As constructed (1889)
The Abbott Building, as it was known originally, was constructed in 1889 as a five-story building with full-site coverage of 9,000 square feet per floor. In designing the Abbott Building, architects Pickles and Sutton used styles and materials made popular by prominent architects Henry Hobson Richardson and Louis Sullivan. These are reflected in the use of massive stone elements, particularly the arched entry and stone corner columns, and the Romanesque arches that were the crowning elements on the fourth and fifth floors. The Broadway storefront, with its cast iron columns flanking the stone entry, the cast iron columns and use of stone in the windows of the second and third floors, and the heavy timber framing, are traceable to the St. Louis Warehouse Style. It is these latter elements that were emphasized in the recreation of the storefront and the rehabilitation of the fourth floor façade.
According to documents of 1890, attained from the Washington State Historical Archives, (see handwritten attachment), the building was constructed as follows:
Base: Concrete footing 48 inches wide, 1 foot deep.
Covered by: Tenino sandstone 42 inches wide, 36 inches deep.
First floor brick: 25 inch thickness
Second floor brick: 21 inch thickness
Third floor brick: 17 inch thickness
Fourth & Fifth floor brick: 12 inch thickness
The Broadway front is anchored by the hand-carved Tenino sandstone arch, 16 feet wide by 20 feet tall, flanked by carved stone columns on the north and south corners of the Broadway frontage. Three cast iron columns extend to the full 20-foot height of the main floor. Three large carved stone plinths remain. The second and third floors are each 13 feet high. The fourth floor is 14 feet high on the Broadway front.
The upper floors of the Broadway front were constructed of ornamental brickwork, carved stone, and cast iron columns. These original elements remain on the second and third floors.
According to chronicles, construction was begun in the summer of 1889, but after the first three floors were built, lack of stone availability delayed the completion into the bad weather of winter. As noted in the buildings history, the structure was being completed against a tight timeline for occupancy, thus the leaky roof. With indulgent exterior finishes, the building was among the most dramatic structures in Tacoma. Appointed as a hotel, the interior was described as featuring a spacious central hall, elegant dining, drawing and billiard rooms. The existence of an elevator is evidenced by an 1891 newspaper article about nine women teachers trapped in the enclosure for two hours.
Major alterations (Before April, 2000)
The first major structural change occurred in the1905 conversion to
The Savoy Theater. The building was gutted and then in-filled with seating levels on the main floor and two balconies. The 1914 fire that destroyed the interior caused such structural weakness on the upper levels that demolition was imminent.
After facing the wrecking ball for nearly two years, the second major change came in 1916 with the removal of the fifth floor. That step cost the building the crowning elements of the Broadway facade. Internally, the building was completely re-framed on two column lines 24 feet apart, running east and west. The main floor ceiling was framed with 7x12-inch timbers spanning 24 feet, set four feet on center, while the second and third floor ceilings were framed with 3x14-inch joist, set 16-inches on center. The roof was patched together with a mix of joist saved from the original roof some with fire-charred spots still visible today. To accommodate conversion to use as an automobile dealership car ramps were installed to provide access from Court C onto the second, third and fourth floors. The Broadway storefront was completely changed, a vehicle entrance installed, large showroom windows replaced the ornate original storefront, and the cast iron columns were wrapped with millwork. The first phase of what would be at least four mezzanine additions was installed on the main floor level. In 1925, another fire caused significant damage and repairs.
The third major structural re-configuration was executed in 1967. The April, 1965 earthquake reportedly caused cracks in walls of the fourth floor, prompting the owners to remove the brick walls at that level, including the arched windows and stone work on the Broadway front. In that process, the roof of the 1916 post-fire rebuild was raised in place, then set back down on the concrete block walls that comprised the fourth floor. Arched windows on the Court C level and the third floor were blocked in, and huge steel I-beams were installed to stabilize the car ramps. The Broadway face was modernized again, with another storefront design. The windows were changed, a metal roll-up vehicle door was installed. The cast iron columns, already wrapped once in wood, were now boxed with plywood. The stone columns and arch were boxed in and covered with stucco. The entire Broadway front was covered with vertical-grooved corrugated sheathing.
