More voices weigh in on Wedge historic district proposal

The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) this week will continue to review a request to designate the Wedge neighborhood an historic district.

According to the agenda for the LPC’s July 22 meeting, the commission is expected to recommend the city’s Planning Commission “review and concur with the establishment of a historic special review district overlay zone for the Wedge Neighborhood, and recommends the same to City Council.”

The recommendation follows more than 10 months of review by the LPC, including a walking tour of the neighborhood, public hearing, and an informational mailer sent to 600 Tacoma residents.

Last summer, three Wedge residents submitted the historic district nomination to City Hall. According to the nomination, the Wedge neighborhood is an area of Tacoma that boasts more than 50 homes dating back 80 years or more. It’s also where Tacoma pioneer Aaron Titlow, candy company entrepreneurs Frank and Ethel Mars, and Titanic survivor Anne Kincaid resided. And it is ringed by Wright Park, the North Slope Historic District, and many of the city’s oldest churches.

The proposed district stretches north to south from Division Avenue to Sixth Avenue, and zig-zag in several places along the eastern border: the alley between South L Street and South M Street; the alley between South M Street and South Sheridan Avenue; and a portion of South M Street near Sixth Avenue.

The LPC will discuss the issue Weds., July 22 at 5:00 p.m. in the Tacoma Municipal Building North, 728 St. Helens, Room 16.

On June 24, the commission held a public hearing to collect comments and public testimony on the proposal. Last month, the Index published some of the letters (both in support of and opposition to the designation) submitted to the LPC (“Opposing sides emerge in Wedge historic district nomination,” TDI, 06/30/09 — ). Today, the Index continues that dialogue by publishing some of the public testimony collected during the June 24 hearing.

I. Caroline T. Swope, Preservation Consultant

I just wanted to briefly recap the history of this district, which is so small, and yet it was the home of Ethel and Frank Mars — as in M & M Mars Company. That is where they started their candy empire.

We have the Creso Apartments, which currently serves the Salvation Army for families in distress. That is an early example of a Bungalow Court apartment, which is sort of a Pacific Northwest phenomenon. There are not very many of them left. It might be the only one in Tacoma. It’s the only one that I’m aware of.

There are a number of working class Craftsman cottages in the neighborhood that are in superb condition.

There is the Silas Nelson house, which got quite a lot of national acclaim both for the house and for the little cottage that he built to live in while he was working on the house.

There is the Titlow Mansion owned by Aaron Titlow. There are quite a few larger houses, which represent really the movers and the shakers of that community as it was coming together.

But then there are also a few apartment buildings, which really represent early commercial apartment structures in the city. There is the Berg Apartments, which was constructed by Gust Berg who also lived on M Street.

You have a lot of people that not only lived in that neighborhood, they worked in that neighborhood. You see the same contractors over and over. A lot of Scandinavian carpenters worked in that neighborhood. The Swedish were known for their fine woodworking skills. You have examples of that in the one Wedge house that is currently on the historic register on Fifth Street. It is definitely a good time to become more familiar with some of the history. There is a lot of great stuff in that neighborhood.

II. Bill Sawaya, Wedge resident

My name is Bill Sawaya and I’ve been living [in the Wedge neighborhood] with my wife and two kids and one on the way for about 10 years now. We’ve enjoyed the neighborhood. When we first moved in, the area was kind of sketchy. The City has done a great job in cleaning up the crime and the other things that go on around there.

I, too, was an employee of MultiCare. We moved into that area because of the hospital. Since being an employee I have seen MultiCare growth, which is good for the City and for the area. It serves as one of the best trauma centers for Pierce County and the region. But their growth has also encroached onto the neighborhood. I would encourage you to forward this to the City and recommend us becoming a historic area. We need to set boundaries. Now is the time to do that. I implore you to make that decision.

III. P.J. Hummel, Wedge resident

I am a long-term resident of the Wedge area; we moved in there in 1990. We bought the Silas Nelson house, he was a local architect, he built our little cottage in 1926. It was listed in House and Garden as a “tiny tot of a house with all of the amenities that you would need.” The main house, built in 1930, was voted one of the “10 Beautiful Homes in Tacoma” in 1930. My husband and I bought the house because it was very untouched. It was in beautiful condition. We’ve worked as good stewards to try to restore it and to keep it in good condition.

In the last 19 years, I have watched the neighborhood, you know, flex. It has been encroached on by the hospital development. I think it was about 10 years ago that they wanted to build a parking garage and it was going to disrupt the flow from Fifth Street to the park. We were told it was always going to be left open for residents and that we would have access; that turned out to be a parking garage elevator and a urine filled stairwell that you wouldn’t want to bring your dog down to get to the park. Right now, it is totally inaccessible. A beautiful church in our neighborhood was torn down.

I’m hoping we can make this an historic district and once and for all set the boundaries of what is for residents and where the hospital might expand.

