Tacoma's West Slope: It's a nice neighborhood. But is it historic?

Will Tacoma’s West Slope neighborhood become the city’s next historic district?

That question could be answered later this year as the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission studies the draft version of a 68-page report released this week by the city’s historic preservation office.

On Jan. 25, 2007, the West Slope Neighborhood Coalition (WSNC) submitted a letter to then-Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma requesting the city’s assistance in creating the historic district. In that letter, WSNC chairman David Zurfluh cited development pressures and the loss of several mid-century homes as the reasons for seeking the special designation. “In the past two years, at least two homes have been demolished [and] the resulting new construction is totally incompatible with the existing dominant architecture of the neighborhood,” wrote Zurfluh.

The proposed historic district boundary covers an area known as the “Narrowmoor Addition.” It includes 350 residential homes spread over 259 acres, and stretches from Geiger/Meyer Street on the east, Sunset Drive on the west, Sixth Avenue on the north, and 19th Street on the south. The neighborhood mostly consists of homes built between 1944 and 1947. According to the study, developer Eivind Anderson purchased the land from Northern Pacific executive C.B. White in hopes of building homes that would appeal to American soldiers returning from World War Two. The average home sold for $40,000 and included impressive views of the Tacoma Narrows waterway.

In 2008, Tacoma City Council allocated money for a consultant, Diane J. Painter, PhD of Painter Preservation and Planning, to conduct an architectural survey of the neighborhood. Last month, a public meeting was held to share the consultant’s findings.

In order for the mid-century neighborhood to receive the city’s historic district designation, it would need to meet one or more of the following requirements: it is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of the city’s history; it is associated with the lives of persons significant in the city’s past; it embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; it has yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history; it is part of, adjacent to, or related to an existing or proposed historic district, square, park, or other distinctive area which should be redeveloped or preserved according to a plan based on a historic, cultural, or architectural motif; and it is owing to its unique location or singular physical characteristics, represents an established and familiar visual feature of the neighborhood or city.

“Although it was developed early in the post-war era, it is nonetheless one of many post-war subdivisions and several ‘quality’ post-war subdivisions in the West Slope area,” the report reads. “It is not historically significant. Although it is associated with Eivind Anderson, a local builder and developer, Anderson is one among any number of builders and developers in the region in this post-war period.”

The report also notes that 60 per cent of the homes in an historic district typically retain their historic integrity in order to meet the criteria for most registers of historic places. In the West Slope, approximately 50 per cent of the original buildings have lost their historic integrity. “This means that the Narrowmoor Addition is not eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places or any other register that bases their guidelines on the National Register guidelines,” Painter notes.

The report also notes the neighborhood does not have a connection to events that have made a significant contribution to history, nor does it have a connection to someone of historic significance.

Instead, Painter recommends West Slope residents seek a conservation district designation. “Conservation Districts tend to have more flexible requirements and can be tailored to local needs and concerns,” Painter writes. “They may be appropriate when a community is concerned about community character, but does not want the restrictions of complying with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards or similar local design guidelines. They may be appropriate when a neighborhood wants to control just certain types of change, such as demolition, but is not concerned about design per se. They may also be appropriate where there is a hierarchy of historic buildings or structures, and the neighborhood is concerned about protecting mainly the most ‘important’ buildings, and is less concerned about buildings they consider of secondary importance. They may be appropriate — and this may apply to this area — when certain features such as the site, landscaping, and building form and scale are considered important, but individual design details are considered less important to the neighborhood.”

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). In 2008, residents of Tacoma’s Wedge neighborhood asked City Hall to designate their area an historic district. The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and Planning Commission continue to study the proposal.

For more information about the West Slope proposal, including a copy of the consultant’s report, visit http://www.tacomaculture.org/westslope.asp .

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For earlier Tacoma Daily Index coverage of historic districts, click on the following links:

Status Seekers (07/03/07) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/searchd.cgi?paper=88&paper_id=88&keyword=Matthews&skip=0&tbname=storya&tbname1=storya&searchtype=lname&papername=tacoma&year=0&id=354661 or http://www.wahmee.com/tdi_status_seekers.pdf

Will Tacoma’s Wedge neighborhood go historic? (09/05/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1318920&more=0

A Slice of History: Two meetings will explore Wedge historic district nomination (09/23/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1355266&more=0

MultiCare, Wedge residents discuss hospital expansion, historic district effort (10/02/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1385425&more=0

MultiCare weighs in on Wedge historic district nomination (02/09/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1485714&more=0

Big decision ahead for proposed Wedge historic district (02/11/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1487900&more=0

New timeline for Wedge historic district review (02/18/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1491340&more=0

A Hike through History (03/05/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1502432&more=0

Decision expected this week on preliminary Wedge Historic District boundary (03/24/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1514668&more=0

Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission sets ‘working boundary’ for Wedge Historic District (03/27/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1517636&more=0

A house in the city, a home to neighborhood history (04/16/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1529595&more=0 or http://www.wahmee.com/tdi_walkup_residence.pdf

Another opportunity to weigh in on Wedge historic district proposal (05/21/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1553879&more=0

Wedge Historic District public hearing June 24 (06/19/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1573389&more=0

Wedge residents share support for historic district during public hearing (06/25/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1576698&more=0

Opposing sides emerge in Wedge historic district nomination (06/30/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1579134&more=0

More voices weigh in on Wedge historic district proposal (07/21/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1591525&more=0

Key meetings ahead for Wedge Historic District proposal (02/16/10) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1717406&more=0

Public can weigh in on proposed Wedge Historic District (03/19/10) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1729797&more=0

More voices heard as Wedge Historic District decision nears (03/24/10) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1739504&more=0