Letters to City Hall support Tacoma schools landmark nominations

Tacoma's Landmarks Preservation Commission has received a handful of public comments supporting a recent effort to nominate three local public...

Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has received a handful of public comments supporting a recent effort to nominate three local public school buildings to 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 St., 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 nominations were prepared by preservation activist Marshall McClintock on behalf of Historic Tacoma.

Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission conducted a preliminary review of the recent nominations during a public meeting last month. A public hearing on the nominations is scheduled to be held on Weds., Aug. 13, at 5:30 p.m., at Tacoma Municipal Building North, 747 Market St., Room 248, in downtown Tacoma.

According to the agenda and meeting materials prepared for the public hearing this week, the City of Tacoma’s Historic Preservation Office has received several letters and e-mails supporting the nominations.

“This nomination is long overdue,” wrote North Slope Historic District Co-Chair Kathryn Longwell in an Aug. 1 e-mail to City of Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight. “These buildings are part of the historic fabric of Tacoma, were designed by notable architects, and are deserving of placement on the register and whatever protections that provides.”

“These schools are outstanding examples of both Heath and Price’s work for the Tacoma School District and were unfortunately missed in the previous thematic nomination of our historic school buildings,” wrote Tacoma architect Jeffrey J. Ryan in a July 21 e-mail to McKnight. Ryan is a former member of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. “Both Oakland and McKinley are fine examples of Frederick Heath’s unit school design, and were both used in publications regarding new educational buildings at the time of their construction. More importantly, they are both landmarks for their specific neighborhood and a source of neighborhood pride. Hoyt also shares a strong neighborhood affection and was published internationally at the time of its construction for both its school design and the use of plywood constructions. Both Frederick Heath and Robert Price were award-winning designers and architects, and their buildings have proven themselves as worthy examples for preservation for a new generation of Tacomans to enjoy.”

Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello also voiced his support in a March 20 letter to Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. “I am very supportive of this application and I hope that you will consider these applications at a future meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Commission,” wrote Councilmember Mello.

Finally, two years ago, 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, wrote a letter supporting the nomination of Hoyt Elementary School because “it is an outstanding example of modern institutional design and is an excellent example of the work of architect Robert Billsbrough Price, one of Tacoma’s most prolific and prominent designers.”

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.

If you are unable to attend the public hearing on Wednesday, you can submit written comments to the Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission by mail at 747 Market St., Room 345, Tacoma, WA 98402; by fax machine at (253) 591-5433; or by e-mail at landmarks@cityoftacoma.org by Weds., Aug. 13, at 12 p.m.

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 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 first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengerssecond-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State; third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; and third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright. His work has 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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