Imagine Tacoma – My Favorites (so far)

With a recent call to discuss buildings, urban spaces and vistas in Downtown Tacoma that are a positive contribution to the City, here are a few for consideration:

Something Old
Old City Hall: Exceptional Building. If only it was not 95% vacant and had a clock and chime that worked (I miss the bells – even when they were 5 minutes late). And in the early morning sunlight – FANTASTIC.

Something New
Interior of TAM: This is really an exceptional design for a challenging site. While there may be issues with the coldness of the exterior (especially when combined with the barren plaza across Pacific Avenue), the warmth and spaciousness of the interior is a most welcome respite. Add in the framed views back to the City, and it really ties into the soul of Tacoma. With just a little more exterior TLC – see Prairie TAM Companion – this is a building that could be banging on all cylinders.

Something Borrowed
View down Court A (between 11th and 12th – looking South): Every time I walk down this alley, I am transported to another City. Where am I? Is it Toronto? Is this Brussels? Is it Totem Court Road in London? (and this past week’s film crew only adding to the illusion). The combination of the historic Post Office (whose alley façade I believe is the superior elevation), the collection of 19th c. buildings along Pacific Avenue, and the end vista of a classic SOM Building of the 1970’s. Takes me away every time – just wish the alley was narrower.

Something Blue
Juxtaposition of Mount Rainier: Doesn’t matter what the building or structure is, when Mount Rainier is in the frame, it makes the view all the better – even the grain elevator on Schuster Parkway.

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tom waits

I agree with the comments regarding the <span class=“caps”>TAM</span> interior.  I especially appreciate the view framed to the south from the education room looking on the dome of Union Station and Pacific Avenue.  It is one of the best urban views of historic downtown, and is a clear acknowledgement by the designer of the importance of Tacoma’s historic character.  The really poor component of the design on the interior is the administrative space – yuck!

The one other item I find frustrating is that there are really few pedestrian connections between the west and east (parking garage) levels.  Getting east-west in downtown Tacoma is a chronic problem in part due to the superblock and topography, and so the <span class=“caps”>TAM</span> issue here is not atypical.

October 23, 2008 at 10:03 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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The Old City Hall bldg is hardly a pleasant environment in which to work. There is one organization still renting, it’s the <span class=“caps”>AIDS</span> Foundation. Its unsafe and creepy, (the building, not the Foundation) Three vacant floors above, in various states of remodel and decay.

A walk through the old jail protion of the basement will raise the hairs on your neck, lights on or off!

Apparently the Foundation has a water tight lease and can’t vacate without legal trouble, it’s too bad. In my opinion, the bldg needs a few million to renovate, or bring the sucker down!

October 23, 2008 at 11:24 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

you cant tear down the old city hall!  you’re smoking crack!

the post office is one of my serious favorite buildings.  I’ll be sad when it is not a post office anymore.  In fact I will feel downright bitter.  maybe start to cling to things…  like gum and religions.

dont take away my favorite post office.  dont do it.

October 23, 2008 at 8:11 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

About 30 years ago some bright spark had the idea to convert Old City Hall into Old City Mall. That time period also included a mall conversion of the corner building across the alley from the Rialto Theatre. And also notable from that cultural peak of Tacoma was the promenade par excellence “Broadway Plaza.” (Oh, to be young again in Tacoma’s golden era..”)

Anyway, that photo of Old City Hall is quite striking, and the view in person is equally striking. But please, anybody, don’t ask me to explain why such a unique, dominant feature of the cityscape is vacant. Ask me why the Luzon is vacant. But please, do not ask me why Old City Hall is vacant.

October 23, 2008 at 9:31 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

are there no kindly hunchbacks in tacoma to occupy and maintain that clocktower? 

you suck old city hall developers!

October 23, 2008 at 11:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

also I believe thorax o’tool owes us all a recount of his favorite buildings with photo documented accompaniment

October 23, 2008 at 11:17 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

@Tacoma Art Museum

the design of the Tacoma Art Museum reminds me of those apples you get at Halloween where some sick bastard shoves a razor blade into the center…  only with the Tacoma Art Museum the Razor blade is the outside and the apple part is on the inside. 

The result is still a pretty sick joke.

October 23, 2008 at 11:20 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Being an outsider and only living here a few years, the fact that Tacoma has all these treasures like the Elks, City Hall, the post office, the most beautiful churches on the west coast, etc (I could go on) and just lets them sit around being run down or vacant has always made me curious.  Do you natives not know what you have to work with here?  Has it all beeen taken for granted?  Where’s the team of folks saving these places?  Where’s <span class=“caps”>THAT</span> gentrificaton?  Don’t wait until it’s too late. They’re wonderful!

