Is it Time to Protect Tacoma’s Modern Architecture?

Love it or hate it, from its perch high on the hilltop above downtown Tacoma, Saint Joseph's is undoubtedly among Tacoma's most recognizable buildings. But that doesn't mean that the architecturally interesting hospital building is one of the city's most popular. And despite its architectural significance, it's not yet protected by being listed on local, state or national registers of historic places.

In an article that appeared in The News Tribune last week, Peter Callaghan shares some of the historical significance of the building, and the ways in which its modernist lines follow its function.

When the Sisters of St. Francis began looking for architects in the late 1960s, Goldberg was in the midst of designing hospitals based on his innovations. The building takes its cloverleaf shape not as an architectural affectation but to accommodate a new relationship between nursing staff and patients.

“Within each quadrant were patient ‘villages’ of 10 beds each, clustered around a nursing station,” is how St. Joseph was described on “The village system ensured that no nurse would be out of a 5-foot reach of any patient. There were four villages on each floor.”

Callaghan argues for protecting St Joe's before it's too late.

Though still short of the 50-year standard age for protected landmark status, it is about time for folks around here to begin to reconsider their attitudes toward this building and other examples of post-World War II architecture. Washington’s office of historic preservation launched an effort in 2003 called Nifty From The Last 50 to draw attention to the state’s modern architecture. So far 300, including St. Joseph, have been surveyed and included in its database.

Still, only a handful of these buildings have been placed on state and national historic registers. That needs to change before they are lost.

So, love it? Hate it? Protect it?

Photo credit Stephen Cysewski. Read more from the TNT.

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TPB, Esq.

Love it with a passion.  And if it goes the way of old Penn Station in NYC, it would be a shame.

November 25, 2013 at 10:33 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Gerry Sperry

Too often people only consider the outside when good architecture is really about accommodating the needs of the people inside. From this point of view, special-purposed St. Jo’s is an incomparable masterpiece. Also consider that the more diverse the juxtaposed structures, the more interesting the city skyline. The curvilinear clover leaf plan of St. Jo’s tower is unique and worthy of every effort toward preservation on it’s behalf.

November 26, 2013 at 2:49 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Is that a picture of the space ship where some of your commenters come from?  Just kidding… Sorta…

November 26, 2013 at 10:41 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Atomic Tucson

how could you hate it?!?!  if not on the NHR fast, say bye bye…

December 23, 2013 at 10:29 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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