Historic honor for downtown Washington Building

The 84-year-old Washington Building in downtown Tacoma has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

A March 14 letter from State Architectural Historian Michael Houser to the City of Tacoma’s historic preservation officer, Reuben McKnight, indicates the nomination was prepared by Tacoma-based Artifacts Consulting, Inc. Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected to comment on the nomination during its meeting April 8. According to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as well as the State of Washington Certified Local Government (CLG) requirements and procedures, the local preservation commission within each CLG is required to comment on the nomination to determine if the property meets the national register criteria.

According to the nomination, the building meets two elements of the national register’s criteria: the property is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history; and the property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period of method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.

Considered by many historians and architects to be a signature downtown Tacoma property, the building boasts terra cotta trim, a grand marble staircase in the lobby, and a penthouse suite with wrap-around views of downtown, the tide flats, and Commencement Bay

It also has a colorful history dating back to the early Twentieth Century.

Construction of the building was originally started in 1919 by the Scandinavian-American Bank, but was halted when the bank failed, according to information from the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room. The Washington-California Company took over construction. The building was dedicated by the city on June 30, 1925, and officially opened on July 2, 1925.

The structure was touted as the “second tallest building in the Pacific Northwest” (behind Seattle’s Smith Tower). Over the years, the Washington Building was home to Brotherhood Cooperative National Bank, Tacoma Oriental Steamship, Blyth & Company, Washington Minor Hospital, Tacoma Club, American Savings & Loan, Tacoma Merchants Credit Union, Great Northern Realty, and United Mutual Savings Bank.

Seattle-based Stratford Company purchased the 17-story, 125,000-square-foot building at 1019 Pacific Avenue for $9.6 million in August 2005. In October 2007, the company began a $200,000 renovation to the building’s lobby.

In March 2008, Spokane, Wash.-based Sterling Savings Financial Corp. relocated 15 employees from its commercial- and private-banking operations at Tacoma Mall and in Fircrest to the building’s 13th floor. Another major tenant is the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. (Full disclosure: the Tacoma Daily Index’s offices are on the 12th floor).

In an interview with the Index in January 2008, Stratford Company asset director Mark Isner said the building’s 7,500-square-foot floor plates would appeal to larger companies looking to headquarter or locate a large branch office. “We really feel like that is a tremendous opportunity, and something that doesn’t exist anywhere in the downtown core,” said Isner. “We think that’s a great selling advantage to the right users.

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