Proposal Would Rename a Tacoma Waterfront Park Weyerhaeuser Park

The un-named park at the southern end of the west side of the Foss Waterway could get a name: George H. Weyerhaeuser Park.

The park, built in 2009, sits on three parcels of land on either side of the 21st Street bridge. The Foss Waterway Development Authority owns two of the parcels, the City of Tacoma owns the other. The land was once home to a butter tub factory, which later became Harmon Cabinets, which eventually burned down in the 1990s.

The Foss Waterway Development Authority has requested that the park be named after George H. Weyerhaeuser, who is described in the request as "influential in the development of the Foss Waterway."

George H. Weyerhaeuser, Jr., served on the boards of the FWDA and the Museum of Glass from 1999 until his death on April 14, 2013. Aside from being part of the Weyerhaeuser Company family, he was influential in the development of the Foss Waterway as a founding trustee of the Museum of Glass, as the FWDA Board President from 2001 to 2004, and as the chairman and president of the Urban Design Review Committee. According to the materials submitted with the request, the Waterway is a direct result of his widely recognized advocacy and leadership. 

George gets credit for a lot of the redevelopment of the Foss in recent years, including the building of marinas, the public esplanade and park, and saving Albers Mill for adaptive reuse as lofts and retail space. He was also a founding trustee of the Museum of Glass. According to the park naming proposal, he "took his last breath on board his boat in the Foss Waterway." George is described as a passionate advocate for Tacoma, who "genuinely loved the downtown waterfront and was devoted to its improvement for the betterment of the city and its citizens."

The proposal to rename the park shows up on the agenda for Tacoma's Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting this week. The name will need first LPC and the City Council approval.

The Weyerhaeuser company headquarters moved out of Tacoma in 1971, but the family and the company go back to Tacoma's earliest days, and the family has continued to be active in the civic and philanthropic life of Tacoma. The proposal for Weyerhaeuser Park has support from a serious line-up of Tacoma institutions and individuals including the Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Foss Waterway Seaport, and the Tacoma Waterfront Association, among others.

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The George Weyerhaeuser family’s commitment to Tacoma’s betterment is unparalled.  Their personal civic commitment of several generations motivated Weyerhaeuser Company to build the Tacoma Center complex and restore the Tacoma Building, both in the 1980s.  Sometimes they were unfairly maligned (as with the sale of the law school at the Norton Clapp law center downtown—but one can presume the ABA pressured UPS about moving out of that old department store to build a new law facility, hence the convenient law school sale to Seattle University) but without their vision there likely would not be an Interstate 705 or a Tacoma Dome; they did heavy lifting to move a civic agenda to revitalize the 1880s City of Destiny and backed the city council decision in 1991 to purchase railroad-owned lands on the downtown waterfront to cohesively redevelop the area.  They gave a darm when others were indifferent, or from a Seattle viewpoint, laughed at the provincial “Velveeta on the Gourmet Shelf”  burg—they challenged the city residents to aspire to greatness. These later generations followed on the Tacoma legacy of firm founding secretary Robert Laird McCormick, who more than ten decades ago as a newcomer from Wisconsin (where he led that state’s historcal society) battled strong Seattle interests in Olympia to keep the WSHS charter in Tacoma, where it was founded in 1891.  McCormick also commited the timber giant to occupy a floor of the Commercial Club’s elegant new Tacoma Building in 1911 and likely played a major role in getting Union Station built.  He is memorialized with a wing at the old WSHS museum on Stadium Way and his bound writings as a Tacoma museum leader offer insight into his grand view of the future.  As Weyerhaeuser Company headquarters are soon moved to Seattle, the firm’s Tacoma heritage remains a legacy of grace and elegance there for the city created by railroad leader Charles Wright who also established worthy cultural institutions.  Backers of a park idea to honor George Weyerhaeuser, Jr. should also take inspiration from the new Director Park in downtown Portland, a magnet for wonderful human interactions ithat if replicated in Tacoma would bring that same vitality to the Thea Foss Waterway shoreline, a place of environmental renewal rising on a heritage of industry.

Perhaps the only criticism is that the vision for such a park name is not large enough.  Surely, the George Weyerhaeuser name is greater than a smaller waterfront park.  Perhaps the revitalizing Prairie Line Trail corridor from the waterfront to South M Street should be titled the George Weyerhaeuser Greenway to match the significance of stately Wright Park.  Regardless, no matter how the George Weyerhaeuser name is memorialized in Tacoma, a line from the poem “The Rose” by Theodore Roethke is appropriate:  “There are those to whom place is unimportant.  But this place, where sea and fresh water meet, is important.”  So it remains with Tacoma and, one hopes, for the descendants of Frederick Weyerhaeuser and his business associates; those men in 1900 chose the City of Destiny over Seattle as their base of operations and they were not dumb.  Tacoma, with their help, will always remain important, like Chicago-based Boeing takes pride in in Seattle roots.

November 10, 2014 at 2:33 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Doug Andreassen

The comments by paolo are wonderful and spot on. George Weyerhaeuser and families impact on Tacoma are as equal to Charles Wrights contributions. We should take time to honor this individual and the company’s contributions to our community.

November 11, 2014 at 12:28 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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