Morgan's Brain

Sep. 21, 2009 at 6:36am

Did the City of Tacoma Draw the Wrong Conclusion on the Luzon?

Much hand wringing has been done over the Luzon in recent weeks. There are some who believe that the effort to have the building torn down is the work of a downtown stakeholder with some inside help at the city. I certainly hope this is not the case. There are also some who believe the city is taking the easy way out for the "Luzon solution." While I love a good conspiracy theory, the fact of the matter is that the city is moving forward on tearing down a very unique historic building. The TNT's recent column by Peter Callaghan had a great quote from Michael Sullivan, a historic preservation consultant, "If the Smithsonian collected buildings, this would be one of them." Not only is the Luzon a unique building in the context of the development of the modern US skyline, but how many other buildings are there in Tacoma that are six stories tall, let alone over two stories? Look around Tacoma - there aren't too many!

The citizens of Tacoma should have an issue with the way the city is moving forward with the demolition of the Luzon. The study conducted in July by Swenson Say Fag�t makes no mention of the building being on the verge of collapse. Yes, it is in sad shape, but the study recommends what those in the community have been urging city leaders to do:

We recommend that the north exterior wall of the building be braced against collapse as soon as possible. The bracing of this wall should be accomplished from the exterior of the building, in a manner as to limit the need to access the interior of the building.

Read the study and decide for yourself.

Clearly, a plan for rehabilitating will take time. The building has been unmaintained for generations and can not be undone overnight - especially in the new economy. But Tacoma leaders should not throw in the towel and give up hope. Instead, it needs to act more aggressively to rehabilitate the Luzon AND look at city policies which allow owners to not maintain their property. The Luzon should not have been allowed to get to the state it currently is in.


comments [51]  |  posted under tacoma


by Nick on 9/21/2009 @ 11:55am
I could also see council members not partial to saving it interpreting the recommendation as "if nobody is going to fix it in the forseeable future, do something about it now"

I agree, I don't think there's a larger conspiracy here. I think the council has simply lost patience waiting for someone to fix the darned thing. Especially now that it has made a significant investment in the project across the street (not to mention potential fatalities if it collapsed during business hours).

The way I see it, letting it stand as-is is playing with fire. I think the city just has a very low tolerance for risk and would prefer to demolish a historic jewel over the chance it might kill people.

Don't get me wrong, I really love this building. I'm really hoping the plan to save it pulls through. If I had the funds and the means to save it, I'd be all over it. I'm just speculating as to the motivations behind the city's actions.

by NSHDscott on 9/21/2009 @ 11:56am
I'm being lazy and copying a comment I made to Peter's column, but it seems like a good question and I'd love to hear an answer.

If the Luzon's historic significance truly revolves around nationally known architects from Chicago and is one of the nation's first metal-beamed skyscrapers, why does the sole duty (and fiscal responsibility) for saving it fall to us Tacoma taxpayers? It seems to me like this building has more national significance than local significance (even the long-timers remember it for its later occupants, not its original function as a bank, I believe). Isn't there some sort of national fund, whether public or private, that could be applied toward the Luzon?

Frankly, I don't really care that it's one of the last remaining buildings built by Burnham and Root. Those guys don't mean anything to me. I care more about the building simply because I've watched it for my 14 years in Tacoma and rooted for it to survive. That may be enough for me to want the City of Tacoma to save it, but I can understand why a lot of my fellow Tacomans think that would be a waste of money. They don't care about a few Chicago architects. But surely there's someone in our great nation that wants to see this building saved enough to help out with a few hundred thou, isn't there? Are we looking for them?

by Nick on 9/21/2009 @ 11:58am

You know, I was thinking the same thing. I keep wondering if there aren't national organizations that work to protect/save historic buildings like this. Perhaps there are a few, and the Luzon simply hasn't been on their radar. Might be worth some lunchtime research...

by NineInchNachos on 9/21/2009 @ 12:02pm
Strickland told me something will be happening demolition wise this WED. This really is a race against time. I don't know what will happen, I just know it will be interesting no matter what.

by The Jinxmedic on 9/21/2009 @ 12:41pm
It's not too late today, but the day after tomorrow...

