City honors historic preservation leaders: Tacoma Public Schools, Wedge residents among award recipients

The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has announced the recipients of this year’s awards for outstanding achievement in historic preservation. Commission Chair Mark McIntire presented the awards to Tacoma Public Schools; Char Cooper, Lori Hunger, and Jean Carter; Ross Buffington; and Knights of Pythias during Tacoma City Council’s May 24 meeting.

Tacoma Public Schools was recognized for nominating six school buildings — Fern Hill Elementary School (8442 S. Park Ave.), built in 1911; Central Elementary Administration Building (601 S. 8th St.), built in 1912; Jason Lee Middle School (602 N. Sprague Ave.), built in 1924; Stewart Middle School (5010 Pacific Ave.), built in 1925; McCarver Elementary School (2111 S. J St.), built in 1925; and Whitman Elementary School (1120 S. 39th St.), built in 1952 — to the City of Tacoma’s register of historic places. In presenting the award, McIntire called the nominations “a substantial achievement of public stewardship.”

“It’s very meaningful and very wonderful to have a role in this and to be recognized for our efforts,” said Tacoma Public Schools board member Kim Golding.

Char Cooper, Lori Hunger, and Jean Carter received awards for leading the effort to turn the Wedge neighborhood into a historic district. According to their nomination, the Wedge neighborhood is an area of Tacoma that boasts more than 50 homes dating back 80 years or more. It’s also where Tacoma pioneer Aaron Titlow, candy company entrepreneurs Frank and Ethel Mars, and Titanic survivor Anne Kincaid resided. And it is ringed by Wright Park, the North Slope Historic District, and many of the city’s oldest churches. The commission recognized Cooper Hunger, and Carter for “their tireless work in the neighborhood, which many of us are now familiar,” said McIntire. “We recognize their steadfastness and endurance through a long public process. Giving an award to the Wedge neighbors recognizes their community spirit and activism to preserve their special neighborhood.”

“I just wanted to say that I think the more we delved into our wonderful city and spent hours at the library researching individual homes and the people who lived here, I think the more passionate we became about Tacoma,” said Hunger. “We’re hoping that our passion was contagious. Not only did we get excited about it but we started walking tours of our neighborhood and started getting our neighbors excited about it, too.”

Ross Buffington received an award for his six years of service on the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “You served as vice-chair for two of those years, as well as an effective preservation advocate in the community,” said McIntire. “Your professional knowledge and advocacy were admirable, but your timely, precise and effective motions were essential during those six years.”

“It was an honor to serve on the commission,” said Buffington. “I appreciated the opportunity and this is a very nice recognition so thank you very much to the preservation commission and the city council.”

Finally, the Knights of Pythias fraternal organization received an award for stewardship of its 1906 temple on Broadway. According to McIntire, the organization renovated its original windows and neon sign, adaptively re-used its retail space by leasing it to the Seabury School, and hosted historic preservation meetings and workshops in the building.

“We have been at this for 125-plus years in Tacoma, trying to promote friendship, benevolence and charity in our community,” said Knights of Pythias member James Carroll. “We feel that buildings like the temple reflect somewhat the heart and soul of a city and that their importance for the continuation of people’s connection to a place is very important. We really appreciate all the city has done to cooperate with us in maintaining that building and promoting it around the community, and thank you to the commission again for their assistance and recognition our efforts. They have been a great help.”