Historic homes are Tacoma’s living history

From stunning views to historic homes, Tacoma has it all

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

When I visit other cities, I am often struck by how much pride some communities take in features that we in Tacoma tend to neglect or even work to erase.

From our natural (and often stunning) views of mountains and waterways, to the unique and sometimes extravagant architectural features of many of our homes, we have what could be called an embarrassment of riches in more categories than most of us would even notice.

I have often thought that we should have what could be called viewing stations at key places that would be something like viewing “parks” .

I’d suggest one on Jackson at about 6th Avenue.

The views over Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains – especially around sunset, are truly astounding.

Multiple sites on Tacoma’s East Side, Hilltop, North East Tacoma and downtown (among others) hold photo quality views of our mountain.

If you question how popular these would be, consider how busy the walkways along Ruston Way or Chamber’s Bay are almost any time of day – no matter what the weather is doing.

Many cities are proud of their river walks. We have a major river but little public access to it.

And that’s just a few of the natural features at hand.

Building a unique Tacoma

Many years ago I knew a guy who specialized in stained glass.

He took me on a partial tour of some of the magnificent older homes and a few churches with glorious, multi-colored, lead-framed stained glass installations.

These were mostly in Old Town, Stadium or the North Slope neighborhoods.

He told me then that many of the stained glass instillations were worth more than the houses that held them.

He told me that there could have easily been a destination-worthy tour just of the stained glass of Tacoma.

Fast-forward a few decades and virtually all of the stained glass of Tacoma is long gone. And most of the homes (and some of the churches) are gone as well.

Tacoma’s identity and legacy were literally encased in those buildings.

Those lumber barons (and a few others) with vast wealth, seemingly unlimited quality building materials and Old World traditions and craftsmanship built monuments to themselves, love and progress as would never be built again.

Even relatively modest homes were stunning in their design and elegance.

Many pre-World War II homes in Tacoma, for example, feature rounded, even semi-heart shaped top front doors. (Editor’s note: As beautiful as they are, good luck finding a replacement for any of them)

As I mentioned, and as we all know too well, the vast majority of these homes are gone.

And few, if any, have been replaced by anything anywhere approaching the beauty and design of the original homes.

We have, time after time, replaced the unique and irreplaceable with the predictable, interchangeable and mundane.

And then there are the historic homes

With their unique architectural design, their never-to-be-seen-again level of craftsmanship and their use of building materials essentially no longer available, from old-growth timbers, fully-dimensional lumber and lath and plaster work unrivalled in our times, these houses tell their stories and show us, literally what they – and by extension, we, are made of.

Homes like these literally stand as testimonies to our destiny, legacy and passion as only they could express.

As I mentioned, most cities would give anything to have a tangible, cohesive neighborhood of homes that embraced and expressed their history.

Yet once again, we face the demolition and destruction of unique homes.

One difference this time is that, in the name of historic preservation, these homes might be saved by being moved to another location.

Moving homes is almost a tradition around here; I have a friend who had a house moved from West Seattle to Anderson Island a year or so ago.

Many homes in and around Tacoma are not in their original locations.

Even some churches, like St. Luke’s in Tacoma’s North End have been relocated.

Scattering historic homes obviously wrecks the integrity of the neighborhood, but these homes themselves just might be saved.

Here’s a little background on these historic homes that are currently on the auction block (historical details thanks to Michael Sullivan):

  • 1210 S 5th St – 1905, Grotheim & Vog contr., 2 stories, 1576 sf, 3 units
  • 502-04 South L – 1905; designed by architect Frederick Heath, 2.5 stories, 2834 sf., 4 units
  • 506 South L – 1890, H.C. Gillum contr., 2 stories, 1084 sf
  • 508 South L – 1891, 2 stories, 1370 sf
  • 510 South L – 1890, H.C. Gillum contr., 2 stories, 1636 sf
  • 512 South L – 1890, W. L. Davidson contr., 2 stories, 1498 sf, 2 units
  • 514 South L – 1890, 2 stories, 1746 sf, 2 units
  • 516 South L – ~1891, 2 stories, 1360 sf
  • 518 South L – 1889, H.C. Gillum contr., 1238 sf