Hello preservationsts with capital? Anybody? Hello?



by morgan on 9/21/2009 @ 1:22pm
Other cities have non-profit developers to help with buildings that don't "pencil" - where are Tacoma's? In the 1970s, while Tacoma was paying downtown property owners to tear their buildings down, the city of Seattle created a half dozen community development organizations. The results really show - they have some kick but neighborhoods as a result. The Luzon is not too far gone to act to preserve it... yet.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 9/21/2009 @ 2:47pm
In Seattle a good many historic buildings are stripped of their unique architectural elements by their owners so that there is nothing worth preserving and the buildings get torn down for more profitable developments. No developer wants the historic designation on property they want to develop, not in Seattle. We have pretty much done the same thing here. Our historic buildings, in many cases, are allowed to decay to the point of hopelessness and the wrecking ball. In my book this is intentional.

by fredo on 9/21/2009 @ 7:17pm
There are many excellent comments here regarding the Luzon.

I wanted to mention that there is a magazine dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings. It's called Preservation Magazine and earlier this year they had an illustrated column on the Luzon. The column only covered rehabilitation efforts, not the buildings demolition. Since it's a monthly magazine there's probably not enough time for them to assist in a grassroots effort to save the Luzon.

by L.S.Erhardt on 9/21/2009 @ 8:43pm
If drugged-out hippies can save redwoods by chaining themselves to the tree, how about we get some chain and block the 'dozers from the Luzon?

by L.S.Erhardt on 9/21/2009 @ 8:44pm
No, really. I'm actually serious and not being snarkey for once.

by morgan on 9/21/2009 @ 8:55pm
Here's a note from Historic Tacoma who is working on an effort to halt the Luzon demolition - makes some pretty good points that should be fresh in everyone's minds from the Sauro's Dry Cleaner's incident:

In contracting for demo, the city will incur costs ($400-600 K) that are greater than the projected costs of bracing the building and will likely end up owning the property through default since the cleared property will have a value far less than the City lien. Demo means no chance of recovering cost whereas bracing preserves not only the building but the potential(albeit slim) of a rehab that pays back the lien. Once the building is gone and the site is bare ground the owner will have to deal with environmental cleanup and based on the Sauro’s site enviromental report there is downhill migration of soil contaminants in that area. As likely owner, the City should consider ground cleanup obligations as a consequence of the demo.

There is no certain evidence that there has been any recent, dramatic change in conditions at the building. The Swenson Say Faget structural report does not conclude that the building is in imminent danger of collapse. We should not be alarmed into an irreversible action that no one wants to be responsible for and which benefits no one at high public cost.

by fredo on 9/21/2009 @ 9:21pm
Right on Morgan, save our Luzon!

by Erik on 9/21/2009 @ 10:30pm
The Swenson Say Faget structural report does not conclude that the building is in imminent danger of collapse.

Perhaps there is a city engineer who has concluded that there is a danger of collapse.

by L.S.Erhardt on 9/21/2009 @ 10:50pm
Class action lawsuit.

by morgan on 9/22/2009 @ 6:48am
Email the city council TODAY!

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 9/22/2009 @ 11:11am
How long are they going to allow 13th street to be blocked off when the people in that fancy new garage building will want to be using it. Are they actually going to let the Luzon stand in the way of people having easy access to their fancy new offices, not to mention their views spoiled by the crumbling Luzon and the spiffy barricades that have been erected to protect passersby from potential death and injury. A lot of money has gone into renovating the south parking garage, I suspect that money talks.

by ixia on 9/22/2009 @ 1:24pm
Remember the 2001 earthquake? The city was in a huge hurry to tear down the historic warehouse below the Murray Morgan because �apparently� it had earthquake damage. That was supposed to be our permanent farmer�s market location. Still nothing has appeared on that city-made empty lot. Just think what the farmer�s market has done for Olympia, a city much smaller than Tacoma.
The city�s focus for Pacific Ave has been parking, parking, parking!! So that is what we got. Just that we don�t need any of it because there is nothing left to go see�.

by morgan on 9/22/2009 @ 3:20pm
Today's email from the city manager:

