Tacoma Musical Playhouse purchases, seeks landmark status for shuttered historic church

A church building constructed nearly 90 years ago could soon be added to the City of Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places.

The three-story Epworth LeSourd Methodist Episcopal Church building, located at 710 S. Anderson St. in Central Tacoma, was built in 1926 and served its congregation (which dated back to 1889) until this summer, when a final service was held and the building was put up for sale due to the high cost to maintain the building, as well as declining membership. According to information available on the Pierce County Assessor’s Web site, the building was purchased in August by Tacoma Musical Playhouse (TMP).

The former church building features stained glass windows depicting biblical imagery and a 1.5-story steeple, according to the landmark nomination prepared by TMP Music Director Jeffrey Stvrtecky and TMP Artistic Director Jon Douglas Rake. The church, which could seat 450 parishioners, became known as the ‘Chapel of the Chimes’ when bells were added in 1944.

The Gothic Revival building was constructed in 1926 and designed by architect George W. Bullard, who also designed other landmark Tacoma buildings, including the C.N. Gardener Building (built in 1907, located at 928-930 Broadway Plaza); Hunt-Mottet Warehouse (built in 1907, located at 2109 S. C St.); Provident Building (built in 1903, located at 917 Pacific Ave.), Tacoma Buddhist Church (built in 1931, located at 1717 S. Fawcett Ave.); Tacoma Nash Sales Company Building (built in 1921, located at 933 Market St.); Webster Apartment Building (built in 1904, located at 629 St. Helens Ave.); and the YMCA Building (built in 1909, located at 714 Market St.).

Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled to review the nomination during a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Weds., Oct. 14, at the Tacoma Municipal Building, located at 747 Market St. (Room 248), in downtown Tacoma. Copies of the agenda and meeting materials are available online here.

The Tacoma Daily Index reached out to TMP’s Stvrtecky for more information about why the organization purchased the former church building; any future plans for the building; and why TMP has decided to submit the nomination. This article will be updated when more information is available.

UPDATE | THURS., OCT. 8 @ 11 A.M. — TMP’S Stvrtecky responds via e-mail:

According to the Pierce County Assessor’s Web site, TMP purchased the church building this summer. What are the future plans for the church building? Could the building serve as a venue/home for TMP?

Our plan is to use the building, which we now call The Spire, as a second performing venue for TMP. We have moved our burgeoning education program there. We are holding most of our regular mainstage rehearsals there. We are restarting our Murder Mystery Dinner series. We will offer a series of “second stage” shows that would not be suited to our regular venue at 7116 6th Ave. We also hope to share the building with other arts organizations that may need a performing or rehearsal space.

The building includes over 18,000 square feet. There are four large classrooms. There are several smaller rooms. There is a large social hall with a commercial kitchen. The magnificent Gothic sanctuary with its beautiful stained glass windows seats 250-300. There is a pipe organ and five pianos. We hope to also host weddings in the future.

Why were you and TMP interested in purchasing the former church building?

We have been searching for a second venue for quite some time. Our educational program has reached its capacity at our regular venue. During the summer we had over 200 youth participating in CampTMP. That included five different programs based upon age. Each program presented one to three shows. On one weekend there were 10 shows on our stage at TMP. With a new venue, we will be able to offer up to three different performing spaces for shows. The oldest students will likely perform at TMP and the younger students will be at the new venue at The Spire.

When we learned that the congregation was closing its doors, we acted quickly. The building returned to the possession of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church and they unofficially gave us first right of refusal to purchase the building. It was the desire of the congregation that the building be used for some sort of enrichment to the local community. That is exactly our intention and it became clear that we were a good fit for the building. Our negotiations moved quickly. The PNCUMC offered us generous short-term financing, giving us time to find long-term financing for the purchase. We will be looking for partner investors/donors in the future.

Why have you decided to nominate the building to Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places?

First of all, the founders of TMP have immense respect for historic architecture. They have lovingly restored an 1889 Queen Anne Victorian home in Tacoma. The Spire represents the Gothic revival that swept our country in the early 1900s. Designed by Tacoma architect, George W. Bullard and built by local contractor J.E. Tuell, in 1925/26, the building is magnificent and rich with ornamentation. Other ecclesiastical buildings of Gothic style in Tacoma include: St. Luke’s Episcopal, 602 Broadway, St. Peter’s Episcopal, 2910 North Starr Street, First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 524 South I Street, First United Presbyterian Church, 1619 Sixth Avenue, 6th Avenue Baptist Church, 2520 Sixth Avenue, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 1123 North J Street, Holy Rosary Church, 520 South 30th Street, Central School, 601 South 8th Street and, of course, First Congregational Church, 918 Division Ave, also designed by George W. Bullard.

While we intend to primarily use the building as a rehearsal and performing venue, we have no intention of destroying any of the historical elements of the building’s rich architectural past. It is only fitting that we nominate The Spire to Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places to preserve its place in the history of ecclesiastical buildings of the early 20th century of Tacoma.

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and the author of several books. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.