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Elevators working again at Washington Building after threatened closure

VIDEO: City of Tacoma uses new code to protect historic Washington building

City of Tacoma uses new code to protect historic Washington building.
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City of Tacoma uses new code to protect historic Washington building.

Elevators at the troubled Washington Building appear to be working after months of inconsistent service.

The problem was dire enough that city officials sent a letter to owner George Webb of The Stratford Co. ordering him to fix at least one lift by June or face closure of the 17-story building.

The city’s concerns about the building’s historic elements have persisted for years.

Webb said in an email Thursday that all four of the building’s elevators are now working. A visit to the property at 11th Street and Pacific Avenue and discussions with tenants confirmed his statement.

City building official Sue Coffman said Wednesday that a building representative told her that all four elevators are working.

“I am, of course, waiting for verification from their elevator company regarding repairs they made and what testing they had done,” Coffman said.

The city requires proof that at least one elevator must be repaired by a licensed elevator service company or the city will revoke the building’s certificate of occupancy. Tenants are not legally allowed to remain in a building without a certificate of occupancy.

Earlier this month, city inspectors were examining the building after a tenant complained of being stranded on the top floor and having difficulty with stairs.

While city inspectors were there, the elevator stopped working. Webb has until June 6 to send the city proof of the elevator’s condition, the letter to Webb states.

Tenants of the building have said the heating worked sporadically this winter, and the air conditioning hasn’t worked for two summers.

When reached this week, two tenants said they planned to leave the building “as soon as possible.” Another said mail and parcel delivery has been stopped while the elevator was down.

“We see little evidence that the building management is responding to any issue,” wrote political consultant Alex Hays in an email. Hays has an office on the 10th floor. Building owners are not communicating with its tenants, he said. “This uncertainty creates a sense of dread for everyone. Even if we find a working elevator, we still can't know if it will keep working or if it’s safe.”

David Flentge, CEO of Community Health Care, which has administrative offices on floors two and three, said the elevators were working when interviewed Tuesday. Leaving the office is “not our first choice.”

If the city were to close the building, “that would be a horrible outcome for everyone in our building,” Flentge said.

Webb and other investors bought the building in 2005 for $9.6 million.

The building opened in 1925 as the second-tallest in the Northwest.

Historic preservationists are worried about the Washington Building for other reasons. The 17-floor, skyline-defining landmark has plants growing in cracks in the teracotta tiles. Left unattended, the problems can grow and compromise the structure.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports

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