As you know, the Luzon is an incredibly sad story, 20 years in the making as owner after owner failed to do basic maintenance that would have preserved the structure. We have worked very hard to secure a development that would save the building. The Council has indicated its willingness to put over $1.5 million into redevelopment of the building and has led staff in extensive efforts with the owners and proposed developers to save Luzon. In spite of repeated deadlines and constant encouragement, no redevelopment occurred. I hate to see the building go, but it is in imminent danger of collapse. When we received our first report on the building, we warned the owner of the problems and made it as clear as possible that something had to be done. You may remember the Council Study Session. Lots of negotiation, but no agreement to proceed. Then, more recent information resulted in the finding of imminent danger. Still, we kept the door open for discussions with the potential developer. To their credit they worked right up until about noon today to try to make it work. Unfortunately, they could not put it together. We cannot, even in the name of preservation, put people’s lives in danger: so we must proceed. The building will come down on Saturday, September 26th. We will try to deconstruct as much as we can. There are clearly portions of the building we want to preserve and we will work very hard to do so.

I am sorry we have to do this. I regret that the building cannot be saved.


by preservation k on 9/24/2009 @ 4:04pm
In my opinion, the City of Tacoma does not have to demolish the Luzon!!

I have spoken to various concerned parties, and read the first engineering report (July 1, 2009) which recommended bracing of one wall ASAP. I haven't been able to read the second (peer) engineering report -- which, essentially, said that a different wall was also in very bad shape.

Apparently, taking into account that just in the last year a girder beam has broken, as well as other failing elements inside, there is a risk that the building could collapse. (But remember, it has managed to stand since 1891).

Now, if it were braced on four walls (@ a cost of about $600,000, not including any mitigation for one surrounding property owner), it would not collapse outward, but could collapse inwards despite being braced. This is why the City is going for demo. (Just as a side note, an estimate from August 2009 put the cost of demo at just under $700,000. But I do not know for certain whether this is still accurate.)

However, no one can put any real time on when such potential collapse might happen -- although going through another winter would be problematic because of the pooling of water in the building.

I believe that the City is not going for bracing because it believes that it won't find a developer anytime soon. We are just coming out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. With all the historic preservation tax credits available to this project, I simply can't believe that a gorgeous (on the outside) building located right downtown will not attract interest in a strengthening economy.

When I look at this building in relation to those near it -- and particularly after having seen some of the incredible architectural detailing in close-up photos -- this building simply anchors the entire surrounding area with its superb character. There is no way it should be totally demolished. Perhaps it could be gutted, but the exterior saved.

I am sure that if a committee of concerned citizens were to search the country for developers, one could be found.

It is amazing to me that this building is located right downtown and estimates to rehab are around $8 million. That really doesn't seem to be very much considering that some single family homes in Seattle and Bellevue are in the millions.

In the meantime, I would urge the City to brace and hold off on demolition -- or to hold off on demolition for a few weeks in the hopes that a developer could be found who would begin to shore up the building.

by morgan on 9/26/2009 @ 8:59am
"I think (Anderson's) made up his mind and he feels he's doing the right thing and that's what he's paid to do, " Baarsma said. "If I were to make the call, I'd wait. I'd get some more information to see if in fact there was a way to stabilize the building. But I understand how (the city manager) system (of government) works and where he's coming from."

Is it time to change Tacoma's form of government? Why is the city manager deciding the city's destiny? Isn't that supposed to be the job of our elected leaders?

by morgan on 10/1/2009 @ 7:14am
FYI: since voter turn-out is expected to be low this year, next year might be a good year for citizen initiatives. Hint, hint, hint.

by ixia on 10/1/2009 @ 7:32am
We need a full time council. Heck, Pierce County has a full time council and they have staff. I am not saying they do a better job. I am saying Tacoma desperately needs a team working focused entirely at the task at hand, and not distracted by looking for full time political work elsewhere. The manager needs to act like a manager. He must be controlled by the council and the voice Tacoma, not the other way around!

by fredo on 10/1/2009 @ 7:41am
Ixia we have a full time city council. They had to declare this to qualify for full health care benefits.

