Jun. 3, 2008 at 11:30am

The Location of the Elks Pierce Transit Dream

some pictorial context

Last week, after seeing the post on Exit 133 and the article in the Tribune about the possibility of the old Elks club and surrounding properties being developed into a Pierce Transit station and mixed use development, I decided to poke around and re-orient myself to that block of downtown.  I took my camera, of course, so here are a few pictures for anyone else that needs a refresher on how all of the buildings and streets are connected around the Elks building.

First though, if you are interested, you can check out satellite photo of the area in question, from Google maps, here.

This is the view down Commerce street from the Elks building. The Spanish Steps are on the right, followed by the lot where the transit building would be built. It is currently parking lots and fenced vacant areas. The tall building in the background is our current City Hall.

The Elks Building, view from Commerce. Spanish steps to the left. 505 Broadway, the Surius development, is in the background, with the crane, just past the old University Union Club building (UUC). Speculation that Sirius is the developer exploring a new transit development has been published in the News Tribune. There is an older condominium building in between the UUC and 505 Broadway. At the stoplight, Commerce changes to Stadium Way. A right turn at this stoplight is the freeway ramp to 705.

The Spanish Steps

This is the view from the Elks building across Commerce. The tall brick building with the clock tower is the former City Hall. It is fairly vacant, including a former restaurant space. The white spired building is on Pacific Avenue. Just barely peeking through, the yellowish brick building houses Suite 133 and Capers.

This is the Elks Building, as viewed from Broadway, with the entrance to the Spanish Steps to the right of the photo.

Spanish Steps, view from Broadway.

The empty lot between the old UUC and Elks, viewed from Broadway. Note the ramps to 705.

This is the empty lot between Elks and the old UUC building, view from Commerce, where Commerce becomes Stadium Way.  From this viewpoint, one can see the UUC, the older condo building, and the new 505 Broadway building. The red brick building on Broadway, across from the vacant lot houses an auto leasing business and garage. Beside it, directly across from the Elks building, is Reprographics NW.

The UUC building, recently a restaurant and club named Winfields, formerly David's on Broadway, is on the market, listed by Williams Properties, for lease or sale.

Also in the development stages, in very close proximity to the Elks, is the Lorig Project, 727 Broadway.

This is the view up Commerce Street looking toward the Elks, with your back to downtown, just prior to the Lorig project (white building on left, after the big tree). In the foreground is the Theatre District Link stop, currently the last stop on the Link line. Above the Link awning, you can just see the roof of the Elks building.

The Lorig project, viewed from Commerce.

The Lorig project, viewed from Broadway. The Elks building is hidden behind the trees

Today, Peter Callaghan weighed in on the idea. Eventually, I will post a separate blog with my opinions in order to keep this post strictly factual.

ADDITIONAL ITEMS, added 6/3/2008  9:45 pm

The steps look like this

These posts have been named, Unwanted and Unloved

If you haven't yet seen Erik's photos of the inside of the Elks building, they are really worth a look.

comments [44]  |  posted under Elks, Lorig, Pierce county transit station, Sirius, Tacoma


by Erik on 6/3/2008 @ 11:30am
Great post and pictures. Wow.

by fredo on 6/3/2008 @ 11:53am
Thanks for the posting, Heather. Bloggers will be interested to note that part of the movie I Love You To Death was set on the Spanish Steps.

by NineInchNachos on 6/3/2008 @ 11:56am
so which lots would get what?

by Heather on 6/3/2008 @ 12:20pm
From what I understand, the vacant lots between the Lorig project and the Spanish Steps would get the main multi-purpose building. The lower level would be the bus access side with no pedestrian access. The bus stops would be underground/indoors in that spot, and could only be accessed by riders through the Elks building and a walk through a tunnel under the Spanish Steps. I think the single entrance idea is an attempt to combat crime and loitering (which is a crime, I suppose). One way in, one way out. Looking at the space available, I think that the Lorig property would have to be included in the plan. There just doesn't seem to be enough room in those vacant lots for all of the bus stops and traffic. But if the routes were timed properly, I suppose it could be done. I'm also wondering if the Lorig project is on hold because of all of the residential competition. But it is an apartment building, not condos, so who knows.

