Imagine Tacoma – Renascence Rejuvenations

What has really fueled the Downtown Tacoma Renascence has been the ability to see uses for existing buildings that were beyond their original conception (or even possible imagination at the time of their construction).  For instance, could the designers of Union Station envision it someday becoming a new Federal Courthouse (replete with art glass no less).  Or the warehouses across Pacific Avenue becoming a university campus (with an old switchgear shed becoming a the center piece library).  So while the Elks Building is still in-waiting, imagine a few more opportunities of re-use for your consideration:

Luzon Building
With it now slated for demolition, did anyone take a serious look at a structural scaffolding solution?  Other parts of the world seem able to preserve their existing buildings in-tact using this method for centuries (sometimes with bamboo scaffolding no less).  If the Luzon was able to be ‘cocooned’ in this manner, then it might have a futures as part of a larger development encompassing the entire block from South 13th to the Rainier Pacific Building in order to make is financially ‘pencil.’  And/or maybe it could become a canvas for an international artist team?  Christo-alize it!

Convention Center
As noted in a previous post, a natural for the LeMay Museum (quick before it is too late).

Old City Hall
My oh my – the jewel of Tacoma needs to be rescued again (and it all ready has a tree growing out the side of it)!

Urban Waters
I know it unfair to already conceive of a re-use of a building that isn’t even finished yet.  But at the cost of over $40m – rents for office space will be topping out over $45/sf (while on Pacific Avenue you can currently pay $12/sf).  So when there is finally a utility rate-payer revolt, how about relocating the new Science and Math Institute from the portables at Point Defiance Park?

Russell Building
Huge dilemma.  The building was designed for a single tenant at a time when Downtown Tacoma was not as well-heeled as it is today (and you have to give Russell their do for locating Downtown at a time that it would have been much more palatable to go to the suburbs).  The building was thus designed in a most ‘defensive’ way and it will be difficult (therefore expensive) to ‘rebrand’ the structure into an open and accessible multi-tenanted building (first thought was it would be ideal for a Homeland Security Pacific Northwest Regional HQ).  But when you consider all that mirrored glass, the high ceilings, and the depressed level of development in Downtown (with the desire to fill the streets with restaurant and retail patrons) – how about… (wait for it) …a Municipal Grow House.  No really. 

Let Tacoma take the lead as a municipality and develop a Legal Cannabis District (Tacoma loves its little boutique districts).  And since Tacoma is weathering the ‘Great Recession’ so far based on the profitability of providing vital TPU services, why not expand into another commodity that could also be directly beneficial to the quality of life for its citizenry? Hey the State of WA does it with alcohol right?  And think of the PR possibilities!  Rick Steves will be touting this little bit of Europe in the Pacific Northwest on all his travel shows, Woody Harrelson and (name your own Hollywood star/celebrity here) will be making promos for Tacoma, and the Doobie Brothers can be the warm-up act for a Dave Mathews concert at the T-Dome.  Maybe a new institute could be developed (to make the healthcare connection) to study the benefits of cannabis in healing and Washington State’s recently approved Death with Dignity Act.  And talk about wanting to make Tacoma a true college town!  Maybe we can even get the City into a cameo scene of an upcoming ‘Weeds’ (I will offer my services free of charge to tour Ms. Parker around town if need be).  Maybe the Arts Commission could commission Patrick Blanc to create another one of his amazing vertical gardens along the front façade?  Add some big ventilation blowers out the East side of the building – and we will have just created a new olfactory experience for taking in the ‘Aroma of Tacoma.’


This post marks the 52nd in the Imagine Tacoma series (a whole years worth no less) – so after a short break, Imagine Tacoma is going to expand the discussion beyond Downtown and start to look at neighborhood and city wide design issues (and of course the occasional kick of Tollefson Plaza when there is nothing better comment on – maybe Christo could wrap it as well?).

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Aroma Tacoma

RE: The Luzon re-imagining…

I think the sign should read, “Tacoma Self Image Storage” (with the S in self blacked out, of course).