I doubt if requiring the council to spend more time would necessarily result in a better city. City government is driven by cronyism, unionism and ineptitude.

by ixia on 10/1/2009 @ 8:52am
Fredo, you are misinformed.
The Tacoma city council is part time. Only the mayor and the manager have a full time assistant. All other councils share one full time assistant.

by fredo on 10/1/2009 @ 10:56am
How do they qualify for full health care benefits which are only available to full time employees?

by ixia on 10/1/2009 @ 11:00am
30 hrs/week qualifies, common practice.

by Nick on 10/1/2009 @ 2:00pm
Just thought I'd throw this out there since I haven't seen anyone mention it: the contractor that razed the Luzon was the same contractor that was hired for the Broadway LID. Not saying there's a larger conspiracy here, but feel it's at least worth pointing out (for what it's worth).

by Nick on 10/1/2009 @ 2:04pm
... anyway, back to the current topic! I'm all for getting a referendum on the ballot to reshape our city government. Anyone have any experience with that kind of thing? What's involved?

by NineInchNachos on 10/1/2009 @ 2:13pm
I heard WM. Dickson even got a no bid contract.

by ixia on 10/1/2009 @ 2:38pm
It easy, all you have to do is cry: "danger!" and the rules are off. No revue process, no going out for bid. No vote in front of the council. No listening to anybody. As if Anderson had his first day on the job last week. Where was the concern all these years? Ah yes, I forgot, he was taking care of indoor parking....

by morgan on 10/1/2009 @ 8:45pm
Nick: I looked into it some time back but don't have the info handy - contact the city clerk's office for the process. I can assure you, there are many people interested in this topic.

by L.S.Erhardt on 10/1/2009 @ 8:54pm
Perhaps then we should pool our resources to get an initiative going, instead of having several competing ones.

I propose we form the Tacoma Activists for Complete Overhaul... or TACO.
Well, maybe we could come up with a better name. But we really do need to organize to make this happen.

by morgan on 10/1/2009 @ 9:54pm
I think there was a similar effort started a number of years ago around Brame. I wonder who organized it and if it ever got off the ground.

by LuzonBrick on 10/1/2009 @ 10:03pm
If an official mascot is needed, my services are available.
An artistically done portrait of myself could also serve as a meaningful, memorable logo for the group.

by Nick on 10/1/2009 @ 10:20pm
I'm going to do a little research on this to see what is needed to get this process started - I'll post up what I find...

by morgan on 11/1/2009 @ 1:38pm
It's true. The Luzon was simply a pawn in an ugly power game between the city and Plaza North Developer, Daniel Putnam. Tacoma's residents sponsored his shiny new LEED building, but ended up getting shafted in the end. Is that some way of saying "thank you"?

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 11/1/2009 @ 1:43pm
Was there ever any doubt that the Luzon came down because the Pacific Plaza people did not want it there? If I were the Gintz people I'd be seeing my lawyers right about now. I have no love for the Gintz people but man were they screwed by the city. I suspect that the Gintz people will be paid in full before this is all said and done.

by Mofo from the Hood on 11/1/2009 @ 4:03pm
If only the Park Plaza South garage never got remodeled...

by Girl Who <3 JUNK on 11/1/2009 @ 5:24pm
It's been a while since I've walked around downtown.

Did they get rid of ALL the Luzon bricks?

Are they still in a large pile?

by L.S.Erhardt on 11/1/2009 @ 10:14pm
There are still brix there, you just have to pull one out of a suspiciously-flimsy looking chunk of the wall they left.
No more fences or guards, so it's open season I say.

But in regards to Pacific Plaza, it's a mixed bag. We lost a piece of history and get another parking lot for the next 5 decades or so.
But Pac Plaza is light years better than Park Plaza South. It's LEED Platinum Class A. That's the kinda space that attracts the higher paying companies to downtown. Sure, companies that don't require Class A are valuable members of the community, and are good employers and corporate citizens. But we'll never get or keep an "international financial services company" or what not if our best office space looks at rusting bridges or buildings that have been neglected for 3 decades or more.

