Endangered Properties: A historic list no property owner wants to join

The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation was in Tacoma Tuesday to share some ignominious news about Tacoma and Pierce County. Of the five properties listed on the non-profit, Seattle-based organization’s Most Endangered Historic Properties List of 2011, three are in Pierce County: Old City Hall (Tacoma); McMillin Bridge (Orting / Pierce County); and McNeil Island Prison (Pierce County). Inclusion on the list is something any city or county that claims to value historic preservation tries to avoid.

According to information on the Washington Trust’s Web site, it’s not the first time historic properties in Tacoma and Pierce County have been included on the list. Since 1992, the list has included Pacific National Bank Building / Luzon Building (Tacoma) —  listed in 1992, demolished in 2009; Japanese Language School (Tacoma) — listed in 1993, demolished in 2004; Elk’s Building (Tacoma) — listed in 2003; First United Methodist Church (Tacoma) — listed in 2006,  demolished in 2007; Murray Morgan Bridge (Tacoma) — listed in 2008; Kelley Farm (Bonney Lake) — listed in 2006; Historic Commercial Fishing Net Sheds (Gig Harbor) — listed in 2008; Fort Steilacoom (Lakewood) — listed in 2006; Sunrise Lodge (Mount Rainier National Park) — listed in 1992, saved in 1996; Balch House (Steilacoom) — listed in 1993, saved in 1994; Nathaniel Orr House (Steilacoom) — listed in 1996, saved in 1999; Fleischmann’s Yeast Plant (Sumner) — listed in 2007,  demolished in 2010; and Curran House (University Place) — listed in 2009.

The list, which includes more than 100 properties statewide, aims to bring attention to threatened buildings, sites and historic places, according to Chris Moore, the organization’s field director. On its Web site, the Washington Trust argues that “collectively, these properties contribute to the quality of life we enjoy and shape the daily experiences of living in small towns, large cities and rural countryside across the state. It is an understatement to say that our historic resources help to paint a distinct Washington portrait, and it is certainly no overstatement to conclude that their loss would leave large gaps in that canvas.”

Today, the Tacoma Daily Index examines each of the properties include on this year’s list as described by the Washington Trust.

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Spanning the Puyallup River in Pierce County as part of State Route 162, the McMillin Bridge may be the only known concrete through truss structure of its type in the United States.  Inspired by Homer Hadley, Washington’s most innovative bridge engineer, the McMillin Bridge is unique, featuring heavy steel-reinforced through trusses strong enough to eliminate the need for overhead lateral sway braces.  When completed in the fall of 1935, the resulting bridge was hailed as the longest concrete truss or beam span in the country.  Hadley is credited with numerous bridge designs, including the first floating concrete pontoon bridge in the world, now known as the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge over Lake Washington in Seattle.  The Washington State Department of Transportation recently announced plans to demolish the McMillin Bridge once a new parallel bridge has been completed and traffic re-routed.  Federal regulations require WSDOT to analyze alternatives to demolition.  Once this analysis is released, interested parties will have the opportunity to comment.  If the bridge is unable to be retrofitted for continued use, the goal will be to retain it for foot and/or bicycle traffic.Ezra Meeker first settled on McNeil Island in 1853, establishing an agricultural and logging community.  The land claim was sold and exchanged hands several times over the next couple of decades when, in 1870, 27 acres were donated to allow for the establishment of a territorial prison, which opened in 1875.  Officially becoming a federal prison in the early 1900s, the facility became a Washington State prison in 1981 under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Corrections (DOC).  Facing tremendous budget shortfalls, the state has closed the general prison facility on the island.  The multi-agency jurisdictional responsibilities include DOC, the Department of Fish & Wildlife (whose interest include retaining the island as a wildlife preserve), and the Department of Social & Health Services (which currently operates the Special Commitment Center constructed in the 1990s).  Complicating matters are deed restrictions put in place when the federal government turned the property over to the state in the 1980s.  In the meantime, over fifty structures related to the operation of the prison facility remain on site, their future uncertain (a handful of residences are already slated for demolition).  Overall, the goal is to ensure that historic resources are appropriately considered as the future of McNeil Island, Washington’s very own Alcatraz, is discussed.

