Livable City Year

Working Towards Equity and Inclusion through Historic District Development

Livable City Year 2017-2018 – City of Tacoma

UW Faculty: Kathryn Merlino, Dept. of Architecture
City Project Lead: Reuben McKnight, Historic Preservation

Project summary

Since undertaking a Historic Preservation Program in the 1970s, Tacoma has established an impressive eight historic districts and added more than 160 individual properties to its Register of Historic Places. Two of Tacoma’s historic districts occur in its downtown core and six border mostly contiguous residential neighborhoods; all occur in the northern half of the city and trace to Tacoma’s unique history and origins as an important nexus for rail, shipping, and timber. Those who originally built these industries helped shape the modern city; and their legacy lives on to the extent that we acknowledge their contributions and preserve the remaining structures that tell of their time.

Despite efforts in historic preservation, the image of Tacoma captured
by its historic districts offers an incomplete picture, leaving out all the neighborhoods of East Tacoma and South Tacoma. There is ample room and reason to expand Tacoma’s Historic Preservation Program to include the stories and people of these other major districts. The City of Tacoma understands the landmark preservation process as a lengthy, labor-intensive, grassroots effort. Thus, to support the City’s efforts, this Livable City Year (LCY) project provides much of the necessary legwork, including hundreds of hours of work by students, UW faculty, City staff, and community partners. The intent is to offer a boost for the City to broaden the reach of its Historic Preservation Program, to bridge the equity gap for Tacoma’s underrepresented neighborhoods, predominantly located in East Tacoma and South Tacoma.

This project supports neighborhood project leaders in focusing their efforts on more comprehensive project elements, and it aims to reduce the time-intensive, but highly necessary, fieldwork required to successfully create new historic districts.

Over the course of the Winter and Spring Academic Quarters of 2018, our team, comprised of architecture and urban planning undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Washington (UW), identified and researched three Tacoma neighborhoods for potential, future designation as historic districts: McKinley Hill, South Tacoma, and the Lincoln District. Each of these areas possesses a rich social history; a unique, modern, community identity; and cohesive architectural characteristics, very worthy of preservation. During the research phase, we met with preservation experts and community leaders to identify significant, historical people, places, and events of each neighborhood. Our learnings from these encounters inform the development of this final report.

To narrow the focus of our work, and to ensure a high-quality, complete set of district nomination packages, we selected McKinley Hill and South Tacoma for further investigation. We participated in walking tours, led by an independent company, Pretty Gritty Tours, of the McKinley Hill and South Tacoma neighborhoods. Additionally, we held public meetings to generate local awareness of our project and to glean feedback from community members. Ultimately, we surveyed and inventoried more than 700 properties throughout the McKinley Hill and South Tacoma districts. We found more than 60% of the structures surveyed to retain their physical integrity; this links them to their original appearances and means they qualify for National Register nomination right now. With restoration work, many additional sites could become eligible in the future.

Our final report includes narrative histories that represent the McKinley Hill and South Tacoma districts, and a complete inventory of each property, as required for National Register nominations. We are confident that after review of local and Washington State agencies both McKinley Hill and South Tacoma will join Tacoma’s eight other registered historic districts.

Part of the 2017-2018 Livable City Year partnership between the University of Washington and the City of Tacoma.

See all Livable City Year projects in Tacoma that UW students and faculty worked on during the year-long partnership.

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