September 18, 2009 at 6:27 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Douglas Tooley

<span class=“caps”>SAMI</span> Downtown?

The idea of bringing high schoolers downtown is intriguing, presumably it will pencil out, at least short term – and it does seem to be working at <span class=“caps”>SOTA</span>.

Tacoma’s marijuana legalization is a bit bigger topic, but catering to Europeans and the Mount Rainier destination – as big a destination as Seattle in some international circles.

Top of that destination list would be cheap transportation to the Mountain – currently there is no public bus service.  How this tourist development can synergize with local service would be a good topic for the upcoming Pierce Transit planning effort.

The backpacker crowd isn’t high end, but they are great social marketers and do provide a base that goes a long ways towards building critical mass, if done right.

September 18, 2009 at 6:34 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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You left off MoG and my favorite downtown re-use.  Once the museum goes belly-up, those ovens in the cone make it a perfect candidate for the World’s Largest <span class=“caps”>BBQ</span> joint.  A few thousand cords of alder and hickory stacked up outside, you have the perfect accompaniment to the car museum.  And, a new Tacoma Aroma. 

Cars and <span class=“caps”>BBQ</span>:  like peanut butter and jelly, man.

September 18, 2009 at 6:51 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I'm for Change (for tacoma)

David —  Consider re-working the McKinley neighborhood right above the Dome.  Couldn’t this area be used as a signpost for Tacoma since I5 is right there with major exits to Tacoma. 

I always wonder why this wasn’t historically a popular & prosperous place with its water view and overlooking DT.  Maybe someone knows the dark shady past and will share it.

September 18, 2009 at 7:26 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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jamie from thriceallamerican

I like <span class=“caps”>IFCFT</span>’s idea, it would be interesting to focus on some of the areas that are either visible from I-5 or serve as gateways to the city.  I’d like to see a re-imagining of the Sprague exit from 16, which serves as something of a gateway to both Hilltop and the North End/Slope/etc. Union’s all jacked up with strip malls already, but Sprague is almost a blank slate with it’s tract homes.

September 18, 2009 at 7:38 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Altered Chords

Agree w/ <span class=“caps”>IFCFT</span> as well.  If the Lincoln district got a simple facelift, the area would be very cool. 

was “Renaissance” spelled renascence for a reason that escapes my dull wit?

September 18, 2009 at 9:00 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Could the designers of the Luzon Building envisioned this?

Clear-cut the Luzon Building and plant the Luzon Memorial Bamboo Forest.

September 18, 2009 at 9:24 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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David- you crack me up! Grow house! Perfect! The perfect thing to do with a glass building. I’m thinking tomatoes, strawberries… and maybe some poppy flowers.

Speaking of “storage” – I think the Luzon would be perfect as an ActiveSpace www.activspace.think… type location – part storage unit part small business incubator part artist studio.

September 19, 2009 at 3:03 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Regarding the Luzon Building, let’s just tell it like it is. I think fellow Exit 133 commentator Andrew really had the last word: “It’s just a bunch of miscolored bricks.”

But when we’re talking about a renaissance, or going back to the fountain or source of Tacoma’s greatness, let’s consider the unique. At one time, within the last 50 years, Tacoma had <span class=“caps”>TWO</span> outdoor escalators. You know, just this summer one of them (a shell of its former design) was demolished. It was located a stone’s throw from the Luzon; just a few feet away from the reworked Park Plaza South Garage.

World traveller’s that seek out unique buildings may or may not be impressed with a Luzon or a reworked parking garage. Chances are that they have seen hundreds of such structures.

But how many people in world history, traveller’s or local Tacoman’s, can claim that they have seen and rode Tacoma’s most unique Escalade?

Is it possible that Tacoma will ever again reach such visible spiritual heights?

September 19, 2009 at 3:51 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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David Boe

Renascence:  To be born again.