I think I also read that the vacant lot between Elks and UUC would be a parking structure, hopefully free like the Tacoma Dome Station parking, which is regularly completely full. For commuters that live in the suburbs to the west and southwest of downtown, a parking garage in this location would make a lot of sense.

The Elks building would be a lot of public space to be used for waiting for a bus out of the elements. There is also talk of retail, restaurant, etc., in addition to the architectural firm that has already shown interest in leasing space, in the upper portions of the building. The transit ticket/pass sales and waiting areas would be mostly on the lower level.

by Jake on 6/3/2008 @ 12:31pm
The whole Elks building was used in the movie or atleast the outside was. It was the TPD HQ in I Love You To Death. Even the shots that were supposed to be from inside the building had the port views. Not sure if it was Hollywood magic or they really shot inside.

by Twisty on 6/3/2008 @ 12:45pm
There just doesn't seem to be enough room in those vacant lots for all of the bus stops and traffic.

That's what I've been trying to explain to people, but most don't seem to want to hear that. Not only is the property too small, but the surrounding streets are incapable of handling the traffic and are too constricted for buses to safely maneuver.

If you stand at the Theatre District LINK station for a few minutes until a bus goes by, you will observe that PT's buses presently have difficulty negotiating that part of Commerce St. without crossing the center line. What's going to happen when there are buses coming and going in both directions, all day long?

Of additional concern is the fate of the Spanish Steps. The City is nearly ready to start a State-funded restoration of the steps, yet PT says that they can't build their tunnel without tearing them out. The City's project will restore the Steps to their original condition using historically appropriate materials, at a cost of ~$1M in taxpayer money. How many times do y'all think we should pay for that? And what's the likelihood that the Steps will be rebuilt to as good of condition if they are removed by PT?

I would be very interested to know what the Lorig folks think about having PT for their new neighbor.

by Erik Hanberg on 6/3/2008 @ 1:03pm
Jake -- those shots were taken from inside the building.

by Erik on 6/3/2008 @ 1:10pm
Maybe this will help give some insight to this complex issue:


by NineInchNachos on 6/3/2008 @ 1:17pm
twisty you're a rail road man.. how do you flip around locomotives in a small rail yard? TURN TABLE!

by Twisty on 6/3/2008 @ 1:20pm
Oh, yes... there's room for that. NOT!

I must admit though, it would be hella kewl. OTOH, maybe this would work better, if the developers could renegotiate the local height restrictions:

by NineInchNachos on 6/3/2008 @ 1:33pm
no no no the hotwheels loopdiloop wouldnt work cause it just spits you back out in the same direction.

how about adapting ferry boat technology and get some double ended busses?

by Twisty on 6/3/2008 @ 1:42pm
Maybe we are over-thinking this. What PT needs is proven technology in a compact package, plus cost-savings. Let's get them one of these:

by NineInchNachos on 6/3/2008 @ 1:50pm
the carbonite frozen head of a polio victim? dude that's twisted.

by Twisty on 6/3/2008 @ 5:12pm
Twisted? That's me!

by rithean on 6/3/2008 @ 8:17pm
My list:

1. Whatever happens I am against loosing the Spanish Steps.

2. If there is a station of some kind placed in that area passengers should be able to exit on to the street closest to their final destination. Imagine your poor grandma having to hike up and around the block just for "security reasons"!

3. I would rather see this as a station for an expanded link rail rather than a bus station.

4. It seems to me like a tunnel from the current bus facility at 10th and Commerce to the Elks building will be expensive, difficult, and full of potential problems.

by Twisty on 6/3/2008 @ 9:34pm
The tunnel being talked about is to be dug beneath the Spanish Steps, leading from the waiting area in the Elks Lodge to the loading area in what is now a Diamond Parking lot.