So at this point, I'm undecided on the issue. I hate to see history destroyed but I also hate to see $36,000,000 of our money wasted because no one will lease space anywhere near a rotting building. Time will tell on this one. Did we lose too much, or will it spark more conservation and more businesses setting up shop?
Only time will tell.

by ixia on 11/1/2009 @ 10:39pm
Build parking and more class A space when needed. Overabundance creates empty buildings and dead parking lots and loss of revenue all around. You can't possibly believe that people would shy away from renting office space above a parking garage because there is an old brick building across the street? Seriously, the worst reason I ever heard for destroying the Luzon. Do you ever choose to eat or not eat in a restaurant because the building next door was old or not of a height or color or texture you like? How anybody ever bought this nonsense by Putnam is insane. The city council and most staff lack vision and backbone and a general sense of community. Have a look around. Many of city owned buildings are in terrible shape and much decay. They don’t bother cleaning out the gutters when the rain pours over them. They just don’t give a rat’s ass.

by L.S.Erhardt on 11/1/2009 @ 10:40pm
@ ixia: I don't make eating decisions based on that, but businesses are not people. They do not operate under the same logic. For some of them (especially in the financial industry) reputation and image are the only thing they really have to sell. They don't think like you and me.
The ideal would have been for private developers and the City/County not to sit on their laurels and let the building rot for 30 years. THAT would have been the best solution.
I did not want to see the Luzon torn down, but now that the deed is done, what do we do? We either cry and moan or we get our asses in gear and pressure the city or private enterprise to get their act together and fix what's left still.
If we do nothing, this event will happen again and again.

On a side note...

You know, I wonder if there was this big of a discussion and outcry when the Woolworth company tore down the 12 story Fidelity Trust Building in 1949 to build the orange yuck that sits on 11th & Commerce now. The original building was built in 1891 as well, you know.

by The Jinxmedic on 11/2/2009 @ 4:09pm
Back then, it was all about "progress", not parking lots.

by fredo on 11/2/2009 @ 7:20pm
Well the woolworth building is an art deco style structure and one of the few which is still standing in Tacoma. I think its very handsome and worthy of preservation.

by L.S.Erhardt on 11/2/2009 @ 7:57pm
Actually, while not trying to split hairs here, I think Woolworth's is so-called "midcentury modern", like Park Towers & Frisko Freeze.

Art Deco kinda died out in the early 40s, but parts of it lived on and evolved into aforementioned midecentury modern.
Good examples of Deco in town are City Hall (not old city hall), the Foremost Dairy building, that baptist church on 6th & Tacoma Ave.

And Fredo, FYI we have even less midcentury stuff around than Deco.

by fredo on 11/2/2009 @ 8:57pm
my bad

by L.S.Erhardt on 11/2/2009 @ 9:41pm
It's all cool, amigo.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 11/2/2009 @ 10:26pm
I think the Woolworth's building is a fine building, it just deserves to be something other than a server farm. Server farms are why they build business parks in Fife. Let the Woolworth's live as retail once again, imagine what a fine grocery store it would make, especially if they put in the old lunch counter again. Tacoma should pass a law, retail store fronts should remain retail store fronts. We have plenty of office space on the second floors of our buildings. And please, no more mortgage offices downtown, I think we have enough already.

by L.S.Erhardt on 11/2/2009 @ 10:40pm
I remember my mom browsing there while waiting for the bus. The ladies behind the counter would give crackers to my little sisters and I.

Fond memories.

by Dave_L on 11/2/2009 @ 11:12pm
Woolworth lunch counter and toy aisle. Priceless.
CS, how about Woolworth Bail Bonds?

You were right all along, Morgan. The good ol' boys got to tear down the Luzon. The same bunch that decided to use the Turkish baths to flush the parking garage toilets. Another one of the many "too-bads" is that it's too bad our friend Reuben had to get caught in the middle, probably deemed temporarily powerless, despite "Officer" in his title. Must have been a tough, conflicting position to be in. I now believe there isn't a building in Tacoma whose destruction would generate a Penn-Station style backlash. I just don't think enough of Tacoma cares enough.
(Insert Historic Tacoma promo here:

by Dave_L on 11/2/2009 @ 11:32pm
P.S. - I hear word of an art show and sale commemorating the Luzon that will be held in December. If you aren't a member of Historic Tacoma, you will surely still hear details about it soon from those in the know.