Let’s imagine for a minute that Tacoma never bulldozed or neglected some of these items.  What a town!  I mean, all the old buildings that would still be here, all the nice neighborhoods in great condition, a trolly system, stores, venues.  I mean, this would be one helluva attraction.  It’s not too late for some places and parts of town.

Tacoma has “good bones” but noone seems to keep thier properties up to snuff.  That includes the city with it’s streets and urban projects.  Tacomas biggest problem is <span class=“caps”>MAINTENANCE</span>.

October 24, 2008 at 7:51 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Douglas Tooley

If I might add one more to the list – the Tacoma Dome.

Sure, it’s more ‘Joe the Plumber’ than high brow art, but the two aren’t completely exclusive, and, <span class=“caps”>FWIW</span> the T-Dome brings a heck of a lot more people to town.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the ‘setting’ for this jewel – some will perceive it as blighted – a negative feedback loop to which Tacoma is quite vulnerable.

Me thinks though that this is a solvable problem, and perhaps every bit as important as UW-T and Urban Waters to the future of Tacoma.

October 24, 2008 at 11:14 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

also I believe thorax o’tool owes us all a recount of his favorite buildings with photo documented accompaniment

Ask and ye shall receive… after work.

I’ll add my thoughts tomorrow after I get home.

October 24, 2008 at 10:57 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

First on my list:

The Washington Building.

Built in 1920, at 214 feet tall it was T-Town’s tallest for a generation.

Stylistically, it’s pretty classical with faux ionic columns and what _looks_like marble cladding (I’m not sure what it actually is).

The design is reminiscent of the great early scrapers of the 20th century, such as the Flatiron bldg in <span class=“caps”>NYC</span>.

It’s tough to beat towers of this era for craftsmanship and attention to fine details. Look at this wave pattern by the 4th floor.

Nothing modern comes close to this level of detail.

October 25, 2008 at 9:15 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

The current City Hall, former Rhodes Medical Arts Bldg.

Built in 1931, rises 233 feet above Market Street.

It’s a classic and very prominent example of Art Deco architecture in town. The warm, earthy sandstone contrasts with the severe vertical lines. All over it are classic Deco designs

Both industrial and imposing as well as organic in materials and colors, this building is one of my favorites of any city I’ve been in. It’s just too bad the proposed second tower was never built.

October 25, 2008 at 9:26 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

The Labor Ready Building.

Built in 1912.

Nothing about this classic beauty looks bad.

October 25, 2008 at 9:37 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

Columbia Bank.

Built in 2001, it’s the only modern class A office tower in town…. for now ;)

I particularly like the staggered wall of glass.

I also like the way it comes at you on I-705… kinda like a tall ship!

More buildings I like tomorrow, after work.

October 25, 2008 at 9:49 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

Mr. Thorax O’Tool thanks for the posts.  I have a new appreciation for these buildings. 

More more!

October 25, 2008 at 10:00 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

More tomorrow… it’s off to be now so I can show up to work on time.

And in the meantime, enjoy this little sneak peak… it features 2 buildings I’ll highlight tomorrow.

October 25, 2008 at 10:29 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

Next up on the agenda… the oft-overlooked gem on the corner of 9th and A. Considering the one way direction of A street and the freeway onramp, this building gets overlooked.

I particularly dig this side… it reminds me of something out of New Orleans

And of course, on the other side the orcas. This side gets seen more than the other. I really like this mural. It is far better than a blank wall.

But considering how the building is ornate on one side, it’s obvious it had a neighbor years ago where that parking lot now wastes space.

Anyone who reads 133 old enough to remember what was there?

October 26, 2008 at 10:44 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

It’s the largest single building to go up in T-Town during the Great Housing Boom. It might be a bland color and 19% empty, but I like the Esplanade.

It makes an interesting and very noticeable mark on the Foss. Especially from the other side, in the Port.

While the rooftop “plaza” on like the 3rd floor isn’t supposed to be used as such, I promise anyone with balcony access to it will be tempted…

The massing is pretty good, and doesn’t look too imposing.

The angles are strange and wonderful. This is a good building to look up at.

October 26, 2008 at 11:08 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

The shortest of Tacoma’s “Talls”, the Tacoma Financial Center (built in 1984) barely eeks past 200’. Originally planned to be 22 stories, I think it would have been more impressive.

But what we got is still very good. It is my favorite high rise in T-town… just barely beating out the Washington Bldg.

It’s geometric, symmetrical, has an unusual color combination and uses concrete juxtaposed on the glass.

From some angles, the odd glass colors will look like a checkerboard or like stripes from others.

The building unfortunately isn’t as dominant as it should be and thus gets lost between the Murano and Wells Fargo.

At night, the lighting is very attractive. It reminds me of something out of Gotham City. I can almost picture Batman standing at top.

