Will Tacoma's Wedge neighborhood go historic?

It’s a part of Tacoma that boasts more than five dozen homes dating back 80 years and 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.

But is the neighborhood historic?

That question will begin to be answered next week, when the City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected to learn more about a request made by a neighborhood association that wants to see the area that stretches from Sixth Avenue to Division Avenue, and L Street to Sprague Avenue (known as the “Wedge” neighborhood) receive historic district designation.

According to City of Tacoma historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight, an application completed by the Tacoma Wedge Association Historic Subcommittee reached his office June 27. The application, which the Index obtained this week, totals several hundred pages, and includes maps, photographs, archival news clippings, and a summary outlining the neighborhood’s historic significance. Among the highlights:

— The Wedge neighborhood includes 67 residential homes built between 1889 and 1928;

— The most unique residential home is the Titlow Mansion, which was built in 1899 and was home to Aaron Titlow, who built Washington State’s first tidewater hotel;

— Homes boast a range of architectural styles, such as Victorian, Craftsman, Foursquare, Dutch Colonial, and Cape Cod.

According to a cover letter prepared by the subcommittee and included with the application, the group is requesting district status for residential properties, and have 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. The Index attempted to contact two members of the subcommittee for further comment, but they could not be reached.

According to McKnight, the commission will discuss the topic as a non-action item during its meeting Sept. 10. “It’s been a long time since we designated a historic district,” he added. “We’re going to be presenting a recommended schedule for reviewing the application.”

That schedule includes a series of meetings to discuss several elements of the application, such as district boundaries, buildings inventory, and the neighborhood’s historic significance. The public will be notified of all meetings throughout the process, which is expected to extend through next spring, according to McKnight. The city’s planning commission will also review the request.

“All of the documentation for the historic district was completed by the neighborhood association,” says McKnight. Though a consideration of a new historic district is spurred by either the landmarks commission or City Council, the initial request must come from residents.

Historic district designation could provide some protection against demolition in and around the neighborhood.

In May 2006, the congregation of First United Methodist Church sold its 1916 church building to MultiCare Health System for $8 million. It was later demolished to make room for the hospital’s expansion. The building was located one block from the Wedge neighborhood’s eastern border, at 423 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

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.

Last year, 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).

The landmarks preservation commission will discuss the Wedge area historic district application during its meeting Weds., Sept. 10 at 5:00 p.m. at 728 St. Helens, Tacoma Municipal Building North, Room 16. For more information, visit http://www.tacomaculture.org/historic/home.asp .

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For the Index’s earlier coverage of creating historic districts in Tacoma, click here: 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