Old City Hall - Sometimes Love Isn’t All You Need

Once again there are concerns about pieces falling off one of Tacoma's historic landmark buildings. Once again there's a Facebook group.

It's not the first time we've heard this bad news for Old City Hall, and in light of the fate of past similarly threatened buildings (ahem, Luzon...), it is definitely a worrying pattern, but one that we're hopeful will have a better outcome.

The building's current owners have fixed the leaky roof, but other steps to protect one of Tacoma's most iconic buildings have yet to materialize, so the City is stepping in. We assume this is following the process adopted back in 2013 for preventing neglect of historic buildings - a process designed to give the City better tools to prevent historic Tacoma buildings like Old City Hall from going the way of the Luzon.

We'll see how this plays out, but we have to agree with Matt Driscoll's title for his second post in his new roll as columnist for The News Tribune - Old City Hall is going to need more than love...

Read up on past chapters of the Old City Hall story from Exit133. Read more on the current situation from The News Tribune.

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Maybe if the building’s owner threatened to move it brick-by-brick to Seattlle that Tacomans might get motivated to secure its restoration.  In 1984, Seattle Mayor Charles Royer shamed Tacomans into loving the controversial “Neons for the Tacoma Dome” artworks by Stephen Antonakos when he offered to relocate the pieces somewhere in Wasington’s largest city.  How ironic, though, that Old Tacoma City Hall had been built at the apex of the City of Destiny era, when aspirations to surpass Seattle were not at issue but rather that Seattle would probably never equal Tacoma. Such was boomtown 1893 when it rose across the street from the Northern Pacific Railroad’s Western Headquarters at 621 Pacifici Avenue.  Old Tacoma City Hall is a monument to optimism, vision and amibition.  It is not yet a lost cause.  Tacomans can yet dream—they have built some wonderful art museums with high-quality design.  Grassroots matter, too: it took the efforts of an older man writing a letter to the the editor of The News Tribune in the 1980s wondering if delapidated Union Station could be reutilized as a federal courthouse, with the late local publisher of the newspaper Elbert Baker II passing along the item to Congressman Norm Dicks with a question whether the idea could become a reality.  Judge Robert Bryan liked the idea as he explored the concept.  What Old Tacoma City Hall represented for optimism in Charles Wright’s Tacoma Land Company-run Tacoma is what Union Station stood for in the city that timber baron Robert Laird McCormick helped select in 1900 as the new headquarters city for the Weyerhaeuser Company.  The dreamers who made Pacific Plaza a reality, which represented the improvement to brutalist concrete parking garages built atop demolished 1890s ornate masonry business blocks in ill-fated urban renewal efforts in the early 1970s, should look to Old Tacoma City Hall opportunities.  Again, how would Seattle be redeveloping such a grand building right now?  The 1889-era Brooklyn Block stands restored at the base of the soaring 55-story 1201 Third Avenue Building in Seattle that opened in 1989. The great shames are that until the last decade Seattle has always had UGLY city halls while Tacomans have neglected one of the grandest city halls ever built in the West.. Somehow, Old Tacoma City Hall must be saved—where is the public/private/financial community leadership coalition?  The late Elbert Baker II played a big role in lending support for a vision for Union Station that became reality.  If government money is hard to find, what about private sector visions for Old Tacoma City Hall?  Maybe the scions of the Weyerhaeuser Company’s founding investors cannot fix every civic ill in Tacoma but perhaps they can remind those who regard Seattle as Washington’s best city that Old Tacoma City Hall is a timeless monument of civic greatness in the West.

March 24, 2015 at 4:59 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Great post.  As to your question about what another City would do with it?  They’d probably attempt to incorporate it into a… City Hall. 
But, at any rate, that clock tower provides no ROI for an investor doing condos, apartments, or offices.  It’s high maintenance for no return.  What do you think it’s long range fate is if a municipality doesn’t own that building?  Demolition by neglect perhaps?  Isn’t the writing on the wall, so to speak, for the tower?

March 25, 2015 at 7:11 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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But, at any rate, that clock tower provides no ROI for an investor doing condos, apartments, or offices. 

I’d consider renting or buying a condo with a big ol’ clock in it. I think a lot of people would. It’d be like living in a Chaplin movie. As long as some view goes with it. And what a view it would be.

If someone can live atop the Smith Tower, someone could live in a modified Old City Hall clock tower.

March 25, 2015 at 7:09 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Huh.  Interesting thought.  That’d be one spendy condo… but someone just might buy it.  I wonder if thete’s a developer with the guts to risk it… I sure would love to hear that bell ring someday again though.

March 25, 2015 at 7:19 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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How to save OCH should be one of the first questions posed to city council candidates this year.  Waiting for the property owners to act should not be considered a viable option.

March 24, 2015 at 5:05 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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OCH is one of Tacoma’s most iconic buildings & it absolutely begs for a public entity to be its owner.  I really don’t see it getting the stewardship it needs without this.  The current owner is an out of town speculator & has demonstrated by his past actions he really is only interested in pimping out our heritage.

Yes: “How to save OCH should be one of the first questions posed to city council candidates this year”. 

March 25, 2015 at 10:25 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Forget worries about strained public budgets and claims about high taxes and dream for a moment:  imagine 625 Commerce Street becoming Tacoma City Hall.  House the city council, city manager and city attorney, economic development office and other higher profile offices at that stately structure.  Offset arguments about the creep of local government expansion by redeveloping portions of what is now Tacoma City Hall as offices available for lease to the private sector, as how such space is available in the 62-story Seattle Municipal Tower originally built by Herman Sarkowsky for commercial tenants but later sold at a discount by paper-holder Bank of Montreal to the city, which also built a small but elegant ceremonial city hall across the street on the site of an UGLY former Seattle City Hall.  Keep city offices linked via computers—somehow Tacoma Public Utilities is properly linked to city hall even with headquarters offices in South Tacoma. Somehow, Tacoma city government expanded into an annex structure on the north side of the current municipal building.  Larger/creative thinking might help city government rediscover a building that shouts “City of Destiny” as the civic centerpiece.  Such buildings are no longer built—for any number of reasons, that pricelss “Mona Lisa” of West Coast civic buildings is in jeopardy and civic neglect as a response is not a reasonable action.

March 26, 2015 at 11:27 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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What would be great is if the City and County had a joint venture in using that building to house top brass decision makers, Council Chambers, and public merting rooms.  That way they’re always bumping in to each other so maybe, just maybe, they could work together on some things and craft a united vision for the region.

March 26, 2015 at 12:15 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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July 11, 2015 at 12:38 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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