City will demolish 1890s Luzon Building

The City of Tacoma announced today it will take emergency action to demolish the crumbling six-story, 119-year-old Luzon Building downtown within the next week.

The City’s action aims to address its concern the building, located at the corner of South 13th Street and Pacific Avenue, will suddenly collapse due to an outside engineering firm’s report of roof, floor, and wall deflection; separation of floor framing from exterior walls; broken girder beams; and missing columns. On Aug. 11, the City shut down South 13th Street between Pacific Avenue and Commerce Street — a perimeter around the building — citing the need for public safety.

The City is taking the action under Tacoma Municipal Code 2.01.060.I, known commonly as the “Dangerous Buildings Ordinance,” which gives the City the ability to vacate a building, barricade public sidewalks and streets, secure the building from unauthorized entry, and shore up or repair the building if it believes the structure is “an imminent danger” to public safety. According to the code, if these measures still don’t address public safety concerns, the building may be demolished at the owner’s expense.

According to City Manager Eric Anderson, the Building and Land Use Chief Charlie Solverson has reviewed the circumstances of the building and finds it does present a public threat of danger. “He has directed the building be demolished,” Anderson told councilmembers. He added it would take a contractor about five days to tear down the building. Anderson has signed an emergency contract for the demolition. Contractors aren’t expected on site until the middle of next week. Demolition and cleanup are expected to cost $600,000.

Anderson also said the City would try to salvage as much of the building materials as possible.

According to a Sept. 10 memo from Deputy City Manager Tansy Hayward to Public Works Director Dick McKinley, a notice was sent Sept. 4 to the building’s owner, Tacoma-based Gintz Group, advising that failure to address public safety concerns by Sept. 15 would result in emergency action by the City. In recent weeks, the Gintz Group has been working with Igor Kunitsa and Robert Haley on a prospective building purchase.

The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled to conduct a site visit Wednesday. In August 2008, the Gintz Group invited the Index on a tour of the building. It was clear the structure was in a serious state of neglect.

Designed by Chicago architecture firm Burnham & Root, the Luzon was one of the first high-rise towers on the West Coast, the embodiment of engineering genius — sturdy brick shell, cast iron columns, and wood construction on the upper floors — that allowed the building to top out at a soaring height for 1890s Tacoma. It was an engineering model that would be copied and opened the door to the future development of “skyscrapers.”

Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma called the decision “tragic.”

Tacoma City Councilmember Marilyn Strickland agreed it was unfortunate, but also added the building looked unsafe. “It is time to move on,” she said.

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Tacoma Municipal Code 2.01.060.I states the following: “Where, in the opinion of the Building Official, it appears there is an imminent danger to the life or safety of any person occupying or being admitted to a building or structure, the Building Official shall cause the immediate vacation of the building, in whole or in part, as is necessary, to mitigate the danger to life. The Building Official shall also order the barricading of public sidewalks, streets, or alleys as necessary to protect the public, and shall secure the building from unauthorized entry, and cause the immediate bracing or repair of the building as necessary to protect the public, or, if that is not possible, to have the building or structure demolished. The costs of such emergency vacation, bracing, repair, or demolition of such building or structure shall be assessed to the owner in accordance with the provisions of RCW-35.80.030(h).” —

Downtown Tacoma's Luzon Building, designed by famed Chicago architects John Wellborn Root and Daniel Hudson Burnham, and constructed in the 1890s, was demolished in 2009 after the City of Tacoma deemed the historically significant building a safety hazard for fear it would collapse after decades of neglect. (FILE PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)


To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Luzon Building, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at