Ask people about that historic high school in Tacoma and most will think of Stadium High School.
That obvious answer results from the castle’s unique architecture – at least for a school – and its majestic setting on the bluff overlooking Commencement Bay. It doesn’t hurt that the school has a proud and even pushy group of alumni (yes, that includes me).
But there is a negative consequence to Stadium’s success at building a regional, even national, reputation. It serves to overshadow an equally compelling story that began just a few years after the 1914 opening of what was first called Tacoma High School.
That might be remedied a bit this fall when 93-year-old Lincoln High School reopens after a $75 million renovation and expansion.
“I think most people will be as pleased with this as they are with Stadium,” said Pete Wall, director of planning and construction for Tacoma Public Schools.
In any other city, Lincoln would be the educational icon, like Garfield in Seattle, Everett High School and Lewis and Clark in Spokane. Like those schools, Lincoln was built in the midst of a national movement to create academic and technical high schools to take students beyond the basics.
Frederick Heath, the architect behind Stadium and many other Tacoma gems, sent his partner George Gove around the nation to study other schools before designing Lincoln.
Even then, being state of the art was important. But style was considered vital as well.
Collegiate Gothic, Lincoln’s primary architectural style, was chosen to demonstrate that the school should inspire and last. Carved in Wilkeson sandstone above the doorways were inspirational words such as courage, reverence, grace and “Labor Omnia Vincit” (Labor Conquers All Things).
Gene Grulich, a Tacoma architect who studied the history and architecture of the building for the school district, said the Lincoln renovation benefits from something Stadium’s did not – interior features that were not removed or damaged over the decades. The windows, moldings, decorative plaster and grand stairways are being restored in place or will be restored off-site and put back.
In brief, here’s what is being done: The main building (called Old Main by the architects and builders) is being beefed up and rebuilt with some spaces reconfigured. The library addition behind Old Main was replaced with a new science wing. That structure has another duty – to stiffen the old structure for earthquake safety.
A new classroom and library building is rising between the long hall of the old school and the industrial arts building. The gym and pool are being freshened up. And the entire building is getting new heating, plumbing, electrical and computer wiring.
Lease Crutcher Lewis is the general contractor. Heery Inc. is the project manager. DLR of Seattle and TCF of Tacoma are the architects.
Grulich said that during his study of the building, he often ran into families touring the school. The kids were getting ready to start school where their parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents went to school.
“Within its community, it is quite revered,” Grulich said.
On Aug. 31, 1914, the school day was set to begin at 9 a.m., but so many students showed up early to get a peek at the new high school that Principal W.W Parker opened the doors at 7:30 to let them explore.
The walls of the short hallway on the left of the central hub weren’t yet covered with pictures because there hadn’t yet been a graduating class to display there. But someone thought it was a good idea to hang one as soon as there was a graduation.
Once one picture was hung, it was fitting for each new class to join their fellow alums on the wall.
Those frames were taken down for the renovation. But by the time students arrive this September to get their first peek at a reborn Lincoln High School, the frames will be hung just where they were for decades.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657