Tacoma’s Hendrickson Homestead: A smaller footprint, but still historically significant

The boundaries of a former Tacoma homestead dating back to the 1920s and recently added to the local register of historic places received some tweaking this week.

The 91-year-old former homestead belonged to several generations of one Tacoma family: The Hendricksons. The five-acre property, known as the J. M. Hendrickson Family Homestead and located at 1239 East 54th St., can be traced back to John M. Hendrickson, who was born in Norway in 1888 and immigrated to the United States in 1905, settling in Brooten, Minn., according to a nomination prepared by historic preservation consultant Mark McIntire at the request of the property owner, Carol Magelssen.

A short time later, he was hired as an engineer by Northern Pacific Railroad and arrived in Tacoma, where he met his future wife, Sara Ericson. On June 3, 1921, Hendrickson purchased the property for 10 dollars from Traders Trust Company of Tacoma. Hendrickson built the house, garage, and barn by hand. The couple raised two children — Helen Margaret and Floyd. They also farmed and tended to livestock on the property.

“The Hendrickson Homestead has remained within the family since its 1922 construction,” wrote McIntire. “The Hendrickson Family Homestead has been a working landscape with garden and livestock for most of its existence (until 1994), which harkens to our immigrant and pioneer past.” He went on to describe the property as “a landscape within the landscape, an echo of a still visible immigrant past.”

The homestead was nominated by Magelssen (Sara and J. M. Hendrickson’s granddaughter, and Helen Margaret’s daughter). The nomination was first presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in April 2011. The commission held a public hearing on the nomination in May 2011. Tacoma City Council adopted a resolution in November 2011 adding the property — which included the house, garage, barn, site, and historic landscaping — to the local historic register.

Several people spoke in support of the nomination during the council meeting two years ago to landmark the property.

Magelssen thanked McIntire for helping to prepare the nomination.

South Tacoma Neighborhood Councilmember Tim Smith said a considerable amount of effort was made to prepare the nomination and put the property on the historic register. “The Landmarks Preservation Commission has considered this to be a historic property through a great deal of work and lots of meetings,” added Smith. “When they vote to put it on the register, it should be put on the register. If we recognize that our historic spaces are part of what makes Tacoma great, I think we can leverage that to our advantage.”

Councilmember Marty Campbell recalled first hearing about the desire to save the homestead when he met Magelssen while campaigning door-to-door several years ago. He described the property as a “tremendous asset” and added, “Thank you, Carol, for your patience. I’m glad to bring this forward and I’m proud to vote for it.”

Last year, however, Magelssen and Dan Swanberg, Home Team Northwest Construction owner and general manager, approached the landmarks commission with a plan to section off a portion of the property so it could be developed.

“After the Historical Designation of the Magelssen Property, the owner (Carol) has had to deal with some personal, health and financial needs,” wrote Swanberg in a letter received at Tacoma City Hall on Sept. 5, 2012. “After much thought, we have concluded the best way to achieve her needs is to short plat her property so she can sell the newly created lots and retain her home and structures as the original parcel.”

Landmarks commissioners toured the site in October 2012, held a public hearing to change the boundaries in April 2013, and made a formal recommendation in May 2013 to move forward with the boundary change.

On Tuesday, Tacoma City Council adopted a resolution that changes the boundaries of the historic property from five acres to nearly 1.4 acres of land. The move preserves the historic house, garage, and barn. It also frees up the remaining property for residential development.

“The feeling is that nobody wants to lose a historic listing and if it was possible to compromise and meet the owner’s needs as well as preserve a large portion of this property for future generations, that was desirable,” Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight told councilmembers. “This recommendation considers the needs of the owner, the desire to preserve some open space with the historic buildings, which is one of the main objectives of the owner, as she stated she wanted to see the collection of buildings be retained, and allow some potential investors the predictability for the development of the adjacent parcels.”

Councilmember Campbell praised the work that was done to preserve the land but also meet the owner’s needs.

“Of course, there was always a hope that we could keep it as a large homestead within the city limits, but circumstances just aren’t going to be able to dictate that,” said Campbell on Tuesday. “But [we've] been able to work to preserve the very rural character of the farm, the barn, the shed, and actually there’s a fruit orchard on there, also. We are going to be able to preserve a lot of that within our city limits.”

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the historic J. M. Hendrickson Family Homestead, 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.