Morgan's Brain

Oct. 30, 2009 at 2:08pm

News from Historic Tacoma: Loss of the 1890 Luzon Building

This just came in my "in" box and wanted to share it:


Along with many in the community, we are still reeling from and mourning the loss of the iconic Luzon Building by Chicago architects, Burnham & Root.  On the morning of the demolition we overheard people, some of whom were happy to see the building go, marvel over its thick walls, interior details and stout construction... "they don't build them like that anymore."  Indeed.

            Fault certainly lies with the three previous owners of the building who for the last 20 years failed to take basic steps to protect their investment and put a roof on and secure the building.  But it is the City of Tacoma that did the deed.  We are disappointed by and question the process that resulted in demolition. 

         Was the building actually in imminent danger of collapse? Did the city disregard information that could have changed the city's assessment of the building?

         Prior to committing to action, did the City explore all alternatives to demolition that might alleviate life safety risks?

         Was there adequate time allowed for Council to learn constituents' concerns before learning of the demolition order, time that would have allowed for exploration of demolition alternatives and Council engagement at an earlier date?

         Why was shoring not chosen as the preferred alternative if the cost was less than for demolition and it would allow preservation of the building?  Was this choice properly the City Manager's or Building Official's decision to make?

Picking Up the Pieces -
            We hope to find a method to constructively discuss these questions and identify how the community can be more proactive about preservation and avoid sometimes futile, last minute efforts.

            At Historic Tacoma's urging, the City salvaged building artifacts both before and after demolition.  The artifacts are in storage and their disposition is currently being negotiated between the City and the building owner.  Historic Tacoma wants these items to remain in Tacoma, so we'll keep you posted as we learn more.

            A group of artists will host a show and sale of art works commemorating the Luzon in late December.  The exhibition will be curated by Historic Tacoma member and ceramic artist Claudia Riedener.  50% of sale proceeds will be donated to Historic Tacoma.  The show and sale will be open December 16th and 20th with other dates to be determined.  We'll provide more details later this fall.

comments [4]  |  posted under tacoma


by L.S.Erhardt on 10/30/2009 @ 3:21pm
Where does the famed Luzon Brick fit into this?

by Mofo from the Hood on 10/30/2009 @ 6:02pm
Year by year for the Luzon, the context in which it was built and operated was demolished---in effect the building was devalued because the definition of the urban streetscape was subject to an eclectic redefinition.

The last day the Luzon stood, it was surrounded by architecture that reflected the relativistic world-view of the population---Every thing is subject to change. There is no unchanging standard of value to conserve.

In its last years and days, the Luzon never had a chance because it was subject to valuation in terms of how it could benefit an investor and Tacoma monetarily. Its value was measured quantitatively not qualitatively.

We live in the "Yes We Can" age of personal preference and economic choice. For all the thoughtful questions posed by Historic Tacoma, in the end it was simply an economic choice to demolish the Luzon.

"Yes We Can" in this new age is all about personal preference and economic choice; and nothing about conserving an unchanging standard of value of Truth, beauty, and goodness.

by morgan on 10/30/2009 @ 7:39pm
Mofo: I couldn't disagree more. In the end it was a political choice, not just economic.

by Mofo from the Hood on 10/30/2009 @ 11:01pm
"We hope to find a method to constructively discuss these questions and identify how the community can be more proactive about preservation and avoid sometimes futile, last minute efforts."---Historic Tacoma

I don't doubt the sincerity or the capacity of the members of Historic Tacoma to structure at least an educational program for the community.

I don't know how much influence in politics that HT has or seeks to have.

Maybe the Luzon did have a qualitative value that contributed to the social well-being of the community. If so, then I'd like to hear what the inherent value of any building is so that I can understand why and how I should support any effort to conserve a building.

As I understand the position of the City, the decision to demolish the Luzon was primarily to protect the social well-being of the community---the building was a safety hazard. That's a justifiable decision by an institution established by citizens to do what any one individual or small group cannot do for lack of coercive power---protect a vulnerable citizenry.

I think the City weighed the costs and benefits of demolishing the Luzon. It was a political decision to demolish the Luzon, and it was an economic decision. All economic decisions are matters of value---choosing what is the higher good.

The City exercised its role of stewardship.

Unfortunately, for fans of the Luzon, a series of owners did not exercise their role of stewardship. They made economic decisions based on what they saw as the higher good, to the detriment of the Luzon.

The exception in this case is the last owner which was subjected to a higher authority that overruled the rights of the individual and private property.

In the final analysis, as I attempted to point out @6:02, unless there is a universal unchanging standard of value---truth, beauty, and goodness---every decision as to what building (and person) should be included in the community---every choice of action will be a matter of personal preference of the party with the most coercive power. The foundation of that kind of coercive power is economic power, an ever-changing value.

That's why year by year for the Luzon, the context in which it was built and operated was demolished---the urban streetscape was subject to an eclectic redefinition because of ever-changing economic powers with ever-changing values.

The streetscape wasn't conserved because there weren't enough people with economic power and conservative values to save the context in which the Luzon was built, and lastly save the Luzon itself.