Building renovation destroys historic ghost mural

A “ghost mural” that once covered the north end of a historic building in downtown Tacoma and prominently displayed the logo of a former Tacoma brewery has been destroyed, according to University of Washington Tacoma (UWT) officials.

In a message posted last week on UWT’s “Inside Track” blog ( ), public information specialist Jill Carnell Danseco reported that during the current renovation of the Joy Building, located at 1716-1730 Pacific Ave. on the university’s downtown campus, the Alt Heidelberg ghost sign, with its faded image of the Student Prince toasting a pint of the brewery’s namesake beer, was wiped clean when a contractor pressure washed the building and its mural.

“[The pressure washer was] set to the strength of a garden hose,” added UWT spokesman Mike Wark. “This is the same procedure that was used on our other ghost murals, and no paint solvents were used. The paint was extremely flaky and loose and was not adhering to the bricks. This procedure is normally used in brick restoration so that the bricks can be re-pointed with new mortar.”

Still, Carnell Danseco noted that the university has learned additional steps could have been taken to possibly prevent the mural’s destruction. An effort is under way to learn more. With the Alt Heidelberg sign wiped away, earlier signs have emerged on the old brick. One sign appears to read, “Poole’s Feed Store.”

“UWT is working closely with all the parties involved to determine how any of us might have been able to prevent this,” said Chancellor Pat Spakes. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of this historic relic. We weren’t expecting this. It’s like losing an old friend.”

The Joy Building is located within the Union Depot / Warehouse Historic District, which is listed on the Tacoma and National Registers of Historic Places. The building was once home to various wholesale and retail firms. The ghost mural is believed to be one of the last Alt Heidelberg signs in existence.

The Joy Building renovation is part of a $34 million capital construction package from the Washington State Legislature, intended to stimulate the economy by providing construction jobs. This support also includes funding for the addition and renovation of three labs in the Science Building — already under way — and building infrastructure to support future campus construction up the hill.

UWT moved into the historic Warehouse District campus in 1997. Approximately one-third of the planned 46-acre campus will be complete when the Joy Building is opened in spring 2011. The campus design has received much recognition for creative preservation and rehabilitation of the century-old buildings along Pacific Avenue, including a National Trust for Historic Preservation Honor Award and the American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Urban Design.

Russell T. Joy came to Tacoma in 1888 and worked as a clerk for the Tacoma Land Company. Soon after, he went into business as a builder and real estate developer. In 1892, he commissioned three buildings to be constructed in the Warehouse District, including the one that bears his name. The architects were Pickles and Sutton, a firm that designed many distinguished buildings in Tacoma, including the National Bank of Tacoma.

Since it was constructed in 1892, Mr. Joy’s namesake has been home to a wide variety of industry, including a wholesale grocery, a paper company, a stove manufacturing business, a candy company, a glove maker, and a number of automobile-related businesses, including a Firestone Tire store and both Studebaker and Oldsmobile distributors.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

For related Tacoma Daily Index coverage, click on the following links:

Demolition begins on UW Tacoma’s Joy Building (08/21/09) —

State budget troubles could tweak UWT Joy Building renovation (07/24/09) —

A new chapter for historic downtown building (03/03/09) — and

Vote clears way for UWT Joy Building early-phase renovations (02/27/09) —

Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will hear UWT Joy Building renovation plans (02/20/09) —