New timeline for Wedge historic district review

Wedge residents hoping to learn this spring if their neighborhood will be Tacoma’s second residential historic district will have to wait until July.

During the City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting Feb. 11, the commission decided to spend another three months studying the nomination and conducting a survey of Wedge residents to gauge support or opposition for the plan.

Originally, the commission was scheduled to make a decision April 8. If the commission decided to recommend the nomination, that recommendation would have been forwarded to the city’s Planning Commission and, later, City Council. In the end, City Council would make a final decision on the historic district nomination.

That process still exists, but with a new timeline: the landmarks commission won’t make a decision until July 22.

According to Tacoma historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight, the decision to push back the timeline centers on a desire to “better accommodate public comment and allow staff to respond to recent inquiries and requests.

“This is a complicated process,” added McKnight. “But I think this is a much more realistic schedule.”

According to the new timeline, the city will release a public opinion survey to Wedge area property owners May 27, and host a public hearing June 24. Final findings and recommendations from the commission are expected in July.

The “Wedge” neighborhood and the proposed historic district boundaries currently stretch from Sixth Avenue to Division Avenue, and L Street to Sprague Avenue. The neighborhood is within walking distance to Wright Park, the North Slope Historic District, and many of the city’s oldest churches. It also sits in the shadow of MultiCare Health System’s expansive campus.

Though the neighborhood is zoned for residential use (R2SRD — Residential Special Review District), a group of Wedge residents submitted a nomination to City Hall last summer for historic district consideration. The nomination is aimed at further preserving the neighborhood’s character and history and preventing any unforeseen instances similar to the demolition of First United Methodist Church. Three years ago, the congregation sold its 1916 church building to MultiCare for $8 million; it was later demolished to make room for a hospital expansion. The building was located one block from the Wedge neighborhood’s eastern border.


On Feb. 25, the commission will take up an issue that has recently received the most attention: the historic district’s boundaries.

Earlier this month, MultiCare asked that four heritage homes it owns in Tacoma’s “Wedge” neighborhood be excluded from the proposed district boundary.

The Feb. 2 letter (available here — ), written by MultiCare Senior Vice President of Community Services Lois Bernstein to the city’s landmarks preservation commission, 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.

According to the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Web site, the 500 block of South L Street includes nine homes owned by five different individual owners. The homes date back between 1890 and 1906.

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

Under the new timeline, the landmarks commission is expected to select a preferred alternative March 25 and make a final recommendation May 13 regarding district boundaries.


On Sept. 29, MultiCare officials and Wedge residents met to discuss an ongoing effort to designate the Wedge as a historic district. During the 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.”

The future of those four homes was a concern to many residents in attendance. They wanted to know if the hospital planned to renovate or raze the vacant homes. 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.


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.

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 Tacoma Daily Index, “Status Seekers,” 07/03/07).

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.

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

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

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