If you need an idea of what Tacoma looked like before its current development boom, head downtown to the corner of 13th Street and Pacific Avenue.
The picture isn’t pretty.
The hulking, 6-story structure known as the Luzon Building has seen better days: the exterior is battered and bruised, stained by decades of dirt and urban elements; every window (except one, from which a tree grows) is boarded with plywood, and offers an interior view that can only be left to the imagination.
Simply put, the Luzon Building looks war-torn and somewhat ominous — a snapshot of twenty years ago, when it sat in the middle of downtown’s urban blight, home to an adult movie theater, and neighbor to pawn shops and taverns.
This spring, the building’s owner plans to change that picture by restoring much of its original luster. The goal? Create commercial space on Pacific Avenue and Commerce Street entrances (first and second floor), and eight high-end residential units (floors three through six).
According to Andrea Masotti, vice president of Horizon Partners, Inc., which purchased the property (including an adjacent lot) from Pierce County more than a year ago, the structure needs major repair. “The Luzon building has been vacant for about 20 years and suffered severe water damage, having been exposed to the elements for much of that time,” she says. ”Water flowed freely all the way to the first floor, causing that floor to collapse into the basement.”
The building needs a complete seismic upgrade, and most of the interior floors, columns and beams need to be replaced, according to Masotti.
Horizon Partners has experience purchasing and restoring historic buildings. The company will complete work on Hunt-Mottet Lofts at 21st and Pacific Avenue this winter. The project is part of a three-building renovation of historic warehouses downtown. The company has also renovated Old City Hall, as well as the Carlton and Sandberg buildings.
“Our specialization is in renovation,” says Masotti. “We have renovated a number of buildings, and also own a number of historic buildings downtown. If anyone was well-suited to tackle the Luzon Building, it was us.”
Masotti indicated that work on the Luzon Building will begin in a few months, after the Hunt-Mottet Lofts are completed.
According to Reuben McKnight, a preservation officer at the City of Tacoma, the Luzon Building has significant cultural importance. Upon completion in 1891, it represented the Chicago style of architecture, and was the first of four buildings designed by the famous Burnham and Root Architects (another Burnham and Root project, the Fidelity Building in Tacoma, was demolished in 1949), according to McKnight. Only three Burnham and Root buildings remain on the West Coast, and the Luzon is one.
“It has an important pedigree,” adds Masotti.
Over the years, the building was home to an Army & Navy surplus store, barber shop, tea company, furniture warehouse, adult movie theater, Chinese restaurant, and several banks.
It was placed on the Tacoma Historical Register in 1976, and state and national registers in 1980.
While the Luzon sat empty over the years, development around it has boomed — including the new Rainier Pacific Bank headquarters (on the same block), the new convention center (a few blocks east), and the nearby Marriott Hotel (across from the convention center, scheduled to open this spring).
The Luzon Building has seen interest from developers over the years. In February 2000, Seattle hoteliers Greg Waham and Russ Matsenbaugh planned to turn the building into an historic boutique hotel. The pair reached a $280,000 purchase agreement with Pierce County, and put a $5,000 deposit on the building to retain development rights.
The deal fell through, according to Dan Cagle at Pierce County Facilities Management, and the property remained unoccupied. In 2003, Horizon Partners, Inc. expressed interest in the site, which was owned by Pierce County.
For Masotti, the old building had promise.
“When businesses left during the 1970s,” she says, ”rather than tearing down historic buildings, they just remained vacant. Wonderful architectural resources were left in tact. The city has done so many incredible things with the convention center and waterfront. It’s nice being a part of that energy.”
Specific design plans for the Luzon Building are not finalized. The company has a rough schematic and floor plan, and initial designs call for two units on each of the four floors designated for residential occupancy. An elevator will feature doors which open directly into each residence. Horizon Partners has not decided whether the units will be leased or sold.
Masotti’s goal is to restore the building to its original glory — a task she is quick to admit is daunting. “There is virtually nothing left of the interior,” she says. “People must have gotten inside and stolen what was left. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot to work with. We will have to gut it. But the exterior can be cleaned and I think we can restore all of the windows without having to replace them. Our goal is to have the Luzon building completed by the end of the year.”
To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Luzon Building, click on the following links:
- What’s Left of Luzon? Report keeps tabs on demolished building’s artifacts (Tacoma Daily Index, February 22, 2012)
- Sidewalk party marks Luzon Building demolition anniversary (Tacoma Daily Index, September 8, 2010)
- Burnham, Luzon Building featured in PBS documentary (Tacoma Daily Index, September 2, 2010)
- Year In Review: Luzon Building (Tacoma Daily Index, December 22, 2009)
- Luzon art show, fund-raiser to benefit Historic Tacoma (Tacoma Daily Index, December 16, 2009)
- Luzon’s Last Dawn (Tacoma Daily Index, September 26, 2009)
- Downtown’s Lost Block (Tacoma Daily Index, September 23, 2009)
- Luzon will come down Saturday (Tacoma Daily Index, September 22, 2009)
- Luzon’s Tough Lesson (Tacoma Daily Index, September 18, 2009)
- City will demolish 1890s Luzon Building (Tacoma Daily Index, September 15, 2009)
- Luzon’s Dark Legacy (Tacoma Daily Index, July 10, 2009)
- What Looms for Luzon? (Tacoma Daily Index, April 28, 2009)
- Luzon Unlocked (Tacoma Daily Index, August 28, 2008)
- Resolution would facilitate acquisition, renovation of Luzon Building (Tacoma Daily Index, October 29, 2007)
- Renovation in store for Luzon Building: Development of historic site to begin this spring; commercial and residential spaces planned (Tacoma Daily Index, January 13, 2005)
- Pacific Block closer to being sold (Tacoma Daily Index, January 14, 2003)
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.