What Looms for Luzon?

For local architects and history buffs, the six-story, 119-year-old Luzon Building downtown is a jewel.

Designed by Chicago architecture firm Burnham & Root, it was one of the first high-rise towers on the West Coast, the embodiment of engineering genius — sturdy brick shell, cast iron columns, and wood construction on the upper floors — that allowed the building to top out at a soaring height for 1890s Tacoma. It was an engineering model that would be copied, and opened the door to the future development of “skyscrapers.”

For drivers speeding down South 13th Street toward the Interstate 5 onramp, however, it’s something else: a dingy building that resembles a decayed tooth more than an architectural marvel. Decades of neglect have left the building in a sad state. A size-able tree grows out of one broken window, steel fire escapes appear brittle, and pigeons rest on window ledges.

It has been the subject of on-again, off-again development rumors for at least the last six years.

Once again, the future of the building is up in the air. Last week, Tacoma-based Gintz Group, which bought the building in March 2008, announced it was putting the building up for sale. It could not secure financing to convert the building into Class B leasable historic office space.

In August, Gintz Group project manager Tim Lieberman unlocked the doors and invited the Index inside to take a tour. It was not unlike visiting the “Fight Club” house: paint peeled from most surfaces like skin off a week-old sunburn; holes large enough to crawl through existed in some of the walls; water dripped from too many places to count; and a sheen of dirt covered most windows, affecting a misty glow on most floors. In many areas, floors sank like whirlpools stretching down to the next level. Above us, ceilings comprised of central beams with rib-like planks bowed like giant rib cages.

Despite all the neglect, the building had charm: a 1916 Otis elevator car; and 3,300-square-foot floor plates with large windows offering great natural light.

When the Index spoke with Lieberman, Gintz Group was applying for a federal tax incentive that could total $1 million toward the overall $7.5 million project. Lieberman was optimistic, and Gintz Group had experience renovating the former Mecca Hotel. It was very promising. “We have a responsibility, when you have a building like this, to do the right thing,” he said. “There’s the glory of the building, giving back to Tacoma. Those are key components and we would never look at it purely from an economic perspective.”

Today the building is for sale for $400,000.

Downtown Tacoma's historic Luzon Building. (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Luzon Building, click on the following links:

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.