A lush vision for historic Spanish Steps

The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled Wednesday to be briefed on the landscape plan for Spanish Steps. It is the second time in two months the proposal — which calls for planting nearly three-dozen trees, shrubs, vines, and large grasses in an area that surrounds the 95-year-old staircase in Tacoma’s Old City Hall Historic District — has been reviewed by the commission.

On Nov. 10, the commission reviewed the $2,700 landscape project but did not take a vote because it had a variety of questions and comments — most notably, a concern that the design was “too busy” and “the architecture of the stairs could be obscured by the plantings,” according to a staff report prepared for next week’s meeting. The commission also wanted formal assurance that city staff (including the project manager and urban forester) and representatives of McMenamins, which is in the process of renovating the former Elk’s Temple adjacent to Spanish Steps into a brew pub and hotel, agree on the design and long-term maintenance. On Wednesday, the commission will be provided with an updated lists of plant species, visuals of what the area will look like with mature plants, and information related to the long-term maintenance of the landscape.

Located near South Seventh Street and Broadway, Spanish Steps connects Commerce Street to Broadway. Shoddy patchwork, deferred maintenance, and vandalism have contributed to its decline over the past 60 years. Decorative urns have been toppled and smashed. Several years ago, a driver lost control of his vehicle and drove down the steps.

Beginning in 2007, the City began to receive state and federal grants that eventually totalled $1.2 million to rehabilitate the stairs. In March 2010, the commission approved a plan for rehabilitation. In November, Spanish Steps re-opened after being closed for several months last year to complete most of the repairs.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will discuss the landscape plan during its meeting Weds., Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. at 728 St. Helens, Tacoma Municipal Building North, Room 16. To download a copy of the agenda and meeting materials, visit tacomaculture.org/historic/home.asp.

Spanish Steps landscape designs. (IMAGES COURTESY CITY OF TACOMA)

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.