* The Passages Rehabilitation Project (April, 2000 to September, 2001)
The rehabilitation of the building, which was begun in April, 2000, involved repairs, reconstruction, mechanical upgrades and re-creation as was appropriate for the entire 41,000 square feet of the structure. This building experienced the start of demolition twice, the fifth floor being removed in 1916, and the fourth being removed and replaced with concrete blocks in 1967. The scope of work was intended to promote as many of the original features as possible, and to honor the spirit of the buildings design integrity in areas that had to be rebuilt. This work met all code and design requirements as instituted by the City of Tacoma's Building and Land Use Department, Tacoma Public Utilities, and the Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The building was vacant when purchased, having been used most recently as retail space on the main floor, parking and storage on upper floors. The corrugated blue sheathing and stucco coating covered the entire four-story facade on Broadway. There were three metal roll-up vehicle doors. On the Opera Alley side of the building, all street-level windows, as well as those on the third floor, were filled in with concrete block. Ceilings on the first floor were water damaged and partially detached. The roof was deteriorated. The few original windows that remained had degraded sash and were unusable, but we repaired the original window frames and some interior casing. The cast iron columns were rusted and pitted. The exposed joist and beams on each floor and roof were water stained and, in places, suffering from dry-rot. Many areas of masonry were badly deteriorated. All plumbing, wiring and heating systems were in such poor condition they required complete replacement. An old freight elevator was unsafe and required removal. Many areas of stone and brick had been plastered on both the interior and exterior. Numerous partitions and architecturally incompatible demising walls were in various states of disrepair on the first three floors.
Demolition involved clearing out the clutter of partition walls and all mechanical and electrical systems, removing deteriorated masonry and dry-rot wood, removing all concrete blocking from entrances on Broadway and Opera Alley, along with the roll-up vehicle doors. We cleaned all the timbers, which remain revealed as the ceiling on each floor. When we removed the car ramps that extended from the 2nd to 4th floors, we needed to secure 90 3x14-inch by 24-feet old-growth timbers to match the timbers that remained. We found these in British Columbia and Northern California. From the areas that were opened for the two stair towers and the elevator, we removed 12 7x12-inch 24-foot beams and re-used them as exposed supports for the mezzanine.
We removed the blue sheathing that had been installed on the front of the building in 1967, revealing the carved stone entry arch. In that same 1967 "modernization," the 4th floor brick walls had been removed and replaced with concrete block. We removed the walls that faced Broadway and Opera Alley and rebuilt them with steel framing. To match the ornamental brick pattern extending from the second and third floors, we had specials molds made, which were then covered in stucco. The cast iron columns and window frames were hand-stripped, repaired and re-painted. We installed all new windows front and back and crowned both facades with ornamental sheet metal. Using timbers salvaged from the building, hand-milled columns were created for the Broadway fourth floor exterior to replicate those adorning the original facade. Throughout the building, we installed over 100 windows, most of them taller than 9 feet, all energy efficient, all wood frame.
On the street level and third floor, many of the windows openings had been filled in with concrete block. After removing this block and repairing the brick arches, we hired Vlahovich Boat Corp to custom craft the window frames and casings, using re-milled timbers salvaged from the building. The Broadway storefront windows were rebuilt to match the original 20-foot high design. New 4-inch and 2-inch water services were brought into the building, a full-building sprinkler system was installed, rest rooms were created on each floor, and a new sewer line was installed. Completely new power and gas services were installed, including new meters and new HVAC units serving each floor. A hydraulic elevator was installed, as was a all-building security system.
Footings four feet deep extending across the front and back of the building were excavated and filled with concrete to anchor the steel seismic system that extends to the roof. Additional seismic bracing was created with tongue & groove sheathing and angle-iron fastened to each wall on each floor.
The 7x12 beams on the 20-foot high lobby ceiling were cleaned and left exposed. Oak doors and panels that had been salvaged years ago from the Union Station rehabilitation project were used in the lobby and mezzanine. These pieces were stripped, re-milled and re-assembled by local crafts people. Architectural elements from other properties of historic character were incorporated into interior finishes, including windows, an arched door and oak flooring from the Flett Dairy. The lobby entrance features an historic ticket booth that was restored and installed as a tribute to the building's tour of duty as the Savoy Theater from 1905-1914.
On interior walls there remain diagonal sections of the old parking ramps, bricked in fireplaces and windows from the days it was a hotel, and even battered millwork dating back to 1889, This is a building that spans 113 years and our finished product draws on the best of features from its original construction and those being used today. From the drama of old-world timbers, millwork, cast iron, stone and brick, to the most contemporary efficiencies in mechanical systems, we feel we have renewed the soul of a very special building. Even the design of 1889 date block that adorns the Broadway facade pediment is an exact replica of the original style.
The Building / Historic Uses
The Abbott Building, as it was known when constructed in 1889, exemplifies historic and architectural significance for its cultural, political, economic and social roles in Tacomas history. There were approximately 100 commercial buildings constructed in Tacomac. 1890 that were architecturally significant for their large scale, ornamental expressiveness and impact on the urban landscape. This building is one of fewer than a dozen to survive. Its well-chronicled history is representative of the trends and trials that comprise Tacomas story over a span than connects to three centuries.
