The iconic Cushman Substation and its less well-known neighbor, the Adams Street substation, are now on the Tacoma Register of Historic Places. As is the land surrounding the buildings.
But it’s a muted victory for some North End neighbors and historic preservationists who wanted to see more pieces of those historic properties get landmark status. One of the old, lattice power towers along North 21st Street and the interior of the Cushman condenser room were not added to the register by the City Council when it voted on Tuesday night.
Jeffrey Ryan, a local architect who submitted the nomination to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, was visibly disappointed by the vote.
“They are already on the National Historic Register and the state’s historic register,” Ryan said after learning that the council wouldn’t include those two pieces in its vote. “You are basically condemning a structure to demolition that is already on higher registers than the city of Tacoma. I object to the tower being removed.”
Ryan authored the nomination for all those separate elements and has been pushing for the nomination of the utility properties for months. Taken together, they tell the story of the nearly 100-year-old project that brought the production of hydroelectric power to Tacoma, he has said. The transmission line was built in 1925 to bring power from the Cushman Hydroelectric Project to Tacoma.
While the landmarks commission agreed that all pieces should be nominated, Tacoma Public Utilities, which owns the utility properties, said preserving one of the aging, rusty towers would be difficult and costly, as would moving it. The utility is loathe to leave that tower where it currently stands, since they’re planning to replace all of the lattice power towers with tall, steel monopoles.
At least one neighbor of the Adams Street substation who lives near the tower in question was pleased with that decision.
“I’m against including the tower on the nomination, it’s not maintained,” Denis Callaghan said. “I would appreciate your thinking about the neighborhood and the fact that most of the tower is … rusty, it’s an eyesore, and Tacoma Power planned to remove it before this nomination came through.”
The interior of the condenser room inside the Cushman building wasn’t added because city and TPU staff determined it was never a public facility with public access. Ryan and several others disputed that as well, and some historic preservationists lamented on Facebook that it was cut from the nomination.
Councilman Conor McCarthy, who lives in the North End, said city staff would work with TPU to transfer the properties to the city and figure out how they’ll be used in the future. Both are being phased out by the utility.
“We want to send a clear message that we want to see these facilities maintained and up-kept to the standards our community deserves,” McCarthy said.