Part of what I like about this tower is the fact that it is so photogenic no matter what time of day or what angle.

October 26, 2008 at 11:26 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

Also on my list… Wells Fargo.

“What?!” you ask. “That plane jane box?”

Yeppers. Granted it’s not my favorite, the building has some characteristics I like.

I love pattern and symmetry. The square grid and completely symmetrical shape certainly does not disappoint.

You’ll notice the building actually tapers very slightly on it’s way up. I’m told it helps in reducing the effect of earthquakes.

Get down on the ground at it’s feet and you’ll see that the corners are actually fluted. It’s a neat little, frequently not noticed detail.

It’s hard to appreciate from the ground, but the plaza in front has a neat brick pattern and a nice spiral staircase with a fountain below.

Some people think the building looks too dated. The groundbreaking was in 1969, and the building sure looks like it’s from that era.

But that’s why I like it. It seems like square, bland boxes were the thing in the late 60s and early 70s. Two excellent examples of what I mean: The <span class=“caps”>WTC</span> in New York (finished 1972) and Aon Center in Chicago) (finished 1973). All 3 are “bland boxes”.

Granted, Wells Fargo (a mere 338’) is dwarfed by those monsters I mentioned (<span class=“caps”>WTC</span> was 1368’ and Aon is 1136’), but the building looks like a midget member of the family.

I’m not sure if I really like Wells being the tallest in town (we can do better than 338’!), but it certainly belongs here.

October 26, 2008 at 11:51 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

It’s late, so off to bed for now.

I got just a couple more to add tomorrow.

October 27, 2008 at 12:02 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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michael buchanan


I applaud your choices and thanks for the great pictures. The Wells Fargo Building is the twin of the former Brunswick Building in Chicago also by <span class=“caps”>SOM</span>, they were my client in SF when I worked for that late great accounting firm, Arthur Andersen. Andersen’s headquarters was in the Brunswick Bldg. It is a bit taller as I remember, perhaps 30-35 floors.

October 27, 2008 at 8:58 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I’m glad the wells was on the list. It looks like God’s cheese grater, in the first shot you can picture Him sliding his giant hand under the bottom and pulling out 5 cubic yards of cheddar.

October 27, 2008 at 10:23 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I’m actually a fan of the Wells Fargo building as well. It’s nothing glamalicious in terms of ornate finishings, but ever since I was kid I’d see that building from I-5 and knew I was in Tacoma. It’s pretty easy on the eyes.

October 27, 2008 at 10:42 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Torax O'Tool

I’m glad that yours truly isn’t the only one in town who likes Wells. God’s cheese grater? That’s a new one to me, but I do fully support the 5 cubic yards of cheddar. Grab a fork!

Appropriate picture, considering the woes in the banking industry.

From the Fountain:

October 27, 2008 at 11:28 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Torax O'Tool

Also on the list… the HQ of that company we wish would just make up it’s mind… Russell.

We all are familiar with the flashy front and it’s zig-zag windows visible from all over downtown.

I however really like the “backside” that you usually don’t get to see unless you frequent the port.

The way the main wall gently waves reminds me of the waves on Commencement Bay

Funny how amazingly dissimilar the “high rises” of different cultures can be. Of course, it is very interesting to note that one thing has not changed. In the past, the great monuments and buildings were to serve the local deity of choice.

We still do the same, our biggest, most expensive structures are built for the Almighty Dollar.

Speaking of Russell, financial markets and money, I particularly like this picture. The shiny Russel Bldg juxtaposed with the dilapidating infrastructure ‘round here. There’s no forgetting it, Tacoma is a blue collar city to it’s core with a healthy dose of grit mixed in.

Sure, there is room and need for white collar jobs and I gladly welcome them here.

But it’s in our best interest to not forget our roots. It’s not paper pushers that make an economy strong (I’m talking to you Wall Street); it’s useful, productive jobs that do that. A shipyard and a refinery will make for a stronger local economy than any investment bank.

October 27, 2008 at 11:52 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Torax O'Tool

Odd… I posted about Russell as well.

Did I trip some filter for posting too quickly?

October 27, 2008 at 12:44 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

“Heavenly Father, please use your Wells Fargo grater to whip me up some super-size hashbrowns.” “Amen.”

October 27, 2008 at 1:50 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'tool

A reading from the Book of Amocat, chapter 19, verse 70:

And thus the Lord doth taketh His Wells Fargo Grater into his hand. Taking from the bounty of the Earth, the Lord grateth the Holy Potatoes of Pasco and the Peoples rejoiced as shreds of potato covereth the Earth like Manna. The hungry are thus fed by the Lord, and all of the People have enough starch in their diets.

October 27, 2008 at 2:08 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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