Properties and districts are placed on the Tacoma Register of Historic Places through a nomination process. Nominations received by the Landmarks Commission are reviewed and, if found to meet the criteria for designation, recommended to City Council for designation.
In general, the process takes between 4 and 6 months. Properties intending to apply for Special Tax Valuation for the coming year MUST be nominated by June of that year.
When looking at a potential landmark, it is useful to ask yourself several questions such as: what about this building sets it apart from others like it (its excellent condition, or unique design); why is it important (as an example of a type of building, or for its contribution to local history, or because it is unique); and is it in fair or original condition?
For single family residences, common modifications that generally disqualify a home from consideration as a landmark include inappropriate window retrofitting (i.e. vinyl or aluminum windows), changes to cladding (i.e. vinyl, aluminum or T-111 panel), enclosed porches, and second-story additions or new dormers.
To be eligible, properties must be found to meet the threshold criteria for listing on the register, as well as at least one of the Landmarks Criteria (below). Although this may sound daunting, many properties that are over 50 years old and in close to original condition qualify.
Threshold criteria include:
- 50 years old or older at the time of nomination
- Retains integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association such that it is able to convey its historical, cultural, or architectural significance
The six Landmarks criteria are:
- Is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
- Is associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or
- Embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
- Has yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history; or
- Is part of, adjacent to, or related to an existing or proposed historic district, square, park, or other distinctive area which should be redeveloped or preserved according to a plan based on a historic, cultural, or architectural motif; or
- Owing to its unique location or singular physical characteristics, represents an established and familiar visual feature of the neighborhood or City.
Basics of the Landmarks Nomination Process
- Contact the Historic Preservation Officer.
The Historic Preservation Officer can assist you in determining whether your building is historic. The city has inventoried hundreds of historic buildings during the last 20 years and we may have information on your building already.
In addition, you can pick up nomination forms at the office, as well as samples and research sources or copy of the Tacoma Landmark Nomination form from this web site. The actual criteria upon which your application will be evaluated is established in the Tacoma Municipal Code.
- Do the research.
To successfully nominate a building to the Register, it is necessary to thoroughly document both its physical and cultural history. Useful tools include old newspaper articles, property records, photographic archives, and city directories.
The Northwest Room at the main branch of the Tacoma Public Library is one of the best archives of historic photos and records in the region. You can also find historical information about your property in the County Tax Assessor’s records and from previous owners. The Tacoma Historical Society and the State History Museum are also good resources.
For larger or more complex projects, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation maintains a Preservation Trades and Consultants Directory (click here for more information).
- Complete the nomination form.
When you have gathered historical information on your building, use the nomination form to record its history. You will need to describe the physical appearance and condition of the building in Section 7 of the form, and discuss what role the building has played in Tacoma’s history in Section 8. Once you have completed a first draft, or if you have questions about completing the form, contact the Historic Preservation Office.
- Landmarks Commission review
When your nomination is complete, the Historic Preservation Officer will schedule it for a preliminary review before the Landmarks Commission. If the Landmarks Commission finds that the property meets the threshold criteria (above), it will be scheduled for a special public meeting. If approved, the nomination is then forwarded to City Council.
- Council Resolution
The City Council votes on the Designation at their next available agenda.
Effects of Listing
Once designated, changes to City Landmarks are subject to design review by the Landmarks Commission to ensure preservation of historic character.
In addition, such projects may qualify the property for the City’s Special Tax Valuation Program.