1889: U.S. Post Office
There probably has never been a time in Tacomas history that was marked with greater expression of optimism than in 1889. In the year Washington Territory would become a state, real estate values were leaping as back east investors plowed large sums of money into Tacoma. Inspired that the business district was ready to move up the hill from the Pacific Avenue-A Street core, Twyman Abbott decided to build Tacoma a fancy new post office on a site now known as 708 Broadway. The Bostwick was on the drawing board for its 9th and Broadway location, and Abbotts five-story building would create an even larger presence at the other end of the long block.
He tapped the talents of a pair of 25-year-old architects, James Pickles from England, and Albert Sutton, of Victoria, B.C. The latter would become one of the more prominent architects on the west coast and had among his designs in Tacoma, Annie Wright Seminary, the Rust Building, the National Bank, Jones Hall at the University of Puget Sound, and the First Presbyterian Church. He also designed the Shrine and Multnomah hospitals and the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Portland.
On June 18, 1889, nearly half a year before Washington would become a state, articles in the Tacoma Daily Ledger announced Abbott had been awarded Tacomas main post office contract and that he was going to construct a building worthy of its role. Two days later protests began to hit the newspapers, proclaiming the new site was on the outskirts of the primary business district. With the building located at S. 7th and what was then called C St., the site was considered too far to hike from the heart of the business community on 12th and A Sts.
By the time statehood was enacted in November, construction was stopped due to lack of stone. The anticipated project cost of $35,000 became over $90,000 by the time of completion. When the post office finally opened in January, 1890, the roof leaked and the protests became a crusade led by the Ledger which, in one hyperbolic article, reported a sea serpent siting in the lobby where people had to dive for their mail.
1890: The Abbott Hotel/ The Grand Pacific Hotel -
In September, 1890, the crusaders prevailed, and the post office contact was rescinded. Three days later, the indomitable Abbott announced his building would be converted into the Abbott Hotel and that he had lured M.J. Reilly away from the Tacoma Hotel to be his manager. Five months later the building was sold to H.C. Clement for $170,000 and was renamed the Grand Pacific Hotel. The day the deal closed Reilly dropped dead in a drugstore. Clement announced he was going to buy the Methodist Church next door and expand the hotel by 100 rooms. That didnt happen, but the125-room Grand was said to rival the Tacoma Hotel as the most luxurious hotel in town. The full-page photo in Spikes 1891 Illustrated Description of the City of Tacoma, shows horse drawn carriages in front of a flag-flying monument to grandness in brick and stone. In this and other illustrations, The Abbott is captured in images that remain as an icon to its era.
The Abbott Building anchored the north entrance to the Broadway Business District until the completion of the Elks Temple across the street in 1916.
Although Abbotts name was soon chiseled off the stone block situated two stories above the center arch, he deserves acknowledgment as one of the boldest of early Tacoma builders. He was only 26 years old at the time he built his five-story monument. The structure dominated the wood-frame buildings that surrounded the location, staking out the neighborhood in which Old City Hall would be built four years later in 1893.
Abbott, who was brought across the Oregon Trail at the age of two, became an attorney in Tacoma. In 1894 Abbott was awarded a $10,000 settlement in a suit against the U.S. government for breach of the post office contract. His grandest scheme was a proposal in 1896 to create a city to be known as Whitman, which would be located halfway between Seattle and Tacoma. He hoped to locate Whitman College there as well as relocate the state capitol from Olympia. Abbott was under contract to re-acquire his old building in 1907 for $50,000, but failed to act on the purchase.
1905: The Savoy Theater
In 1893, William McGeorge of Philadelphia acquired the property by assuming the mortgage. Luxury units were installed on the top floor and soon became the swank residences of a group of prominent bachelors, including George Francis Train, who would bring attention to Tacoma with his famous round-the-world trip
In early 1905, the first three floors were gutted and reconfigured to create the Auditorium Grand, which featured seating for 1,500 patrons on the main floor and two balconies. The pitch of the seating areas provided excellent sight lines to the stage, which was located adjacent to Court C. The hotel operation continued on the top floor. Damaged by fire within months of the renovation, the building was repaired and reopened as The Savoy.
As one of the 40 houses on the Empire Burlesque circuit, The Savoy was part of a national wheel in which a company would play a week at a venue before moving on to the next town. The seats were plush, upholstered in green, a color matched by the box curtains and draperies. The auditorium was brightened by white paint from ceiling to ornamental fronts on the balconies. The only such facility on the west coast managed exclusively by women, The Savoy opened to packed houses with a comedy called Kentucky Belles. The crowning performance for The Savoy came on the night of May 10, 1906 when the famed Sarah Bernhardt performed in Camille as part of what was billed as her farewell American Tour. But, eventually competition diluted the crowds to the point the owner of the rival Star theater tied up The Savoy on a long-term lease, took all the scenery to his place, and left The Savoy dark. Months later the scenery caught fire and the Star burned down.
