Historic Aspirations: Is 2011 the year Old Town Tacoma becomes an historic district?

The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will spend the next six months studying a request to designate Old Town Tacoma an historic district. In December, the commission adopted a schedule that includes notifying property owners in the affected area, touring the neighborhood, and holding a series of meetings to review proposed boundaries for the district and determine the neighborhood’s historic significance.

Although Old Town dates back to the 1860s and is Tacoma’s oldest neighborhood, several unsuccessful efforts have been made over the past 35 years to establish the special review district overlay zoning to designate it an historic district.

In 1974, the Old Tacoma Improvement Club sought the designation after conducting a survey that showed support. However, the plan was quashed when commercial property owners opposed it.

In the early 1990s, residents again attempted to seek the historic district designation. The request was reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission, but was tabled by City Council, which “directed the historic preservation officer to redo the design review component so that property owners could more easily determine the architectural requirements for future development,” according to the current nomination, which was prepared by Kathy P. Ursich and submitted to City Hall on Sept. 15, 2009. Also, commercial property owners opposed being included within the boundaries of the proposed historic district.

The current nomination excludes Old Town’s business district and commercial properties located in the zoned “C-2 commercial” area. Proponents hope this will be enough to attain approval.

The written request for the designation includes a six-page petition signed by 115 residential property owners or renters in the area who support the plan. It also includes a letter from the North End Neighborhood Council supporting the plan. “Old Town is the oldest neighborhood in Tacoma, and while Tacoma has several historic districts, the oldest neighborhood is not one of them” write Kyle Price, North End Neighborhood Council Membership Secretary, and Jonathan Phillips, North End Neighborhood Council Chair. “There have been previous attempts to form an historic district in Old Town, but those attempts have not been successful, in part because they included the Old Town Business District. This time, the historic district plan to exclude the business district from the boundary.”

The proposed boundaries would stretch from North 31st Street, south along North Junett Street to North 29th Street, west to North Carr Street, and south along Carr Street (including both sides of Carr) to Yakima. The southern boundary continues west along Tacoma Avenue North to North 11th Street before returning to North 30th Street. The area includes 55 residential homes dating between 1869 and 1960. Five properties have been placed on either the local, state, or national registers of historic places: St. Peter’s Church, 2910 North Starr Street (1873); Slavonian Hall, 2306 North 30th Street (1907); Seamen’s Rest, 2802 North Carr Street (1883); Starr Street Houses, 2721, 2723, 2801, 2803 North Starr Street (1906); and Olof Carlson House, 1116 North 26th Street (1899).

According to historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight, if the commission determines that the proposed district meets the basic landmarks criteria and also serves as a distinct area of the city, then the analysis can proceed, ultimately culminating in a public hearing and then a recommendation as an area-wide rezone would go to the city’s planning commission. It would be considered as a zoning change or an overlay zone. From that point, the planning commission would make its recommendation to City Council.

During its meeting Dec. 8, the commission adopted the following schedule to review the nomination: Jan. 12 — Review and approve the public notice of nomination and review schedule; Feb. 9 — Review the proposed district’s significance and landmarks designation criteria; March 9 — Review the proposed district’s boundaries and historic buildings; March 23 — Public information session; April 13 — Review of proposed regulations and design guidelines; April 27 — Public information session; May 11 — Presentation of proposed recommendations; June 22 — Public hearing on recommendations; and July 27 — Final recommendation to the City of Tacoma’s Planning Commission.

For more information, visit http://tacomaculture.org/historic/ .

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier photo caption accompanying this story noted the historically significant Job Carr Museum building was established in 1865. Although the museum is indeed historically significant, and Carr himself settled in his cabin in 1865, it was not clear to readers that the building is a replica that was constructed in 2000.

– – – – – – – – – – –

For earlier Tacoma Daily Index coverage of historic districts — including the newspaper’s extensive coverage of the Wedge Historic District effort — click on the following links:

Residents again seek historic district designation for Old Town Tacoma (12/06/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1887602&more=0

Tacoma City Council committee defers decision on Wedge historic district proposal (11/18/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1877403&more=0

City Council committee wants more discussion of Wedge historic district boundary (08/10/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1819424&more=0

Boundaries, properties disputed in Wedge Historic District proposal (07/23/10) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1810598&more=0

SEPT. 5, 2008 – MARCH 27, 2009 (PART ONE) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1807429&more=0

APRIL 16, 2009 – MARCH 10, 2010 (PART TWO) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1809055&more=0

MARCH 24, 2010 – JUNE 17, 2010 (PART THREE) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1809059&more=0

Status Seekers: The challenges and benefits to seeking historic district designation (07/03/07) — http://www.wahmee.com/tdi_status_seekers.pdf