Here’s how it is supposed to work.
In response to concerns raised by preservationists that Western State Hospital wasn’t sensitive enough to the history of its Lakewood campus, a comprehensive assessment of the grounds and buildings was prepared.
Then a cultural resources management plan was approved giving the hospital and state Department of Social and Health Services a way to work through conflicts between Western State’s history and its mental health mission. It included formation of a historical advisory committee of outside stakeholders to review construction projects that might infringe on historic assets.
As I said, that’s how it is supposed to work. And this might normally be the place where I point out how it isn’t working, using as an example a hospital plan to build additional parking on the most sensitive, most significant part of the campus – the remains of Fort Steilacoom.
Instead, this is a success story about how a plan actually worked.
For three years, state facilities managers have been trying to make traffic and pedestrian improvements around the main entrance to the hospital and add up to 39 parking spaces. The new parking was targeted along roads that surround and cut through what had been the fort’s parade grounds.
On Fort Street in front of the last remaining pre-Civil War fort buildings, paving would be replaced and expanded while existing diagonal parking spaces would be moved to the side closest to the parade grounds. On Cottage Row, old pavement, gravel and grass would be repaved to replace informal parking with formal spaces.
The proposal was presented to the advisory committee last summer and again in February. But after some committee members objected to any more paving on the parade grounds, and after state Sen. Mike Carrell wrote a letter of protest to hospital brass, project managers slowed down.
“Our point was, you need to look elsewhere before this move, which sets a dangerous precedent as to how the parade ground is seen and used,” said Greg Griffith, a committee member and deputy state historic preservation officer.
“I believe we have a responsibility to be good stewards by continuing to preserve part of Washington state history and this historic treasure,” Carrell wrote to hospital chief executive officer Jess Jamieson.
In his historic assessment, Michael Sullivan of Artifacts Consulting called the hospital campus “one of our state’s most significant cultural resources.” It was an important Native American site, a center for Hudson Bay Co. farming, an American Army outpost and then a mental hospital.
As a fort from 1849 to 1868 (historicfortsteilacoom.com) it was the first presence of the federal government in the territory that would become Washington state. Ulysses S. Grant served there. So did George E. Pickett, Philip H. Sheridan and George B. McClellan.
It was where settlers sought safety during the Indian Wars of 1855-56. It was where Chief Leschi was imprisoned for killing a U.S. colonel during those battles (Army officers, however, thought his conviction unjust and would not permit his hanging inside the grounds).
“The parade grounds are the essential organizing feature of these pre-Civil War cavalry posts,” Sullivan said. “Assembly, drilling, mustering, training, ceremonies. Everything happens in the parade grounds.”
His management plan called for less parking in the fort area, not more. It proposed “reconciling above-grade parking with the cultural landscape (with the goal of minimizing visual and physical impacts to the parade grounds).”
Bob Hubenthal, chief of the DSHS office of capital programs, said the parking and traffic plan predates the historic resources assessment and the cultural management plan.
“We would have done things differently, perhaps, had we had the management plan first and then the parking proposal,” he said.
On Wednesday, everything changed.
“I received a call from Western State Hospital this morning asking that the scope for the proposed Paving Improvements project be focused on pedestrian safety improvements and repairing deteriorated paving across the campus,” Hubenthal wrote in an email.
“At this time, they are not seeking any additional parking in the vicinity of the Main Building ... no new paving will be proposed in the historical parade grounds.”
Said advisory committee member and former Lakewood City Councilman Walter Neary when he heard the news: “I love democracy!”
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657