1914: Destruction of the Jinx
The buildings structural integrity had been compromised by the theater configuration and, after five years in which the seats mildewed and tramps took up residency, the City condemned the building. When fire ravaged the empty building in June, 1914, it was the talk of the town. In fact, it seemed as if the Tacoma Daily Ledger hadnt gotten over its grudge against Abbotts post office, as its front page coverage crowed: Big Crowd See Burning of Jinx. The building was dismissed as a a charred ruin, defined in the past tense as a melancholy relic of usefulness gone, all of which was cynically seen as a fitting end to a property in which The jinx camped in the lobby from the start.
Over the next two years, the blackened, roof-less building periodically shed bricks on neighbors and businessmen called for the structure to be razed. As owner, McGeorge refused to comply with the pressure to tear down what was left of his building. On March 12, 1916 a portion of the north wall fell forcing closure of the Ford dealership to the north. Six days later, demolition was begun. The fifth floor was off by the time Mayor Fawcett stepped in on May 28 to issue a reprieve that would eventually allow the building to be saved.
1916: Hupmobile Auto Dealership
McGeorge had claimed the building was owned by a stock company in which the money of widows and orphans is invested, and set out to protect their interests. Broadway, between S. 7th and 9th, was becoming Tacomas first Auto Row, with dealerships lining the street. McGeorge had the building restructured as a garage at a cost of $8,000. The Court C wall had to be rebuilt from the second floor up and the Broadway face was lopped off at the fourth floor, losing the necklace of smaller Romanesque windows and the ornate brick cornice. The Broadway storefront was modernized with large plate glass windows and the cast iron columns were wrapped with wood staves. The interior was re-framed in heavy timber with ramps onto the three upper floors from Court C.
This began a succession of auto-related uses that would continue for decades in what was to be called The Motor Building. In March1917 the buildings primary occupant was the Firestone Tire headquarters. Five months later the Little & Kennedy Co. took over on a ten-year lease to sell new Studebakers, and Kelly-Springfield tires, as well as used cars. A showroom was created on the Broadway level with vehicle doors and the mechanics workshop operated on the second floor.
Periodic newspaper pictures illustrated the progression of vehicle repair and sales activity at 708 Broadway as some of Americas first generation of autos were marketed in the used car facility. A 1919 picture showed the T.W. Little work force of 40 posed in front of the large stone arch. In 1919 W.H. Daddy Barnes stole the states only Signal Truck distributorship from Seattle and became a sub-tenant. In late 1923 the building became home to the Public Used Car Market, a cooperative venture involving the auto dealers located along Broadway. In 1925 a fire caused $12,000 damage, but a year later the A. M. Ferguson Company redecorated the showroom with a checkered linoleum floor and began selling Hupmobiles.
1932: Pease Brothers Auto Parts
Within three years, the Great Depression killed the market for new cars and the Motor Building was left to adapt once again. This time it was to become an auto parts warehouse. Home King Auto Accessories closed down after a short run, making way for the Pease Brothers Automotive Store, which operated at this location for more than 40 years, commencing in 1932.
It was during this tenure the major earth quakes of 1949 and 1965 occurred. The latter caused damage to the fourth floor sidewalls and, two years later, the Pease Brothers took drastic action. With an urban renewal grant of some $44,000, the roof was lifted up and the entire fourth floor walls were removed, including the large Romanesque window arches. A concrete block wall was built, the roof was set back down, and a facade of blue metal sheathing was placed across the entire front of the building. The Broadway storefront was modernized once again, this time by covering up the stone columns and arches, wrapping the cast iron columns in plywood, and removing the grilled transom windows. It was a treatment many out-dated buildings received in the Sixties and Seventies.
An article in the Tacoma News Tribune dated November 23, 1967, noted the 1889 date stone and an eagle carved of Denver clay brick was removed from the fourth floor façade. Workers said they planned to sell it for $400. (The new owners would love to know where it is now.)
1970-2000: Waiting for Destiny to Return -
With the car dealerships and their service garages now dispersed, Auto Row no longer could support the auto parts store and the Pease Brothers sold in the Seventies. Over the next three decades, the buildings fate paralleled downtown Tacomas with vacancies periodically interrupted by a scheme for parking, storage, antique sales and unsanctioned loft living.
Unlike most of its masonry brethren built in Tacomas initial development apogee of 1889, this survivor is still standing to help lead the renaissance of Tacomas downtown.
* The Passages Building was placed on the Tacoma Register of Historic Places, October 10, 2000