TDI -- Reporter's Blog

Apr. 11, 2011 at 12:35pm

Is Old Town Tacoma Historic?

It dates back to the 1860s and is known to everyone as 'Old Town' Tacoma. But whatever you do, don't call the quaint, hillside neighborhood overlooking Commencement Bay 'historic,' say some residents.

On Sept. 15, 2009, a historic district nomination for Old Town was submitted to City Hall. The nomination included a six-page petition signed by more than 100 residential property owners or renters in the area who supported the plan, as wells as a letter of support from the North End Neighborhood Council. It also excluded Old Town's business district and commercial properties located in the zoned "C-2 commercial" area from the proposed historic district overlay. Proponents hoped this will be enough to attain approval. 

Indeed, it wasn't the first time a nomination was made. In 1974, the Old Tacoma Improvement Club sought the designation after conducting a survey that showed support. However, the plan was quashed when commercial property owners opposed it. In the early 1990s, residents again attempted to seek the historic district designation. The request was reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission, but was tabled by City Council, which "directed the historic preservation officer to redo the design review component so that property owners could more easily determine the architectural requirements for future development," according to the most recent nomination.

Tacoma's Landmarks Preservation Commission first reviewed the most recent nomination during its meeting in December 2010 (earlier Tacoma Daily Index coverage here and here and here).

Opponents learned about the nomination and turned out en masse during a public meeting last month. They argue that such a designation would place restrictions on its freedoms as property owners, and the neighborhood itself consists of buildings and homes that are not as historically significant as perceived. "Old Town is a great place to live and we want to keep it that way," wrote the group in a March 25 letter. "But we also want the ability and flexibility to remodel and improve without governmental intervention or operation by committee." Included with the letter was a petition containing approximately 150 signatures from property owners who oppose the plan. Since then, a second letter, dated April 4 and sent to Tacoma's historic preservation officer, notes 69 more people have signed the petition in opposition. 

I wrote about the current campaign to oppose the historic district for Thursday's edition of the Tacoma Daily Index. I have a follow-up article in today's edition.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled to discuss the issue during its meeting Wednesday.

Historically significant buildings in Old Town Tacoma include (clockwise from top left) Slavonian Hall (est. 1907), St. Peters Church (est. 1873), Job Carr Museum (est. 1865), and Olof Carlson House (est. 1899). The current historic district nomination excludes Old Town's business district and commercial properties located in the zoned "C-2 commercial" area from the proposed historic district overlay.

comments [7]  |  posted under Historic District, Old Town, Tacoma


by KevinFreitas on 4/11/2011 @ 1:06pm
As a homeowner I understand the perspective of not being able to do what they want with their properties but, isn't that the point? It's a greater good thing to determine what's historic and protect it.

Not every house will be on the list by any means but my assumption would be that similar opposition was previously expressed by homeowners in other neighborhoods seeking historic designation. And, really, how much remodeling and such are all those people who signed the petition really going to do? Seems to me it's just the idea of being able to do whatever you want to your historic place (see Mattson House) instead of actually doing it.

by The Jinxmedic on 4/11/2011 @ 1:11pm
It doesn't seem to make a difference in this town, anyways. Designated historic structures in designated historic districts are pulled down all the time because of complete and total apathy.
Old City Hall (remember that one? Or was that oh-so December 2010?) is next.

by NineInchNachos on 4/11/2011 @ 1:20pm
just do another David Boe historic swiss cheese compromise, paint it black call it good.

by NSHDscott on 4/11/2011 @ 4:14pm
Sheesh, the restrictions are hardly restrictive. No vinyl windows is about the worst of them. I live in the North Slope and am so glad my neighbors can't do trashy things to their houses, or some of them probably would. Does everyone realize that the restrictions are only for exterior changes?

by NineInchNachos on 4/11/2011 @ 4:25pm
if tacomanians had their way

by fredo on 4/11/2011 @ 6:30pm
How can the Job Carr cabin be historic? It was just put up on that site about 11 years ago.

by NineInchNachos on 4/11/2011 @ 7:15pm
the logs have to be hundreds of years old no?


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