City Hall park would honor late editor, historic preservationist

A new pocket park adjacent to Tacoma City Hall could be officially named after the late editor and historic preservationist Ben Gilbert.

The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is expected to hold a public hearing on the plan during its Sept. 23 meeting. Following this hearing, there will be 30-day comment period before the LPC may take action.

The plan is strongly supported by Tacoma developer Blaine Johnson, who renovated the former YMCA building across the street from the park.

In a July 13, 2009, letter to Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma, Johnson calls Gilbert an accomplished newsman who worked as City Editor at the Washington Post, became an Emmy-award-winning broadcast news pioneer, and advocated for the rights of the hearing impaired.

“The inspiration to name the site for Ben came from colleagues who served with him on the Landmarks Commission,” wrote Johnson. “After gaining positive response from his daughter, Amy Mann, and discussing the concept with others who worked with Ben in civic affairs, the plan was set in motion to develop the site and place his name on it. The site has particular relevance to Ben in that it is adjacent to the Municipal Building where Ben, as a member of the Landmarks Commission, helped lead important historic preservation activities. The site is adjacent to Ledger Square, which fronts the former News Tribune and Ledger Building.”

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 Mar. 4, 2007, in the Spokesman-Review, 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. “He got things done.”

Formally naming the park is only one aspect to this project. A black-and-white, six-feet-by-28-feet 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.

So far, more than $175,000 has been raised in monetary funds, materials, and paid and in-kind contributions through the Tacoma Historical Society to develop the park, according to Johnson. The mural component was originally expected to cost $30,000. However, a variety of vendors have either lowered their costs or donated their services. Supporters hope to install the mural this fall.

The LPC will discuss the issue Weds., Sept. 23 at 4:00 p.m. at City Hall, 747 Market St., Room 708. For more information, visit .