Big decision ahead for proposed Wedge historic district

After five months of preliminary review by the City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the first big decision surrounding a nomination to designate Tacoma’s “Wedge” neighborhood a historic district is expected to be made soon.

The decision is centered on the proposed historic district’s boundaries, which currently stretch from Sixth Avenue to Division Avenue, and L Street to Sprague Avenue. The neighborhood is within walking distance to Wright Park, the North Slope Historic District, and many of the city’s oldest churches. It also sits in the shadow of MultiCare Health System’s expansive campus.

Though the neighborhood is zoned for residential use (R2SRD — Residential Special Review District), a group of Wedge residents submitted a nomination application to City Hall in June for historic district consideration. The nomination is aimed at further preserving the neighborhood’s character and history and preventing any unforeseen instances similar to the demolition of First United Methodist Church. Three years ago, the congregation sold its 1916 church building to MultiCare for $8 million; it was later demolished to make room for a hospital expansion. The building was located one block from the Wedge neighborhood’s eastern border.

On a related note, Historic Tacoma recently put the neighborhood on its “Watch List” of endangered properties.

In September, the landmarks commission began to review the nomination. The process will continue through this spring. More public meetings, public hearings, a landmarks commission decision, and — if it gets that far — a decision by Tacoma City Council still lay ahead.

According to the nomination application:

— The Wedge includes 67 residential homes built between 1889 and 1928;

— The most unique residential home is the Titlow Mansion, which was built in 1899 and home to Aaron Titlow, who built Washington State’s first tidewater hotel;

— Homes boast a range of architectural styles, such as Victorian, Craftsman, Foursquare, Dutch Colonial, and Cape Cod.

— In addition to Titlow, the neighborhood was also home to candy company entrepreneurs Frank and Ethel Mars, and Titanic survivor Anne Kincaid.

As the Index reported yesterday ( ), a MultiCare executive sent a letter (available here — ) last week to the commission outlining the company’s concerns over the historic district nomination.

Those concerns include:

— The Wedge historic district should follow current zoning boundaries;

— The 500 block of South L Street should be left out of the proposed historic district because “it is apparent that the owners of the majority of the properties therein are absentee/investor owners and do not wish their properties to be a part of the historic district.”

— The historic district should not include any areas that are currently zoned as Hospital Medical and should also be re-drawn so as not to include any MultiCare-owned properties;

MultiCare’s position is interesting on a couple fronts.

First, according to the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Web site, the 500 block of South L Street includes nine homes owned by five different individual owners. The homes date back between 1890 and 1906.

Second, excluding MultiCare-owned properties is significant only because the hospital owns four classic homes within the proposed district boundary. The homes date back between 1908 and 1925 — three are vacant, and a fourth is leased to a single-family. In late-September, MultiCare officials and Wedge residents met to discuss the hospital’s upcoming expansion plans. The future of those four homes was a concern to many residents in attendance. They wanted to know if the hospital planned to renovate or raze the vacant homes. A hospital spokesperson said he wasn’t sure what would happen to the homes.

It’s difficult to get a residential historic district approved when it is opposed by even a handful of property owners. Are Wedge historic district supporters willing to re-draw their boundary and cede 13 heritage homes to help get the historic district protection they seek? That is expected to be answered in the next couple months.

In the interim, tonight the landmarks commission will continue its discussion and review of the historic district application. The meeting begins at 5:00 p.m. and will be held at 728 St. Helens, Tacoma Municipal Building North, Room 16. For more information, visit .

For earlier Index coverage of the Wedge historic district proposal, click on the following links:

1. Will Tacoma’s Wedge neighborhood go historic? (09/05/08) —

2. A Slice of History: Two meetings will explore Wedge historic district nomination (09/23/08) —

3. MultiCare, Wedge residents discuss hospital expansion, historic district effort (10/02/08) —

4. MultiCare weighs in on Wedge historic district nomination (02/09/09) —

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