Jim Dugan, who works for the developers, has made comments that the Steps may have to be removed in order to make this happen. Personally, I think anybody who would propose such a thing is smoking crack.

by NineInchNachos on 6/3/2008 @ 9:39pm
the spanish steps are a menace. remember the elderly driver who tried to drive down them and smashed through the middle landing rail? Dangerous!

by Erik on 6/3/2008 @ 9:43pm
Jim Dugan, who works for the developers, has made comments that the Steps may have to be removed in order to make this happen

I hear they have the technology Twisty.

by Heather on 6/3/2008 @ 9:53pm
Okay, I couldn't help it. I had to add a few more pictures.

by Twisty on 6/3/2008 @ 10:58pm
the spanish steps are a menace. remember the elderly driver who tried to drive down them and smashed through the middle landing rail? Dangerous!

Are you yanking my chain, RR?

Actually, that was a stolen car. The Steps were there for 89 years before that happened. The City has a project in the works to rebuilt them later this year (if PT doesn't screw things up, that is), and there are plans to put an appropriate barricade in place at that time. Keep an eye on my blog, I'll be posting about this in just a few days.

by Heather on 6/3/2008 @ 11:22pm
When is RR not yanking someone's chain?

by Twisty on 6/3/2008 @ 11:30pm
Good point, Heather.

by Thorax on 6/3/2008 @ 11:42pm
I've had some time to mull it over, while working at my boring-ass job.

And I believe I have found the best use for the lodge, and surprise surprise... it's as obvious as an elephant in the room!

* drum roll please... *
Use it for what it was designed for! A Club!!!!
We have a huge, potentially amazing ballroom at top, a smaller theater as well as bar-related design. I doubt the pool will pass code, but who needs it anyway with the YMCA over on Market. Check this out:
We have the Tacoma Grand Ballroom (think like the Century in Seattle... only even more amazing) at top, with an actual place to go dancing here in town!
We can have the bar/theater converted into a restaurant that's open daily.
But what about the bottom floor, off of Commerce? Easy. Build a garage (that looks good, blending with the Lodge) on the north side, and re-design the bottom floor to be a grand entryway, matching the grandeur of the entry on Broadway. We can have a gallery space in our Commerce Street entry.

Oh, imagine the glitz and glamor of well-dressed Tacomans (and of course, out-of-towners) climbing up the grand Spanish Stairs for a night of dancing out on the town, spotlights on the roof and the sweet, sweet sounds of the big band upstairs drifting through the night.

Now THATS what we need to do to the Elks. Forget the bus station, let's tackle that as a separate issue.
Anyone want to lend me $10 million? I'm ready to jump on this!

by fredo on 6/4/2008 @ 4:12pm
We will have to find another adaptive use for the old Elks Meeting Hall. Twisty properly outlined the problems with the site for transit busses and now the News Tribune has editorialized in opposition. It's good to think outside the box. In this case the idea doesn't pencil. One more thing, we can't lose the Spanish Steps. This is a Tacoma "place" like the Frisco Freeze and Java Jive.

by Twisty on 6/4/2008 @ 4:35pm
fredo.... WORD!

by NineInchNachos on 6/4/2008 @ 4:38pm
I like your new photos Heather.

I used to walk down them every day on my walk to work back when I lived wright parkside.... the steps always had a changing stock of underground art. my favorite was the "Civilization is an Absence" written in cursive in front of the blown out balustrade

by TopsyTurvyTTtown on 6/5/2008 @ 2:22pm
Nicely done Heather... now I see why you're addicted to blogging... I haven't done anything today.