September 19, 2009 at 4:15 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Killing off them Escalades don’t make no kind of scence!

September 19, 2009 at 6:29 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

What if Tacoma had built <span class=“caps”>TWO</span> Luzon’s?

September 20, 2009 at 2:49 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

This idea of buildings in Tacoma being born again brings up all kinds of contradictions.

Tacoma had two Park Plaza Garages.

Tacoma had two Escalades.

Each Garage had an Escalade in close proximity.

All four distinct entities slowly decayed.

Park Plaza South is in close proximty to the Luzon Building, a fifth entity that has slowly decayed.

Recently Park Plaza South was born again.

My question is this:

Should we build two identical structures of anything that we want to keep in Tacoma?

I understand, as in the case of the two Escalades, that such a rule wouldn’t guarantee that at least one unique structure would survive. But you can see that with the born again Garage that it is not inevitable that Tacoma must lose every one of its revered historical buildings. Maybe long ago if it had been the rule that two Luzon’s and the like were built then downtown would now still have many unique historical buildings. 

Furthermore, considering that Park Plaza South was recently born again, my second question is this:

Given the situational time and space proximity of the five material decaying buildings, comprised of two similar pairs and one singular entity,

Can we seriously rule out the possibilty that Park Plaza South has a soul?

How else could one account for the visible manifestation of its renewed spiritual heights?

September 20, 2009 at 6:04 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Oh boy…

September 20, 2009 at 9:21 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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crenshaw sepulveda

I went through the remaining Escalade the other day.  Sure it isn’t a fancy moving sidewalk but it now seems that it has probably become the worlds longest urinal.  Save the remaining urinal, I mean, save the remaining Escalade.

September 20, 2009 at 10:01 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Megan Lindholm

I think Tacoma used to dream bigger than it does now.  It makes me sad.

In my opinion, greed has undone a lot of our old buildings.  The idea that if you buy something and sit on it, eventually you’ll sell it for more than you paid, even if you didn’t do anything to improve it . . . well, that’s just crazy.  But so many structures, in my opinion, have failed for that reason.  As they passed from hand to hand, the expectation was that each person would make a killing before passing them on to the next ‘developer’.  Instead, things just decay or remain empty and the district around them suffers.

IF (big ifs coming) we could shore up the Luzon and make it possible for multiple smaller investors to come in, possibly it could still be saved. 

Anyway.  It just makes me sad.  We’re going to lose yet another piece of Tacoma.


September 21, 2009 at 4:31 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I say we tear down the Luzon and build an F.W. Woolworth.

September 21, 2009 at 5:15 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Altered Chords

Remeniscene: Harkening back to the time before you were born again.

September 21, 2009 at 1:01 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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crenshaw sepulveda

What about we move the existing Escalade down to the Esplande and we could all drink lemonade while we watch a parade from a nice bit of shade.

September 21, 2009 at 4:25 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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<span class=“caps”>LOVE</span> the idea for the Russell Building.  Way to think outside the box!  I was just thinking the other day about what would be something to draw people to Tacoma, and I didn’t think of anything that sweet.  It all ties in with our unofficial “Aroma of Tacoma” slogan also.

I don’t think that the Luzon has much of a chance left…for whatever reasons…But instead of dwelling on that and pointing fingers you’ve written an article that makes a very important point.  We need to start looking very seriously at the other buildings downtown, old and new, and we need to develope some plan to make sure that history does not repeat itself with our other local treasures.

September 21, 2009 at 10:41 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Altered Chords

Who knows what is going on at the Haub site – 14th and Pacific.  I see activity and head that they were driving in “I” beams.  But who has contracted to have the work done and why? 

Does anyone know?

September 21, 2009 at 10:58 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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World Vision just announced it will expand in Federal Way in the future.  Are they by Weyerhauser there?  Could the shrinking Weyerhauser sell their Fed-Way campus to World Vision and move back to T-town in the Russell building?  It’d be better than a grow-house… maybe…

September 21, 2009 at 11:08 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Luzon is scheduled to be a victim of the same dynamic that played out at the Glass Museum vs Alber’s Mill. The makers of shiny new egotecture insist that the final sitework on their project needs to erase historic eyesores. Here we go again in fast forward mode.

