April might have seemed cruel to T.S. Eliot, but it's September that's got Washington's historic preservation community in the dumps. Last month was the "perfect storm for preservation," according to Chris Moore of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation in Seattle. Fire, neglect, old age, development, and bad judgment all conspired with the Great Recession to help bring down, damage, or severely stress a number of landmarks and historic structures.
Moore is keeper of the Trust's "most endangered" list that tracks important structures that ought to be saved. It's not surprising that some on the list would become extinct, but Moore can't remember another month like this past September for so much bad news around the state. Here's a (partial) list of the dead and wounded:
The Luzon Building in Tacoma: Described by Tacoma preservationists as "one of the city's foremost architectural treasures," this landmark was demolished by the city ostensibly for safety reasons. Designed and built in 1891 by the one of the most important architectural firms of the 19th century, Burnham and Root (they oversaw the 1893 Columbian Exposition), the Luzon was a six-story building with an incredible pedigree that played a role in the development of the skyscraper. Burnham and Root designed it with a steel structure that was key to being able to construct taller buildings. The Luzon was a rarity that played a key role in the history of architecture and modern cities, and was recognized on city, state, and national registers.
The owners and preservationists worked hard on a rehab plan; permits and tax credits were in hand, but financing couldn't be found thanks to the recession. It was structurally weakened, so the city of Tacoma demolished the Luzon on Sept. 26. Despite having survived the Nisqually quake (and others) it was deemed a public safety hazard, though some preservationists and consultants believe the risks were exaggerated and that it could have been saved. The money used to demolish it, for example, might have instead been used to shore it up, some argued. The net result of demolition was a huge loss for Tacoma and preservation in general. Wrote Tacoma's preservation-minded columnist Peter Callaghan, "Demolition does great legal and psychological damage to Tacoma's preservation ethic." If you can't save the Luzon, what can you save? The reverberations could be felt far outside the City of Destiny.
Waitsburg Mill: On Sept. 6, the founding structure of the southeastern Washington town of Waitsburg went up in flames, the 1865 historic mill that gave birth to the agricultural community that surrounds it. Not far from Walla Walla, Waitsburg is a charming rural burg with a Mark Twain feel that has been undergoing a revival from wine and food — think of it as a mini-Eastern Washington Port Townsend. The mill was made of irreplaceable fir and heartwood, and the city was preparing to restore it. It was placed on the state's endangered list in 2005. The 144-year-old building, the town's most important historic structure, was gone in an hour.
Paul Thiry church: The timber town of Shelton in Mason County is also home of St. Edward's Catholic Church, a 1930s building designed by Paul Thiry, who has been dubbed the "father of Northwest modernism." This is an earlier example of his work and local preservationists have been working hard to save the old Norman-style sanctuary (a new church has been built elsewhere). The Washington Trust put the church on its 2009 endangered list. Mason County is buying the property from the Catholic Church, but on condition that it be demolished first. Preservationists with a rescue plan raised some $150,000, according to Chris Moore, and proposed converting the site into a community resource for day care and local arts, but the city of Shelton issued a demolition permit on Sept. 19 and its destruction is imminent. Mason County has no immediate plans for the property but has been assembling parcels for a county office campus as part of a long-range plan.
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