Engineer Raymond Chalker, who worked on several Tacoma buildings, dead at 82

Staff writerDecember 18, 2013 

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Raymond Chalker died at age 82 on Dec. 11 from complications of melanoma.

COURTESY PHOTO

Name a building in downtown Tacoma, and Raymond Chalker probably helped engineer it.

The Tacoma Dome, the renovated Union Station, the Tacoma Art Museum.

He did structural engineering for all of them.

Chalker died at age 82 on Dec. 11 from complications of melanoma.

“Pretty much everything down there on Pacific Avenue that was done in the last 20 years was done by their company,” son Carl Chalker said, referring to the engineering firm his father was instrumental in founding, which today is PCS Structural Solutions.

His memorial will be 2 p.m. Dec. 29 at Union Station, underneath the Chihuly glass he figured out how to hang from the rotunda.

In fact, artist Dale Chihuly was a family friend from the days when Chihuly was just starting out, Chalker’s wife, Charlotte, said.

Her husband did a lot of engineering work for the artist through the years to keep his glasswork safe, she said.

“Dale we have known for a lot of years,” Charlotte Chalker said “We are so happy with the way he has become so successful. He and Ray were buddies, and they shared a lot of love for old things.”

Like the Stearman biplane Chalker loved flying.

He flew the architect for the Tacoma Art Museum over downtown Tacoma, to see the site for the project from the air.

Chalker also loved to preserve old buildings, his wife said.

And he had a knack for it.

“He had a real sense of how to strengthen a building without the structure interrupting the character, without damaging the beautiful architecture of a building that was already there,” said Dan Putnam.

Putnam is “the young man that Ray hired before he graduated the University of Washington,” Charlotte Chalker said. He’s 57 now, and one of the people Chalker sold the company to in 1987 (though he kept working with them for eight years after).

“He was just an innovator, especially with historical renovation,” Putnam said.

He said the 1980s Union Station renovation into the federal courthouse is a good example of that, as is Chalker’s work on what is now the Alexis Hotel in Seattle (part of a six-block project to fix up First Avenue in the ’80s).

“His work is just everywhere,” Putnam said. “You can hardly go a block around Tacoma without his work somewhere. Just so many buildings that he touched. Downtown especially.”

His firm worked on the Chihuly bridge, the renovation of the University of Washington Tacoma, the Washington State History Museum and the building that used to house the University of Puget Sound law school downtown, to name a few projects.

But the Tacoma Dome might be what he was most proud of, Chalker’s family said.

Putnam said Chalker was instrumental in the dome being what it is today.

Chalker studied freestanding wooden geodesic domes for his graduate thesis. And he worked to engineer what was the world’s largest at the time, with the construction of the Tacoma Dome in 1983.

And he got to see the view from the top with his wife as it was built.

“I said I would really like to stand on the top of the dome to see how it looks up there, and so he arranged for the two of us to climb to the top during construction,” she said.

Where they looked down on the city those who knew him say he helped engineer.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268
alexis.krell@thenewstribune.com
@amkrell

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