Full disclosure: When I received the postcard from Tacoma architect Jeff Ryan, I had no idea what it was all about.
More to the point, I had zero clue where the College Park Neighborhood was, or if it was even a real thing.
As to whether the neighborhood — again, if it existed — deserves to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, well, let’s just say I had questions.
First things first. Adding College Park to the national register is exactly what Ryan, a 57-year-old, 20-year resident of the neighborhood, has his sights on. The area in question, I’ve since learned, roughly surrounds the University of Puget Sound, from North Eighth Street to North 21st Street, and from North Pine Street to Union Avenue (excluding the college).
The postcard – one of about 600 Ryan mailed out – found its way to my desk, part of an effort to get the word out. There’s also a website, bit.ly/2j1S96v.
The College Park name, Ryan tells me, comes largely from the historical name of the “College Addition” district, which is what a significant chunk of the area was called as late as the 1960s.
It really didn’t have a name. ... That’s probably why you haven’t heard of it.
Tacoma architect Jeff Ryan
“It really didn’t have a name,” Ryan acknowledges of the neighborhood, which he says is comprised of “nine or 10 small plats” of land from Tacoma’s early days.
“That’s probably why you haven’t heard of it,” he says.
Ryan bought his current home — which he describes as a “nice little bungalow” — in 1997. He says he started thinking about the idea of adding the neighborhood – which is made up of homes largely built between 1910 and 1940 — to the national registry shortly thereafter. With a background in historic preservation, as he puts it, Ryan says the idea came naturally to him, and he’s been slogging away at the task in earnest for more than a year.
Asked how much time he’s dedicated to the endeavor — which includes photographing and providing a historic description for each of the 586 homes, as well as demonstrating the neighborhood’s preserved architectural integrity and broad contributions to the area’s history —he jokingly says, “I try not to think about it.”
“It’s important to recognize unique neighborhoods. I really believe that,” Ryan told me.
But this one?
Ryan quickly made his case.
“It’s a neighborhood — unlike the North Slope —that was a working-class neighborhood, which makes it fairly unique for the historic districts in Tacoma. It was home to Tacoma’s burgeoning middle class,” he said.
The average house in the College Park Neighborhood, Ryan explains, dates back to 1925. Most, he says, remain largely unaltered, providing a glimpse back to a time when trolleys connected the city and Tacoma’s “doctors and rail workers,” as Ryan describes, among other varied professions, quickly filled one of the relatively new city’s “nice, quiet, dense, urban neighborhoods.”
“It demonstrates how we were living in Tacoma in that time frame,” Ryan offers.
“I think that in itself is one of the important things about our neighborhood.”
All of this I can get behind. Still, there’s the question of what exactly it means for a neighborhood to be included on the national registry — and how it happens.
“It’s mostly honorary,” answers Reuben McKnight, Tacoma’s historic preservation officer. “It really doesn’t have a lot of effect what property owners can do on a day-to-day basis.”
That said, he describes it as a designation that’s not without merit, and one that can be used as the first step in securing historical protection on a local level — which carries actual code protections.
There’s no arguing that many of our neighborhoods have quite a bit of historical character, and obviously I think there’s a great interest in preserving that.
Reuben McKnight, Tacoma’s historic preservation officer
Currently, Tacoma has four Historic Districts protected at the local level – the Wedge Neighborhood Historic District, the North Slope Historic District, the Old City Hall Historic District and the Union Depot/Warehouse District.
Three others — the Stadium/Seminary Historic District, Salmon Beach Historic District and the newly honored Buckley’s Addition Historic District — have received protection at either the state or national level.
For College Park to be added to the National Registry of Historic Places — a decision Ryan expects to be made roughly a year from now — the nomination will need to be reviewed by Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Committee as well as the State Historic Preservation Officer and the Governor's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
If all goes as Ryan hopes, the case will then be forwarded to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation— the body that will make the ultimate decision. At that point, he says, he’ll decide whether to pursue historical status at the city level, which would involve more work and the demonstrated support of area residents.
So, does College Park have a shot?
“I think that, probably so — especially, given the age of the structures in the neighborhood and the general integrity,” McKnight offered.
“There’s no arguing that many of our neighborhoods have quite a bit of historical character, and obviously I think there’s a great interest in preserving that,” he continued.
Ryan’s effort to put College Park on the map certainly seems to prove the point.