It's me, BOS Lady :)

by fredo on 6/5/2008 @ 8:26pm
Skjackson@welcome to Tacoma. Your dog looks like he just ate a bowl of ecstacy.

by Mofo from the Hood on 6/5/2008 @ 9:29pm
This is just the thrifty side of me talkin', but I'm pretty confident that now with all the new condos and apartments in North Downtown, that some enterprisin' business type is gonna make a killin' if they open up one of them doggy day care places. Requirement: Big open area rooms...get my drift?

by Twisty on 6/5/2008 @ 9:42pm
The suggestion of using the OEL (old Elks Lodge) for a bus station is bad enough, but... a dog kennel?

by Jake on 6/5/2008 @ 9:59pm
There is a doggie day care on St. Helens.. or atleast used to be..Now that I think of it I don't think it is there.. could be wrong

by Mofo from the Hood on 6/5/2008 @ 10:49pm
Look, converting the place into a doggy day care would require the least investment of anything that's been proposed so far. Think it through.
Dogs don't care if you paint the walls or patch the ceiling or floors. Dogs don't care if the windows are broken or doors are missing. They don't even need electricity or running water. About the only major investment I can think of is a new sign: The Yelps Club.

by Twisty on 6/5/2008 @ 11:01pm
Unfortunately, the place isn't even fit for dogs right now. They boarded it up extra-good to keep the bums out, for their own safety. I doubt if it even has a toilet that will flush.

The best and most appropriate idea I've heard so far is to make it a nightclub. Unfortunately, that would take a huge investment, and nightclub operators are notoriously cheap.

by Girl Who <3 JUNK on 6/6/2008 @ 9:21am

Thank you so very much for all the awesome photos and information.

Since my store is located inside 744 Commerce/743 Broadway (Middle Floor Merchants @ Sanford and Son Antiques) it's great to know what plans are going on around us.

Thank you,
Deidre Norris
(Dumpster Diving Diva)

by Twisty on 6/6/2008 @ 9:37am
Deidre, how do you feel about having the transit center move to your block?

by Heather on 6/6/2008 @ 4:39pm
Hey there BOS Lady. Welcome to Feed>>Tacoma.

by rithean on 6/7/2008 @ 7:39pm
Do you think a hotel could fit in there. Hotel with a nice restaurant?

by Twisty on 6/7/2008 @ 9:28pm
Evidently not. McMenamin's (arguably THE experts in exactly that sort of conversion) said they couldn't make it work.

One idea that seems workable (from an operational standpoint, not a financial one) and was tried in the past, is a dinner theater. The building (at least big parts of it) is nearly ideal for that purpose. It was tried in the 70s, but didn't last long. Of course, that was before the arts had really arrived in Tacoma -- before the Pantages and Rialto were refurbished and whatnot.

The trouble, of course, is that the building has gone so far downhill that it needs improvements far in excess of what can be recouped from just about any application.

It makes me want to find out where they buried that asshat Zimmerman, so I can go pee on his grave.

by Heather on 6/8/2008 @ 7:32pm
Jake, there is indeed a doggie daycare on St Helens. The Hound Hangout at 414 St. Helens.

by Girl Who <3 JUNK on 6/9/2008 @ 6:13am
How do I feel?

I'm 80% excited 20% not.

It would be nice for the Broadway/Commerce Streets businesses to get more foot traffic.

Maybe they'll notice us and shop or have a coffee break.

On the not so good note. The traffic is going to be a MESS.

Unless they have a grand plan for that.

I just would like it alive again!

by morgan on 6/9/2008 @ 10:55am
If you know me at all, then you know how interested I am in historic preservation. This building needs to be saved and I think it will - eventually. Being pragmatic, the renovation of the Elks building will most likely be a feather in the hat to the developer that can build a 400 foot Class A office building on the vacant lots adjacent to the the north of the Elks Lodge.

by Heather on 7/21/2009 @ 8:07pm
Looks like McMennamins changed their mind. With a little help from the city: www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=13307...

by morgan on 7/21/2009 @ 9:21pm
...and more than a few emails from citizen activists!

by Altered Chords on 7/23/2009 @ 3:05pm
What a difference a year makes.


Hello! I'm Heather and I'm a bit manic about Tacoma.

I'll probably be blogging about my experiences in Tacoma as they relate to the environment (natural and built), social (in)justice, community building, economic development, bio-diesel, public transit, biking, gardening, home improvement, food & wine, and my little family (me, my husband, one dog, one cat). This is my first attempt at writing a blog - so please bear with me.

Contact: heather.ups@gmail.com

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