Historic preservationists deem McKinley Elementary School endangered

Historic Tacoma, a non-profit organization that advocates for the protection and preservation of the city's historic buildings and architectural heritage,...

Historic Tacoma, a non-profit organization that advocates for the protection and preservation of the city’s historic buildings and architectural heritage, has announced it has placed the 105-year-old McKinley Elementary School on its Watch List of endangered properties.

Citing “neighborhood concern, the building’s vacancy for the past two years, and its uncertain future,” Historic Tacoma hopes the action raises awareness for the building, which is located at 3702 E. McKinley Ave.

According to Tacoma Public Schools, McKinley Elementary School is one of the oldest schools in the district. Before opening at its current location in 1908, the school’s students and teachers gathered inside a two-room school house for two years in another part of the city. Although it was renovated four times between 1910 and 1970, the school board voted in May 2011 to close the school in an effort to close a budget shortfall.

“The American Renaissance style structure, at the prominent intersection of McKinley Avenue and South 38th Street, is an anchor for the McKinley Hill neighborhood and a source of pride for generations of students and teachers,” wrote a Historic Tacoma spokesperson in an e-mail Oct. 13 announcing its decision to deem the building endangered. “When Stewart Middle School closes for rehabilitation in the fall of 2015, McKinley will house its students through the following spring. But McKinley’s fate is uncertain after mid-2016.”

The future of McKinley Elementary School has been a concern for local historic preservationists since 2006, when the City of Tacoma’s landmarks preservation commission completed a report that concluded 14 school-owned buildings (and one building owned by the Puyallup Tribe) might be eligible for historic landmark designation, and organized those buildings by high, medium, and low priorities. The report listed McKinley Elementary School as a high-priority building.

Three years ago, six historic schools included in the report were added to Tacoma’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. They joined Stadium High School, Lincoln High School, and Washington Hoyt Elementary School as historic landmarks.

Historic Tacoma currently includes eight properties and one neighborhood on its Watch List of endangered properties: First Congregational Church; Brewery District; Elks Lodge; John R. Rogers Elementary; Old City Hall; University-Union Club; Hoyt Elementary; Browne’s Star Grill and Pochert Building; and McKinley Elementary School.

More information is available online at historictacoma.org.

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To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of Historic Tacoma, its Watch List of endangered properties, and Tacoma’s historic schools, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.

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