IV. Mary Martin-Caporeya, Wedge residents

My name is Mary Martin-Caporeya. My husband and I are new residents, so please don’t hate me for what I am about to say. We are new residents, we haven’t had an opportunity to work on our house, which desperately needs some exterior changing. We are also both MultiCare employees, so that pays our bills. We love our employer. We understand growth in the community and things that need to be done for the community.

What we are asking is for more clarification. We don’t support this currently because of a lack of information. We have not had the time frame as everyone else has had. But, we do believe our neighborhood is beautiful and so we’ll go with what the final decision is made but we just ask for a little bit more time.

V. Paul Bert, 13-year Wedge resident

I would encourage the council to go ahead and endorse this because our neighborhood needs protection. We have the hospital sneaking in on one side and we’re kind of in between two very busy streets. We need some kind of protection from the hospital. Immediately south of us there are a lot of derelict properties that don’t seem to be changing at all. I think we should be an historic district.

VI. Diane Walkup, Wedge resident

I live on M Street. It is a very special block and the last residential block before the MultiCare campus. I live right behind a surface parking lot. Now, in the years since I’ve lived there I’ve seen a lot of houses torn down. In their places are either buildings or parking lots.

I think it’s time to take a stand. This has been a difficult decision. I have considered many things. Sell to MultiCare, get rich. I made a bunch of money one time selling to a developer which enabled me to get out of debt. But it is interesting. It didn’t bring me happiness. What really brings me happiness is a feeling of community. And I get a lot of that from my neighborhood. Very special people live here. We really feel like a cohesive unit. I think as such with our great gifts we have to offer, huge heritage trees, and historic houses that offer MultiCare a lot since we are contiguous to their campus. That is an asset for MultiCare.

I ask that MultiCare support this historic landmark designation of the Wedge. I think they actually have a lot to gain. It shows there can be a new relationship going forward. MultiCare said in writing they want to have a cutting edge relationship. Here is a wonderful way to manifest that. I can even see them, if they decide not to sell and put the four homes [they own] back on the market, three of which have been vacant for three years, I can see a use for them, for MultiCare to use those historic houses.

It is only the outside that needs to stay historic. You can remodel inside. I could even see that you could have a little Bed and Breakfast place for patients’ families. You could have a museum. I just see a lot of positive scenarios.

There is an apartment building at the end of my block which I love. That is an investment for the owners, and I honor that. That apartment building is zoned differently. It is zoned hospital-medical.

I can see the value of that building actually increased if it were to be included in the historic district. I really care about those people and I love their tenants and a lot of them have been my good friends. I guess I just want to point this out because I support the historic district and I support those people too because they have been wonderful landlords.


Stats show support for Wedge historic district

According to the city’s historic preservation office, a postcard mailer was sent May 27 to approximately 600 recipients with notification of a public hearing June 24 and a business-reply postcard questionnaire regarding a proposal to designate the Wedge neighborhood and historic district.

Here are statistics related to the mailer:

— The LPC received 36 responses to the postcard mailer. Of these responses, approximately 58 per cent were received from owners of residential property owners, 22 per cent from residents outside the proposed district, eight per cent from renters, two per cent from business owners, and the remainder from those who self-identified as “other.”

— Of the above, 67 per cent of the responses were supportive of the proposed district, 14 per cent opposed, with 11 per cent indicating that there was not enough information to decide, and six per cent neutral;

— Twenty-three postcard responses were received from property owners within the proposed boundaries. Of these responses, 61 per cent were supportive, 22 per cent opposed, with 13 per cent indicated a need for more information, and four per cent were neutral;

— A total of 15 written comments were received before, during, and after the public hearing, in both letter and email form. Of these comments, five were generally in support, four were generally in opposition, and six related to specific policy areas in the proposal, such as boundaries;

— Twelve people provided testimony on record at the Commission’s public hearing June 24.

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For earlier Index coverage of the Wedge Historic District nomination, click on the following links/articles:

1. Will Tacoma’s Wedge neighborhood go historic? (09/05/08) —

2. A Slice of History: Two meetings will explore Wedge historic district nomination (09/23/08) —

3. MultiCare, Wedge residents discuss hospital expansion, historic district effort (10/02/08) —

4. MultiCare weighs in on Wedge historic district nomination (02/09/09) —

5. Big decision ahead for proposed Wedge historic district (02/11/09) —

6. New timeline for Wedge historic district review (02/18/09) —

7. A Hike through History (03/05/09) —

8. Decision expected this week on preliminary Wedge Historic District boundary (03/24/09) —

9. Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission sets ‘working boundary’ for Wedge Historic District (03/27/09) —

10. A house in the city, a home to neighborhood history (04/16/09) — or

11. Another opportunity to weigh in on Wedge historic district proposal (05/21/09) —

12. Wedge Historic District public hearing June 24 (06/19/09) —

13. Wedge residents share support for historic district during public hearing (06/25/09) —

14. Opposing sides emerge in Wedge historic district nomination (06/30/09) —

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For coverage of the LPC’s walking tour of the neighborhood, visit .

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For more information about the Wedge historic district, visit .

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