6 Tacoma schools added to historic register

Six Tacoma schools built between 1911 and 1951 will join Stadium High School, Lincoln High School and Washington Hoyt Elementary School as historic landmarks.

Tacoma City Council voted Dec. 7 to approve a resolution placing Fern Hill Elementary School (8442 S. Park Ave.), built 1911; Central Elementary Administration Building (601 S. 8th St.), built 1912; Jason Lee Middle School (602 N. Sprague Ave.), built 1924; Stewart Middle School (5010 Pacific Ave.), built 1925; McCarver Elementary School (2111 S. J St.), built 1925; and Whitman Elementary School (1120 S. 39th St.), built 1952 on the local register of historic places.

The effort to nominate Tacoma’s oldest schools dates back to a two-page report completed in 2006 by a committee formed by Tacoma’s Landmark’s Preservation Commission. In that report, the committee concluded that 14 school-owned buildings might be eligible for landmark designations. Two years later, Tacoma Public Schools hired architectural historian and preservation advocate Caroline T. Swope of Kingstree Studios to complete a survey of Tacoma’s public school buildings and identify those that are historically significant. When the survey was completed, it showed that of the 55 school buildings owned by the district, 27 date back before 1960, which would make them old enough to at least meet the age requirement for inclusion on the city’s register. Many were designed by notable Tacoma architects Frederick Heath, George Gove, E. J. Bresemann, and Roland E. Borhek. The buildings also reflect a variety of architectural styles, including English Gothic, Tudor, and Gothic Revival.

“We feel to the extent that we can in a systematic manner develop an inventory and sensitivity toward those buildings which should receive a deeper analysis with an eye toward preserving them for the long term, we want to do that,” Pete Wall, director of planning and construction for the school district, told the Tacoma Daily Index in 2008.

This year, the Tacoma School Board voted unanimously to submit the nominations to the commission. The school district contracted with Kingstree Studios to prepare the nomination.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission was first briefed on the nominations during a public meeting Sept. 22. On Oct. 27, the commission held a public hearing to solicit feedback on the nominations. Finally, the commission found the buildings eligible for the local register and forwarded its recommendation to City Council.

Before City Council voted on the issue, Reuben McKnight, Tacoma’s historic preservation officer, commented on the resolution. Here is what he said.


The six schools recommended to council tonight were constructed between 1911 and 1951. Each school building is a unique neighborhood landmark associated with the development of Tacoma, and each reflects a broad patterns of our history through its architecture. These schools are examples of early school design, reflecting rapidly changing social patterns, educational philosophies, and they also serve as high water marks for periods of rapid student population growth.

These nominations are the result of a study commissioned by the Tacoma School District to assess this historically significant building stock.

The Tacoma School District is one of the largest, if not the largest, steward of historically significant buildings in the city.

This is an enormous step forward for preservation in the city. It also reflects a long-term conversation that’s been occurring since 2005 between the landmarks commission, Historic Tacoma and the school district, and the landmarks commission has considered schools as a top neighborhood preservation priority since 2005.

With me tonight is Caroline Swope who is the historic preservation consultant for the school district, as well as Peter Wall, who’s the director of planning construction for the school district. They’re back there. And they will be a resource if there’s any questions council might have for them.

Just as a note, the landmarks preservation commission held a preliminary hearing on September 22nd, and a public hearing on October 27th, 2010, to receive comment on the nominations. If these properties are designated future changes to the exteriors of the building will be reviewed by the landmark commission for historical appropriateness. Designation of all of the properties, I’m sure, is a protection for future generations.

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