Wedge neighborhood residents filled a conference room at City Hall yesterday to show their support for a proposal to designate their area an historic district. The residents spoke during a public hearing that was part of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (LPC) regularly scheduled meeting. It was the latest chapter of a process that began nearly a year ago.
Public comment largely consisted of concerns over the impact of a growing hospital campus that borders the Wedge neighborhood. Char Cooper told the commission she feared MultiCare Health System’s medical campus would expand into their neighborhood. “As the hospital encroaches, I have a fear of losing the neighborhood,” said Cooper
P. J. Hummel, a Wedge resident who lives in the 1926 Silas Nelson house and cottage, said she moved to the neighborhood in 1990 and has seen the neighborhood encroached upon by the hospital. “I’m happy to make this an historic district and once and for all get a boundary for residents and know where the hospital can expand,” she said.
“I’m in love with all the things that make our community historic,” said Wedge resident Laurie Hunger. “I’m excited about the whole process. We collected a lot of information and learned a lot of interesting things about our neighborhood.”
Gabrielle Scannell, owner of a 1917 apartment building bordered on three sides by MultiCare, said she supported the historic district, but asked that her building, which was purchased by her husband 20 years ago, be excluded from the boundary. “It’s a commercial investment,” she said. “Right now it is in the Hospital-Medical Zone and we would like to keep it that way.”
Two MultiCare representatives attended the meeting but did not make a public comment.
In addition, letters of support were submitted to the LPC from the North Slope Historic District Board of Directors and the North End Neighborhood Council.
Last month, the city’s historic preservation office mailed approximately 600 notices of the public hearing to Wedge residents and property owners, and other interested parties. The LPC will continue to accept public comment through July 8.
TWO KEY RECOMMENDATIONS
Two important issues exist as to what to exclude and include in the historic district boundary.
First, the designation would exclude a row of homes along the 500 block of South L Street. According to the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Web site, the block includes nine homes owned by five different individual owners. The homes date back between 1890 and 1906. Earlier this year, Paul Post, who owns four homes on the block, told the LPC that he and other owners opposed the historic district nomination if it included the block.
Similarly, MultiCare wrote a letter to the commission arguing the 500 block of South 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.”
The city’s historic preservation officer, Reuben McKnight, has recommended excluding the houses because of the opposition and its disconnect from the rest of the neighborhood. “The commission can reasonably expect that a majority of owners will oppose the nomination,” writes McKnight in a memo to the commission. “[T]his block is isolated from the core district, making it difficult to rationally connect with the core district.”
Second, the recommended alternative would include a block bordered by South 4th and South M Streets. Four homes on that block are owned by MultiCare: three are vacant, and another is leased to a single family. The homes are located at 1216 So. 4th St. (built in 1925); 1218 So. 4th St. (built in 1923); 417 So. M St. (built in 1905); and 407 So. M St. (built in 1908). The block also includes three other homes not owned by MultiCare. One resident, Diane Walkup, owns two homes on the block and has strongly supported the historic district designation.
MultiCare has asked that the four heritage homes be excluded from the proposed district boundary. In a Feb. 2 letter from MultiCare to the LPC, MultiCare Senior Vice President of Community Services Lois Bernstein expressed 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,” added 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.”
But McKnight recommends including the homes. “MultiCare’s stated position is that it does not want properties within its ownership included in the district,” writes McKnight in the same memo. “However, the subject properties are also predominantly historically intact.”
In March, Historic Tacoma, a non-profit organization that aims to preserve Tacoma’s architectural legacy through education and advocacy, submitted a letter to the LPC “applauding” the historic district. “Overall, we are in agreement with the staff memorandum regarding district boundaries provided in the Commission packet for the March 25 meeting,” wrote Brett Santhuff, Vice President of Historic Tacoma’s Board of Directors. “We . . . recommend including the 400 block of South M Street to the alley which is intact, cohesive with the proposed district, and is primarily zoned [residential].”
According to MultiCare spokesperson Todd Kelley, the company supports the residents’ wishes to create a historic district, but it wants some flexibility and control over the properties it owns. “Now that the houses have been included, we have to wait and see,” Kelley told the Index earlier this year.
“The homes have no historical significance,” said John D. Barline, an attorney representing MultiCare, referring to the four MultiCare homes included in the working boundary. “They’re not like the Titlow Mansion or the Mars residence. These are just old homes. They qualify because of their age.”
A NEIGHBORHOOD SLICE OF HISTORY
The Wedge neighborhood is a part of Tacoma that boasts more than 50 homes dating back 80 years or 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 McKnight seeking historic district designation for the area. Though the neighborhood is zoned for residential use (R2SRD — Residential Special Review District), the nomination aims to further preserve the neighborhood’s character and history, and prevent any unforeseen instances similar to the demolition of nearby 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.
According to a cover letter prepared by the subcommittee and included with the application, the group is requesting district status for residential properties, and has 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.
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 — http://www.wahmee.com/tdi_status_seekers.pdf ).
Last year, Historic Tacoma included the Wedge neighborhood in its list of nine architecturally, culturally and historically significant sites on a “Watch List” of endangered historic properties.
A LONG REVIEW PROCESS
The LPC began to review 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 through July. The city’s planning commission will also review the request. On March 4, commissioners met Wedge residents, property owners, and MultiCare officials for a walking tour of the neighborhood. For more information, visit http://www.tacomaculture.org/wedge.asp .
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For earlier Index coverage of the Wedge Historic District nomination, click on the following links/articles:
1. 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
2. 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
3. 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
4. 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
5. 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
6. 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
7. A Hike through History (03/05/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1502432&more=0
8. 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
9. 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
10. 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
11. 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
For coverage of the LPC’s walking tour of the neighborhood, visit http://i.feedtacoma.com/TDI-Reporters-Notebook/walking-wedge-photos-from-neighborhood/ .