On Sept. 26, a crowd gathered at dawn to watch contractors begin to demolish the 119-year-old Luzon Building in downtown Tacoma. According to the City of Tacoma, the historically significant building was deemed a safety hazard for fear it would collapse after decades of neglect, and a demolition order was issued.
Designed by famed Chicago architects John Wellborn Root and Daniel Hudson Burnham, the Luzon Building 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.”
More striking than its storied and recorded history, however, is the symbol of what the building represented. It was an artifact of a period of misguided public policy in Tacoma and the nation. In the name of “Urban Renewal,” dozens of Luzon-era buildings along Pacific Avenue were razed and replaced by parking lots and garages. Today, the stretch of Pacific Avenue between 13th Street and 9th Street is one of the ugliest areas of the center city.
In 2008, the Index went inside the building. 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. Ceilings comprised of central beams with rib-like planks bowed like giant rib cages.
In an editorial published in the Index, Historic Tacoma Board President Sharon Winters commented, “We mourn the loss of the Luzon, the City’s most significant architectural treasure. But we must take the lessons learned from this and the demolition of First United Methodist Church in 2007 and put policies and incentives in place to preserve significant historic structures which have just recently come to be regarded as assets.”
To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Luzon Building, click on the following links:
- What’s Left of Luzon? Report keeps tabs on demolished building’s artifacts (Tacoma Daily Index, February 22, 2012)
- Sidewalk party marks Luzon Building demolition anniversary (Tacoma Daily Index, September 8, 2010)
- Burnham, Luzon Building featured in PBS documentary (Tacoma Daily Index, September 2, 2010)
- Year In Review: Luzon Building (Tacoma Daily Index, December 22, 2009)
- Luzon art show, fund-raiser to benefit Historic Tacoma (Tacoma Daily Index, December 16, 2009)
- Luzon’s Last Dawn (Tacoma Daily Index, September 26, 2009)
- Downtown’s Lost Block (Tacoma Daily Index, September 23, 2009)
- Luzon will come down Saturday (Tacoma Daily Index, September 22, 2009)
- Luzon’s Tough Lesson (Tacoma Daily Index, September 18, 2009)
- City will demolish 1890s Luzon Building (Tacoma Daily Index, September 15, 2009)
- Luzon’s Dark Legacy (Tacoma Daily Index, July 10, 2009)
- What Looms for Luzon? (Tacoma Daily Index, April 28, 2009)
- Luzon Unlocked (Tacoma Daily Index, August 28, 2008)
- Resolution would facilitate acquisition, renovation of Luzon Building (Tacoma Daily Index, October 29, 2007)
- Renovation in store for Luzon Building: Development of historic site to begin this spring; commercial and residential spaces planned (Tacoma Daily Index, January 13, 2005)
- Pacific Block closer to being sold (Tacoma Daily Index, January 14, 2003)
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.