Dome District Revival: With former Durobilt building, pair continues historic preservation streak on Puyallup Avenue

No one would argue the building at the corner of East D Street and Puyallup Avenue hasn’t seen better days. Its faded green paint, boarded up windows, and thick layer of grime is proof enough.

But the building at 323 Puyallup Avenue was also the bustling headquarters of a couple long-time Tacoma businesses. For 15 years after the building was constructed in 1937, it was home to Reliance Lumber Company. For 50 years beginning in the 1950s, the two-story, 3,760 square foot structure with the shingle roof and dormer windows was home to Durobilt Furniture and Upholstery.

For the past four years, however, the old structure has sat vacant.

That could change soon, thanks to two property owners who have their own long history on this block of Puyallup Avenue in Tacoma’s Dome District.

“We love old buildings!” Jori Adkins raved in an e-mail this week. A little over a decade ago, Adkins and Rick Semple began to amass the properties along the 300 block of Puyallup Avenue, which stretches between East C Street and East D Street. All were carefully and tastefully renovated with historic preservation in mind. The former gas station at 301 Puyallup Avenue dating back to 1924 was converted into an art gallery and private residence. The boxy structure next door dating back to 1926 is home to Tacoma Bike. The former warehouse dating back to 1920 was also scooped up by Adkins and Semple. And last year, the pair purchased the building at 323 Puyallup Avenue from the City of Tacoma.

The city purchased the property seven years ago in preparation for the $22.5 million D Street Overpass and Durobilt relocated to South Tacoma Avenue. For two years, the building served as the contractor’s job headquarters while the overpass was built. When the project was completed in June 2008, the structure sat vacant for four years. When the city looked to sell the property, Adkins and Semple stepped forward with interest.

“They are probably the most viable purchaser we think we could have for acquiring the property since they can establish access and create a functional business, which is their plan,” Conor McCarthy, assistant division manager in the city’s real property services department, told city councilmembers in October before the property was sold for $100,000. According to McCarthy, the city was “lucky” to have Adkins and Semple as potential buyers. “Rick Semple is very excited about this and wants to re-design the building consistent with the original architecture. I don’t believe that is required, but he’s pretty passionate about that. He’s improved the other buildings on the block. He has big plans for it.”

Those plans will require a great deal of work. “A vacant building deteriorates quickly as pipes break and roofs leak,” said Adkins this week. Also, the D Street Overpass nearly buried the home on two sides. East D Street rises along the east side of the building in such as way that you can peer down into the second-floor windows. The sidewalk along Puyallup Avenue is now some three feet above the entrance. “We are going to lift the building back up to the sidewalk and get rid of the subterranean entrance and heavy railings that block the view of the building,” added Adkins.

Still, the pair is unfazed by all the work ahead.

“We finally got it from the city at a good price and are willing to put a lot of our time into it, to give the building back some pride and help make that corner of the Dome District be colorful and active since it is on a very visible corner,” said Adkins. “We never know what a building will be once we are done, but we have great tenants who all love our buildings and the sense of community that they are creating.”

The building at 323 Puyallup Avenue in Tacoma's Dome District was home to Durobilt Furniture and Upholstery for five decades. The building was purchased last year by two developers who have carefully restored several old buildings on the block. They have similar plans for this structure. (FILE PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)