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Constructed in 1933, the Green Mountain Fire Lookout in the Glacier Peak National Wilderness Area is a rare example of a fire lookout remaining in its original location.  In 2010, with support from local advocates, the United States Forest Service (USFS) completed a comprehensive rehabilitation of the lookout, addressing needed structural deficiencies.  Following the rehabilitation, Wilderness Watch, a national group based in Montana, sued the USFS, arguing that by using a helicopter and making repairs to the lookout, the USFS violated stipulations of the Wilderness Act that prohibit the use of motorized vehicles in designated Wilderness Areas and prohibit new building construction.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation has filed an amicus brief in support of the USFS, with the Washington Trust, the Darrington Historical Society, and the Forest Fire Lookout Association serving as co-signatories.  If Wilderness Watch is successful in its lawsuit, the USFS may be forced to remove the lookout.  It could also set the course for future treatment of historic structures/resources in Wilderness Areas nationwide.

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Northern State Hospital in Sedro Woolley is a sprawling campus of over 100 buildings spread over 300 acres of lush landscape in the foothills of the North Cascades.  In October 2010, a recommendation was made to the National Park Service to list the entire campus as a National Register Historic District, a recommendation subsequently approved.  The site features over 80 contributing historic buildings representing the work of several notable regional architects, while the landscape plan is a major project of the Olmsted Brothers landscape firm.  The near complete execution of this plan, conceived and revised from 1910-1919, makes Northern State Hospital a rare intact example of the Olmsted design work purposefully merging health care and agricultural functions.  The largest hospital building at nearly 100,000 square feet anchors the center of the campus and features Spanish Colonial Revival design, an architectural style prevalent throughout the site.  Given the state’s budget situation, Northern State Hospital has been slated by the State Department of General Administration to be sold as surplus property.  While the entire site is listed in the National Register as a historic district, this designation confers no protection for the historic buildings/resource/landscape.  If sold to another entity, structures and other elements of the district could be demolished.  The Department of General Administration is exploring potential institutional clients interested in purchasing the site and utilizing the historic structures that remain.

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Constructed in 1893 by the San Francisco-based firm of Hatherton & McIntosh in the Renaissance Revival style, Old City Hall represents Tacoma’s aspirations to be the Northwest’s focal point for commerce and culture.  Originally occupied by the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, the building eventually served as City Hall until the late 1950s.  Following a period of vacancy, several attempts over the years to adaptively reuse the structure for a variety of purposes have met with mixed success.  The latest plan, conversion of the building to condominium units, has been sidelined due to the economic downturn.  In November of 2010, broken pipes released thousands of gallons of water throughout the building, raising fears that structural systems could be compromised.  With Old City Hall currently vacant, the hope is that the ownership group will be able to move forward with redevelopment plans.  In the meantime, issues of deferred maintenance remain a concern.

For more information, please visit http://www.preservewa.org .

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For related Tacoma Daily Index coverage, click on the following links:

Historic preservation group calls Tacoma’s Old City Hall ‘endangered’ (05/24/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1979640&more=0

Future uncertain for historic McMillin Bridge (05/09/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1971849&more=0

More trouble for Old City Hall? (03/28/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1948787&more=0

Washington Trust seeks nominees for 2011 endangered historic properties (02/14/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1925011&more=0

Washington Trust names historic preservation award recipients (01/20/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1911718&more=0

Puyallup’s Meeker Mansion awarded $2K historic preservation grant (01/12/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1906638&more=0

Inspector’s report offers grim glimpse inside ‘derelict’ Old City Hall (01/04/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1902176&more=0

Historic Buildings, Historic Recession: Questions for Old City Hall owner George Webb (12/17/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1895199&more=0

Hope for Old City Hall? Building clean-up, foreclosure prevention efforts under way, says owner (12/14/10) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1892880&more=0

Tacoma City Council to receive Old City Hall update Dec. 14 (12/10/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1891295&more=0

Bank publishes notice to foreclose on Old City Hall; City to study public development authority for historic buildings (12/09/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1890430&more=0

Coke Oven Park listed as endangered historic site (06/03/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1781830&more=0

Curran House, Oberlin Church awarded historic preservation grants (04/27/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1759705&more=0

Washington Trust seeks nominations for 2010 Endangered Historic Properties List (02/10/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1713365&more=0

The Washington Trust: In an old hilltop mansion, a strong voice for preservation (04/14/09) — http://www.wahmee.com/tdi_wa_trust.pdf

Long List of Concerns for Washington State Preservationists: An interview with Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s Jennifer Meisner (05/29/08) — http://www.wahmee.com/tdi_jennifer_meisner_qa.pdf