The notion that encasing a parking garage in manufactured construction panels is “green” adds to the civic insult. The City and the local developer partner of Pacific Plaza have fomented an emergency to rid themselves of an eyesore and they will spend a million dollars on execution.

If Tacoma is serious about sustainability we need to put our efforts into reusing reusable buildings and not blowing them away to gussy up <span class=“caps”>LEED</span> rated projects that score reusing a building the same as putting up a bike rack.

The greenest building at 13th and Pacific is the one Danial Burnham designed and built in 1891-the one the City wants to demolish 48 hours from now.

September 24, 2009 at 3:22 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Who can say what’s worse for Tacoma?

A parking garage mafia or a syndicate of global warming theorists?

September 24, 2009 at 3:47 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

everybody dance like it’s 1980! your Urban Renewal hits station… b b b ack to the future.

September 24, 2009 at 4:48 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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#12 Mofo from the Hood:  <span class=“caps”>TECHNICALLY</span> there were two Luzons.  Burnham & Root also built a building where the Woolworths now stands, a couple blocks away from the now-flat Luzon, and that building was demolished in 1949.

September 27, 2009 at 3:58 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Very interesting Mushroom.

Twin Structures in Tacoma’s History:

1) Two Burnham & Root buildings downtown.

2) Two Park Place Garages on Pacific.

3) Two Escalades on Pacific.

4) Two Narrow’s Bridges.

5) Two wedge shaped apartment houses on Division & North M Street.

September 27, 2009 at 4:28 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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crenshaw sepulveda

Indeed, there was another Burnham and Root building in Tacoma, check at the picture at the Tacoma Public Library at:


What an amazing looking building.  I wonder why it was torn down?  On the other hand the current former Woolworth’s building doesn’t really do much for downtown.  It is a shame that it was not converted into some sort of retail use.  Certainly if a grocer wanted a spiffy building for a store in downtown the old Woolworth’s would have been a great location.

September 27, 2009 at 4:41 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Woolworth’s was a powerful force back in the ’40’s?

September 27, 2009 at 3:21 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

What an amazing looking building. I wonder why it was torn down?

Grandpa told me that it suffered severe foundation damage after the 1949 earthquake. Considering that razing 50 year-old skyscrapers wasn’t chic in those days, I’d say Grandpa’s story has some merit.

September 27, 2009 at 4:48 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

@ Mushroom and Mofo…

Here’s two <span class=“caps”>BONUS</span> Tacoma Twins!

1) Our beloved Rainiers were once called the Tacoma Twins back in the late 60s and early 70s.

2) The Tacoma Financial Center (1145 Broadway… you know, the 215’ big boy right behind Pac Plaza) was originally designed to be 23-story twins. You can even see the podium immediately north of the current tower was seemingly all set to go. You can see that clearly in the photo I took below:

…Twin 23 story towers woulda been a lot more awesome than a single 17.

September 27, 2009 at 5:04 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

Pardon my poor photoshop-ing skillz, but imagine what coulda been:

September 27, 2009 at 5:20 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Yeah, too bad about the Tacoma Financial Center not achieving its planned twin 23 story towers.

Was the work stoppage related to the proposed forming of an International Financial District on Pacific Avenue?

If that site proceeds then this building will be subject to Boe’s restyling and reuse beyond its original conception.

The current tenants could abandon Tacoma Financial Center for the International Financial District and then downtown could experience another century of Luzon-like suspense and drama.

September 28, 2009 at 12:27 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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re: McKinley.
A. Why can’t you hipster/yuppies play with your own toys and leave mine alone?
B. Your wet dreams may be coming (ha ha) true—Trader Joes is looking at the old Safeway.

September 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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