-ins,” he said. “There were plenty of ice cream parlors, but they were designed on the model of sit-down restaurants. Walk-ups like Frisko Freeze kind of provided teenagers and young adults with ultimate freedom.”

– 6TH AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH –

On Feb. 25, Historic Tacoma announced it placed the 6th Avenue Baptist Church on its Watch List of endangered properties.

According to the non-profit preservation advocacy group, the Gothic Revival 1924 church was designed by well-known Tacoma architectural firm Heath, Bell & Gove, and was constructed of Walker Cut Stone from the Wilkeson quarry. The sanctuary includes stained glass windows, a bell tower, seating for 200 people, a choir loft, a vaulted ceiling, and a still-functioning pipe organ dedicated in 1926. In a 1927 Tacoma architectural survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects, the church received an honorable mention in the Semi-Public and Cultural Buildings category. The 17,000 square foot Education Wing, designed by prolific Seattle firm, Durham, Anderson & Freed, is of modern design and also features Wilkeson stone on its two-story west facade. The wing takes advantage of natural light from the east, south and west, as well as from a small interior courtyard. Interior features include classrooms, a large kitchen, and classic long, lean fireplaces in large lounge spaces on the first and second floors. Currently, the 25,800 square foot building, located at 2520 Sixth Ave., is for sale for $2.1 million. The congregation is currently working with a potential buyer.

“Our goal in publishing this evolving list is to increase awareness of historic properties in transition to facilitate their conservation and re-use,” said Historic Tacoma Board President Sharon Winters in a statement. “We continue to work with the 6th Avenue Merchant’s Association and Pastor Melinda Jarrett toward those ends.”

In the same statement, Historic Tacoma notes the Sixth Avenue Baptist Sunday School was organized in 1886 at Sixth and S. Anderson Street. The church was founded in 1901 with Reverend M.W. Miller as the first pastor. Architects Russell & Heath designed a 2-story frame and shingle church on Sixth and Fife that was used from 1902 until being moved to the rear of the lot for construction of the new sanctuary. The cornerstone for the new church was laid June 8, 1924 and the church was dedicated on April 12, 1925.

Throughout the years, the church has served as a center for an array of community services including a food bank, a hospice program, the Boy Scouts, a preschool, Associated Ministries, and Habitat for Humanity.

The congregation placed the building on the market in January. It is listed by Keller Williams agent Robert Green.

– BLUE MOUSE THEATRE —

On Dec. 16, Tacoma City Council added the 85-year-old Blue Mouse Theatre to the local register of historic places.

According to the nomination prepared and presented by Brooke Boback of Artifacts Consulting, Inc. with the support of the building’s owners, the Blue Mouse Theatre, located at 2611 N. Proctor St., was designed by architect Fitzherbert Leather, and built by Albert Miller. The 420-seat, 4,100-square-foot theatre was opened Nov. 13, 1923 by theatre mogul John Hamrick. The first movie shown at the Proctor theatre was a silent film called “Green Goddess” and starring George Arliss and Alice Joyce.

Hamrick opened four other theatres with the Blue Mouse name, including one in Seattle in 1920, Portland in 1921, downtown Tacoma in 1922, and the Proctor District venue (known for a time as “Blue Mouse Junior”). He went on to own the Temple Theatre, the Music Box, and the Roxy Theatre in Tacoma.

The downtown Blue Mouse Theatre, located at 1131 Broadway, was demolished in 1960 to make way for an ill-fated “moving sidewalk.”

But the Proctor location survived.

It also changed ownership many times.

Between 1923 and 1945, it was owned by Hamrick, who died Nov. 30, 1956. In 1945, the theatre was purchased by Glendon O. Spencer, who in turn sold it to Conner Theaters Corporation in 1973.

The new owner struggled to operate the venue as a first-run movie house. Five years later, the theatre was sold to a group of Seattle investors and renamed The Bijou. The new owners also struggled to turn a profit.

In 1981, it was sold to Galaxy Theaters.

Seven years later, the theater was purchased by Shirley Mayo. She operated it until declining health forced her to sell the movie house in 1993. One developer wanted to purchase the building and convert it into office space, but Mayo refused. Instead, she approached long-time Proctor resident Bill Evans about purchasing the building and preserving it as a theater. Evans, in turn, approached a group of friends who raised $140,000 to complete the purchase. The group, known as the Blue Mouse Associates, spent five months and $90,000 restoring the building to its original 1923 charm.

Today, the theatre seats 221 people. According to Boback, the Blue Mouse is the oldest continuously run theatre in Washington State.

“It’s a wonderful building that definitely meets the criteria,” said Boback. “It should be on the local register.”

– HISTORIC TACOMA —

Since its creation three years ago, no other local historic preservation group has been more active than Historic Tacoma. The non-profit organization that aims to preserve Tacoma’s architectural legacy through education and advocacy was formed by Sharon Winters (pictured) and fellow historians Michael Sullivan, Reuben McKnight, Morgan Alexander, and Eugenia Woo has addressed public policy concerns related to Tacoma’s historic buildings.

Since then, it has played an important role in bringing preservation issues to the attention of city and county leaders.

In October, the organization released its Watch List of Endangered Historic Properties, which included — Brewery District including the Heidelberg Brewery Elks Lodge, First Congregational Church, Luzon Building, John R. Rogers Elementary, Murray Morgan Bridge, Trinity United Methodist Church, Union-University Club, and the Wedge Neighborhood. It has since added 6th Avenue Baptist Church. Earlier this year, the University-Union Club was removed from the list after Historic Tacoma nominated it to the register, the building’s owner dropped its initial opposition to the plan, and Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a recommendation to add it to the city’s local register.

Additionally, Historic Tacoma initiated a project, Preserving Tacoma’s Historic Sacred Places, to identify, publicize and deliver public programs to celebrate the Tacoma’s religious architecture. Historic Tacoma received a grant from the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Washington and partnered with the City to obtain a state Certified Local Government grant, for total project funding of $22,000.

The organization has also pushed for an inventory of pre-1960 Tacoma public schools not already listed on the local register of historic places.

For more information, visit http://www.historictacoma.net .