City Hall park to be named for late editor, preservationist Gilbert

The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) yesterday approved a recommendation to name a pocket park adjacent to City Hall after the late editor and historic preservationist Ben Gilbert.

Gilbert died at age 89 on Feb. 28, 2007, at Hospice House in Tacoma. He had battled breast cancer, which spread to his lungs. According to an obituary published March 1, 2007, in the The Washington Post, Gilbert worked at the Post for 30 years. In addition to being “a tough and exacting” city editor, he was also deputy managing editor and associate editor of the editorial page. The obituary notes Gilbert “pushed to expand the newspaper’s coverage of race relations, and in 1968 he helped direct coverage of riots in the city after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.”

“He was a hard man to love, but he was a hell of a newspaperman,” said Benjamin C. Bradlee, managing editor of the Washington Post, in the obituary. Bradlee and Gilbert often clashed in the newsroom, but Bradlee added, “He got things done.”

Gilbert also served on Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and was an advocate for the hard-of-hearing.

The LPC held a public hearing on the plan during its Sept. 23 meeting. A 30-day comment period followed. The City’s historic preservation office received letters of support from Tacoma Historical Society executive Director Mary Bowlby, architects Greg Benton and Phillip Hill of Belay Architecture, and historian Dale Wirsing.

The biggest supporter has been Tacoma developer Blaine Johnson, who renovated the former YMCA building across the street from the park. Johnson was inspired to name the park for Gilbert after speaking with colleagues who served with him on the landmarks commission, Gilbert’s daughter Amy Mann, and others who knew Gilbert.

Formally naming the park is only one aspect to this project. A black-and-white, six-foot-by-28-foot mural that shows several thousand people gathered in Ledger Square to learn results of the 1926 World Series will be installed. A side panel next to the mural will include information about Gilbert and the park project.

Tacoma City Council is expected to take final action on renaming the park at an upcoming council meeting.

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