TDI -- Reporter's Blog

Apr. 16, 2009 at 4:50pm

Collaborative Detective Work in the Wedge

I recently met with Wedge resident Diane Walkup for a story I wrote in Thursday's edition of the Index. The article is online here (Web) and here (PDF). Walkup is a regular at Tacoma's Landmarks Preservation Commission meetings related to the Wedge Historic District proposal. Earlier Index coverage of the issue here and here and here.

Walkup lives in the former residence of Alvin C. McIlvaine. According to a 15-page Hilltop walking tour map and guide produced by the city's Historic Preservation Office 12 years ago, McIlvaine arrived in Tacoma from Pennsylvania in 1893. He owned small parcels throughout Tacoma, and, in 1906, hired an architect to design an apartment building at 920 So. 9th St., near a streetcar line and the "K Street" Business District. In 1995, McIlvaine's apartment building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

A little backstory: a challenge arose while working on this article. Exactly how old is Walkup's home? She knew generations of the McIlvaines lived in the home, located on the 400 block of So. M St., since before the turn of the 20th Century. A McIlvaine relative told her the house was built in 1886. According to the Pierce County Tax Assessor's Web site, the house was built in 1900 (a year commonly used by the department on older houses with unknown construction dates). Other records said it was built in the 1890s.

I e-mailed local historian Caroline T. Swope, who has done impressive research on the Wedge and led a walking tour of the neighborhood earlier this year. She, however, didn't have the information I needed. She referred me to librarian Brian Kamens of the Northwest Room. Kamens replied a few hours later.

"After checking our research here at the Tacoma Public Library, we are confident that the house was built in 1892," said Kamens. According to Kamens, the house does not appear on the 1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Tacoma -- a reliable source for historians. However, the Tacoma City Directory indicates McIlvaine lived in the house beginning in 1893. "We believe that the house was being built just after the completion of the 1892 Sanborn Map, in the last half of 1892," added Kamens.

I spoke with Walkup Thursday morning, and she was thrilled to learn a little bit more information on her house. She doesn't have Internet access, so I gave her a copy of Kamen's e-mail and the 15-page Hilltop guide with additional info on McIlvaine. If you're into local history, it's kind of neat -- the only two people to live in the 117-year-old house were the McIlvaines and Walkup.

Here are a couple photos of Walkup and her home:

comments [3]  |  posted under Historic Preservation, Wedge


by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 4/16/2009 @ 5:11pm
Whatever Brian Kamens is making he deserves a raise. That Northwest Room is a real Tacoma treasure. No matter where you live in Tacoma you can find out some amazing things about your house or building by visiting the Northwest Room.

by Dave_L on 4/16/2009 @ 6:50pm
I second that, re Brian and staff. We are so fortunate that the NW Room houses so many resources, and the many years and thousands of hours that has gone into of inputting data from newspapers over the years must be the envy of many other cities. Poring through every issue of the newspaper and cataloging every mention of address or person, an incredible task, the results of which are free for our use. Plus cross-linking addresses to photos. So much available on-line now, too, so you can find out a lot from your computer. There's one fascinating notebook of building photographs that have yet to be identified, so it's a task that will never be finished. (My only wish is that Pierce County had taken photos of houses for tax purposes like King County did. I think if one has a house in King County, one can obtain a 1930's tax photo.) Diane's home sure has a few really unique architectural features. I believe Diane was once a Hawthorne neighborhood resident, displaced by the Dome. But that's another story.

by Dave_L on 4/16/2009 @ 10:16pm
I'm punchy from working OT for the last 206 minutes, but I'm pondering the possibility that Crenshaw Sepulveda IS Brian Kamens.


A blog following news and features published in the Tacoma Daily Index newspaper.


Recent Posts