MultiCare weighs in on Wedge historic district nomination

MultiCare Health System has asked that four heritage homes it owns in Tacoma’s “Wedge” neighborhood be excluded from an effort under way to designate the neighborhood a historic district, according to a letter submitted to the City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

In the Feb. 2 letter (available here — ), MultiCare Senior Vice President of Community Services Lois Bernstein expresses the hospital’s “concerns about the Wedge Historic District application, its boundaries, and its potential impact on our long-term ability to continue to respond to the growing health care needs of the region.”

“It is our position that the Wedge Historic District should follow current zoning boundaries and exclude any MultiCare-owned properties,” writes Bernstein. “As such, we believe the Wedge Historic District should not include any areas that are currently zoned as Hospital Medical and should also be redrawn so as not to include any MultiCare-owned properties.”

The letter also states the 500 block of L Street should be left out of the Wedge Historic District since “it is apparent that the owners of the majority of the properties therein are absentee/investor owners and do not wish their properties to be a part of the Historic District.”

Of the four homes owned by MultiCare, three are vacant, and another is leased to a single family. The vacant homes, which sit in the shadow of MultiCare’s sprawling hospital campus, are located at 1216 So. 4th St. (built in 1925); 1218 So. 4th St. (built in 1923); and 417 So. M St. (built in 1905); MultiCare is leasing the fourth home, located at 407 So. M St. (built in 1908), to a single family.

The letter also includes a map with revised boundaries that would exclude the four homes.

The information comes approximately four months after MultiCare officials and Wedge residents met to discuss an ongoing effort to designate the Wedge as a historic district.

During that Sept. 29 meeting, hospital officials shared the company’s master plan and indicated the hospital’s $400 million expansion plans do not extend beyond property the hospital currently owns.

But residents wanted to know the fates of the hospital’s heritage homes. Some wanted to see the three vacant homes renovated and put on the market, or perhaps made available to visiting doctors who work at one of MultiCare’s medical facilities.

The biggest concern centered on the two-story home located at 417 So. M St. According to Rick Booth, MultiCare’s vice president of operations, an engineer assessed the home and determined it was in bad shape. “The foundation is bad, the structure is bad,” Booth said at the meeting. “The inside of the house needs to be completely re-done.”

Wedge resident Ross Buffington noted that MultiCare’s master plan for the next 25 years did not impact the four homes. “Meanwhile, the home that is sitting there at 417 So. M St. is being demolished by neglect,” said Buffington. “It’s sitting there rotting away. It’s a very nice home. I guess I don’t understand. If the neighborhood is zoned residential, what could you possibly do with those properties? Why not put them on the market and make them part of our neighborhood again?”

Wedge resident Diane Walkup, who lives next door to the vacant house, said a leak in the home’s roof has allowed rainwater to collect. She was concerned the house would be demolished due to long-term neglect. “I’m pleading that you do something to prevent that leak from getting worse,” she said. “To tear that house down, it will alienate me forever.”

Wedge resident Tracy Karro also said she would like to see MultiCare’s homes restored. “There’s a generation that wants to live in the community they serve,” she said. “When people live in the community they serve, they become more committed. If you actually remodel those homes and have them purposed for a new physician or a nurse family, in the long run you are going to profit.”

According to Booth, the homes were purchased at a time when MultiCare was “trying to expand our footprint. That’s what we were trying to do.” He added that plans for the homes are not final. “Now it’s a matter of should we hold on [to the homes] or sell,” he said.

Originally, the four homes owned by MultiCare fell within the proposed historic district boundary. But the Feb. 2 letter asks for those homes to be excluded.

The Wedge neighborhood is a part of Tacoma that boasts more than five dozen homes dating back 80 years and more. It’s also where Tacoma pioneer Aaron Titlow, candy company entrepreneurs Frank and Ethel Mars, and Titanic survivor Anne Kincaid resided. And its ringed by Wright Park, the North Slope Historic District, and many of the city’s oldest churches.

The area stretches from Sixth Avenue to Division Avenue, and L Street to Sprague Avenue giving it the “Wedge” neighborhood nickname.

On June 27, the Tacoma Wedge Association Historic Subcommittee submitted an application to the city’s historic preservation officer seeking historic district designation for the area. According to the application:

— The Wedge neighborhood includes 67 residential homes built between 1889 and 1928;

— The most unique residential home is the Titlow Mansion, which was built in 1899 and was home to Aaron Titlow, who built Washington State’s first tidewater hotel;

— Homes boast a range of architectural styles, such as Victorian, Craftsman, Foursquare, Dutch Colonial, and Cape Cod.

According to a cover letter prepared by the subcommittee and included with the application, the group is requesting district status for residential properties, and have asked that commercial and non-residential buildings be excluded should the area receive the designation.

“We believe that the Wedge area has historic relevance and should be considered to have merit in the establishment of a Tacoma Wedge Historical District,” the letter states.
The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission began reviewing the nomination Sept. 10. Since then, the commission has held a series of public meetings to discuss several elements of the application, such as district boundaries, buildings inventory, and the neighborhood’s historic significance. The process is expected to continue into this spring. The city’s planning commission will also review the request.

The nomination is partly aimed at preserving the neighborhood’s character and history in light of a recent demolition of a 90-year-old church, and concern over future demolition and development.

In May 2006, the congregation of First United Methodist Church sold its 1916 church building to MultiCare for $8 million. It was later demolished to make room for the hospital’s expansion. The building was located one block from the Wedge neighborhood’s eastern border, at 423 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Five historic districts exist in Tacoma. Three are listed on the local Tacoma Register (Old City Hall, Union Depot / Warehouse, and North Slope); four are listed on the National Register (Old City Hall, Union Depot / Warehouse, North Slope, and Stadium / Seminary); and four are listed on the Washington Heritage Register (Old City Hall, Union Depot / Warehouse, North Slope, and Salmon Beach).

In 1999, an effort to create a historic district in the city’s Old Town neighborhood failed after some homeowners feared the designation would limit their abilities to modify or develop their properties.

In 2007, a small group of homeowners in the city’s Whitman area began an effort to create a historic district in their neighborhood (see TDI, “Status Seekers,” 07/03/07).

When the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission first met to review the nomination in September, the issue of whether Wedge neighbors would battle against MultiCare and its expansion plans was one notable item of discussion.

“I’m sure the hospital has huge influence,” said landmarks preservation commissioner Fred King during the meeting. “They can be a formidable opponent.” King wondered if there was another way to preserve the neighborhood “without getting into a head-on dogfight.”

Commissioner and Wedge resident Buffington responded that the neighborhood has developed a good working relationship with MultiCare in recent years. “They have listened to our concerns about parking and houses they currently own,” said Buffington, who has excused himself from voting on the issue because he serves on the landmarks preservation commission and lives in the Wedge neighborhood. “I don’t think it’s all us against them. I appreciate the concern, but I don’t see it as David-versus-Goliath.”

Last year, Historic Tacoma, a non-profit organization that aims to preserve Tacoma’s architectural legacy through education and advocacy, included the Wedge neighborhood in its list of nine architecturally, culturally and historically significant sites on a “Watch List” of endangered historic properties.

The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will discuss the Wedge nomination during its meeting Weds., Feb. 11 at 5:00 p.m. The meeting will be held at 728 St. Helens, Tacoma Municipal Building North, Room 16. For more information, visit .

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For additional Index coverage of the Wedge historic district proposal, click on the following links:

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

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