Year In Review: Historic Preservation Legislation

Tacoma’s historically significant, yet endangered, buildings received a boost this year thanks to new legislation.

In May, the Tacoma Daily Index reported an initiative was under way at City Hall that aimed to bolster the City of Tacoma’s enforcement codes in order to prevent instances of so-called “demolition by neglect,” the process by which buildings endure crippling, long-term issues such as deferred maintenance, vandalism, or even foreclosure and eventually become too expensive to save in the eyes of building owners.

In Tacoma, one doesn’t need to look far to find instances of endangered historic properties. The 1890s-era Luzon Building was demolished in 2009 after City inspectors deemed the historically significant building a safety hazard for fear it would collapse after decades of neglect. The 120-year-old Old City Hall has experienced threats of foreclosure, fire damage at the hands of a transient, a ‘derelict’ designation by city inspectors, and an ‘endangered’ designation by a local historic preservation group. Finally, the 88-year-old Winthrop Hotel is in need of nearly $16 million in deferred maintenance, according to a report prepared four years ago.

After a series of public meetings this summer, Tacoma City Council adopted the “Preventing Neglect of Historic Properties” ordinance on Sept. 17. Some of the strongest elements of the new ordinance, which defines neglect as a public nuisance, apply to properties listed on the Tacoma Register of Historic Places, National Register of Historic Places, and to properties within designated historic districts; provide incentives to encourage owners of neglected properties to find new owners with the means and interest to save the historic structure; afford the City of Tacoma the authority to address conditions that threaten historic buildings before they are deemed ‘dangerous’ and, ultimately, demolished; and finally, allow the City to create an “emergency preservation fund” to tackle deferred maintenance issues that threaten Tacoma’s historic buildings.

“We want to have the ability to proactively address these issues and create the ability to intervene,” said Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight.

The 1890s-era Luzon Building was demolished in 2009 after City inspectors deemed the historically significant building a safety hazard for fear it would collapse after decades of neglect. In September, Tacoma City Council adopted an ordinance aimed to save historically significant, yet endangered, buildings. (FILE PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

The 1890s-era Luzon Building was demolished in 2009 after City inspectors deemed the historically significant building a safety hazard for fear it would collapse after decades of neglect. In September, Tacoma City Council adopted an ordinance aimed to save historically significant, yet endangered, buildings. (FILE PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of legislation to save neglected historic buildings, click on the following links:

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Luzon Building, click on the following links:

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of Old City Hall, click on the following links:

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Winthrop Hotel, click on the following links:

In 2009, the Tacoma Daily Index published a series of interviews with many residents of the Winthrop Hotel. To read the complete series, 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.