Morgan's Brain

May. 26, 2009 at 1:00am

Tacoma's Historic Sacred Places: their Past, Present and Future: 7pm, Thurs May 28

Tacoma's Historic Sacred Places: their Past, Present and Future, a lecture & community conversation

7pm, Thurs May 28, Urban Grace Church, S. 9th & Market
     Historic Tacoma is hosting a lecture and discussion to kick off its Preserving Tacoma's Historic Sacred Places project.  The program will review the architecture and history of Tacoma's sacred places, their contributions to the development of the City and its neighborhoods, and take a look to the future.
     The program will feature architectural historian, Caroline Swope, architect Gerry Eysaman, and Pastor Dennis Andersen, Board member, Partners for Sacred Places.
      The evening will conclude with a community conversation about the future of Tacoma's historic sacred places.  For more information about this project, visit

comments [5]  |  posted under tacoma


by Erik on 5/26/2009 @ 1:06am
Perhaps someone could inquire of HT when the Spanish Steps are going to be renovated.

Could they be consider "Historic Sacred Place" of Tacoma.

Were not they supposed to be renovated years ago?

I thought the City of Tacoma received a huge grants to restore them.

by morgan on 5/26/2009 @ 11:32am
The stairs are in the city's court - HT is not involved - at least not that I know of. I think some state/federal funding is coming down to fix the stairs. While they may be sacred to some, I don't think they qualify as a church though.

by Jake on 5/26/2009 @ 12:01pm
I believe the rehab of the Spanish Steps will be part of the Stadium Way project.

by Twisty on 5/27/2009 @ 3:30pm
I looked into the matter of the Steps last spring.

The city has the money, and the work was originally scheduled to be completed last summer. I spoke to a guy in Public Works, and he informed me that the city was negotiating a construction easement with Diamond Parking. That was last June, I believe. I have no idea what the hold-up might be now, but I suspect it is related to the Broadway LID work. There is no time limit attached to the funding.

by TDI-Reporters-Notebook on 5/27/2009 @ 4:23pm
FWIW: I dug into the archives here at Index 'world headquarters' and found the last article I wrote on the Spanish Steps (almost two years ago; the headline is now foolish). I would link to it but TDI's clunky Web site makes that impossible . . . --TODD

Jul 27 2007
Momentum continues for Spanish Steps rehabilitation
By Todd Matthews, Editor

It is arguably the most neglected pedestrian walkway downtown.

Sure, the zig-zagged hill climb connecting Pacific Avenue to Broadway -- an area where overgrown shrubs, sharp corners, and scores of blind spots leave pedestrians on the defense -- needs attention. And the rusted, vertigo-inducing staircase beneath Murray Morgan Bridge, connecting downtown to Foss Waterway, is another decayed passageway.

But nothing compares to the Spanish Steps.

Located near South Seventh Street and Broadway, it connects Commerce Street to Broadway, near Old City Hall, and is a crumbled collection of concrete colonnades, once-decorative urns, and chipped steps.

Recently, vandals toppled and smashed two decorative urns. A couple years ago, a driver lost control of his vehicle and drove down the steps, knocking out a grill of colonnades that front a landing with views of Tacoma's tide flats. And police officers have long complained the steps serve as an entry point for homeless people seeking shelter inside the adjacent and abandoned former Elk's Lodge. A visit to the area this week revealed smashed 40-ounce beer cans, broken glass, and a plump rat that scurried between bushes.

But a plan to repair the steps and return order to the area continues to gain momentum.

In May, the City received a Transportation Enhancement grant totaling $944,000 from the Washington State Department of Transportation for design and repair work. Additional federal funding brings the total purse to $1.2 million.

On Wednesday, the City of Tacoma's Landmarks Preservation Commission approved recommendations from a local design firm on ways to use those funds to rehabilitate the landmark.

The key word: rehabilitate.

According to Michael Sullivan, a principal at Artifacts, Inc., a local consulting firm that contracted with the City in 2004 to study the project and provide recommendations, original designers used pulverized marble and cast stone to create a concrete-like material to comprise the staircase. Though cost-effective nearly 100 years ago, today the process is obsolete.

"It's like Cartier jewelry made out of aluminum instead of platinum," said Sullivan, who presented recommendations during this week's meeting. While compiling the report, Sullivan's firm tracked down two contractors capable of replicating this process. The closest -- located in Texas -- even discouraged this idea for restoring Spanish Steps. "We really looked hard at reproducing cast stone. It's not realistic to think about full restoration."

A 36-page report presented Wednesday includes recommendations to repair existing concrete, masonry, metal, and cast stone elements, as well as recommendations for thermal and moisture protection. It also includes a list of recommended suppliers for the replacement materials, contractor qualifications, and an itemized task list.

According to City of Tacoma historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight, Artifacts' recommendations for treatment and repair are designed to guide the City in putting together bid documents and specifications. The recommendations are based on the Secretary of the Interior's standards for the treatment of historic properties, as well as the National Park Service's preservation briefs, which are the same standards adopted by the City's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The City is expected to solicit bid requests in early-August, and award a contract in mid-October, according to the City's construction projects list. Once awarded, rehabilitation would take approximately three months, and could be completed in early-2008.

The Spanish Steps were built in 1916, and modeled after its famed namesake in Rome. They are located within the Old City Hall Historic District -- an area listed on local, state, and national historic registers. In the 1950s, the steps started to degrade. Shoddy patchwork, deferred maintenance, and vandalism contributed to its continued decline.

Sullivan estimated that proper rehabilitation would give the Spanish Steps another 25 years of life. Perhaps more important, restoring it as an attractive setting serving a vital hill climb passage would give downtown visitors a reason to visit the area.

"It's amazing," said Sullivan. "At one time, these steps were used heavily." He noted the steps were used to connect a streetcar line on Broadway to Old City Hall on Commerce Street. "[Today], they don't seem safe to anybody. When they are not used heavily, they become a target [for vandalism]."