Historic Preservation: 3 school buildings now Tacoma landmarks

Tacoma City Council approved a resolution Tuesday placing three local public school buildings on the City of Tacoma's Register of...

Tacoma City Council approved a resolution Tuesday placing three local public school buildings on the City of Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places.

McKinley Hill Elementary School, located at 3720 McKinley Ave., was built in 1908 and designed by architect Frederick Heath, who also designed the Pythian TempleStadium High School, and the Ansonia Building. Last year, Historic Tacoma, a non-profit organization that advocates for the protection and preservation of the city’s historic buildings and architectural heritage, placed the McKinley Hill Elementary School building on its Watch List of endangered propertiesOakland Elementary School, located at 3319 S. Adams St., was built in 1912 and designed by Heath and his business partner George Gove. Finally, Hoyt Elementary School, located at 2708 N. Union Ave., was built in 1957 and designed by Tacoma architect Robert Billsbrough Price, who also designed Tacoma Fire Station No. 17, the Tacoma Bicentennial Pavilion, and Sky Terrace Apartments.

The joint nomination for the three school buildings were prepared by preservation advocate Marshall McClintock on behalf of Historic Tacoma.

“The school district has stated that its position is officially neutral regarding the nominations,” said City of Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight on Tuesday. “Significant public comment was received on the nominations, particularly in support of Hoyt. There have been to date two comments opposing the nomination of the 14 written comments received by staff, and numerous oral comments.”

The City of Tacoma’s Historic Preservation Office has received letters of support from Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement, Western Washington, or “Docomomo WEWA,” a Seattle-based non-profit organization focusing on the preservation of mid-century modern architecture in the Pacific Northwest; Tacoma architect and former City of Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Jeffrey J. Ryan; North Slope Historic District Co-Chair and former City of Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission member Kathryn Longwell; and Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello. Similarly, many people spoke in support of the nomination during a public hearing in August.

Six years ago, Historic Tacoma partnered with Tacoma Public Schools on a project to identify and document the many historic schools built between 1908 and 1958. Four years ago, six public school buildings in Tacoma were added to the city’s historic register: Fern Hill Elementary School (8442 S. Park Ave.), built in 1911; Central Elementary Administration Building (601 S. 8th St.), built in 1912; Jason Lee Middle School (602 N. Sprague Ave.), built in 1924; Stewart Middle School (5010 Pacific Ave.), built in 1925; McCarver Elementary School (2111 S. J St.), built in 1925; and Whitman Elementary School (1120 S. 39th St.), built in 1952.

Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission conducted a preliminary review of the most recent nomination for the three school buildings during a public meeting in July. In August, the commission approved the nomination to add McKinley Hill Elementary School, Oakland Elementary School, and Hoyt Elementary School to the City of Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places. Tacoma City Council’s Neighborhoods and Housing Committee reviewed the nomination earlier this month.

On Tuesday, McKnight and historic preservation advocate Sharon Winters discussed the nominations before councilmembers approved the resolution. Here are their comments, edited and condensed for publication:

Sharon Winters (Historic Preservation Advocate) — The district is the owner of one of the largest collections of significant historic buildings in the city. While school districts around the country continue to tear down their buildings, [the] Tacoma school district has set a model, acknowledging not only the architectural significance of these structures, but also that these places really matter for the community. Historic Tacoma’s nomination of McKinley, Oakland, and Hoyt schools — and hopefully a council affirmation — will bring to an even dozen the number of district schools on the Tacoma Register of Historic Places.

As noted in Marshall McClintock’s nomination on behalf of Historic Tacoma, each building is architecturally and culturally significant to the city. While register listing will ensure the preservation of these schools, active use is important for their long-term conservation and their respective neighborhoods. McKinley is slated to continue serving as a swing school for the district. Hoyt is slated to serve as a preschool. And Oakland will continue to be used as an alternative school.

Reuben McKnight (City of Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer) — The [Tacoma school] district will be using Hoyt as an early learning center for its [Early Childhood Education and Assistance] Program (ECEAP), which means the building is going to be rehabilitated in the next couple years for continued use as an education facility. The conversation that I had today with the facilities and planning office indicated that the plan is — in a time frame of about two years probably — to have that building converted and rehabilitated for that use. I don’t know the long end of that, meaning how long that will continue. I was told, of course, that ECEAP was one of their top priorities in the district. They plan to provide the service — they have a couple other sites they need to do, as well. The nice thing is [that] a lot of people have talked about the drabness of the [Hoyt] buildings as kind of looking a little unkempt, and it was much more colorful in its past. One of the intents would be to brighten it up again like it used to be in 1957.

The school district has worked very, very well with the preservation community, the City, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and Historic Tacoma. We presently have nine properties on the Register of Historic Places. A number of those have gone through the rehab design review process with the landmarks commission. It’s worth pointing out that although these nominations originated from Historic Tacoma, the school district themselves have actually put a number of buildings up of their own volition. Various districts across the country have various relationships with cities and historic preservation boards. The Tacoma school district has been very pro-active on that front, and I think, in my opinion, has done an excellent job of preserving the assets that are so important to neighborhoods.

To read the Tacoma Daily Index’s complete and comprehensive coverage of Tacoma’s historic schools, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and author of A Reporter At Large: A decade of Tacoma interviews, feature articles, and photographs. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.

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