Opinion

Thrilling signs of rebirth at Tacoma lodge, mansion

Mike McMenamin (right), co-owner of McMenamins, a Portland-based developer of brew pubs and hotels, and architect George Signori take a look around the weathered ballroom of the Elks Lodge in downtown Tacoma two years ago. Though a projected opening date has been fluid in the past, the McMenamins now say they have the investment capital to open their Elks venue in 2019.
Mike McMenamin (right), co-owner of McMenamins, a Portland-based developer of brew pubs and hotels, and architect George Signori take a look around the weathered ballroom of the Elks Lodge in downtown Tacoma two years ago. Though a projected opening date has been fluid in the past, the McMenamins now say they have the investment capital to open their Elks venue in 2019. News Tribune file photo, 2015

Patience is being rewarded, it seems, for two venerable old Tacoma buildings, the people who love them and the neighbors seeking some assurance about the quality of tenants moving in.

The Elks Lodge and the Weyerhaeuser mansion finally appear to be on their way to happy new chapters, based on developments over the past few weeks.

This is welcome news in a city where landmarks are too often neglected (i.e., Old City Hall, the Winthrop Hotel) and sometimes lost to the wrecking ball (the Luzon building).

The McMenamin Brothers of Portland have put Tacoma through an excruciatingly long wait since they bought the Elks Lodge at 565 Broadway during the great recession. Over the last eight years, the estimated cost to open a 40-plus-room hotel and brewery inside the moldering, century-old building has soared from $18 million to $32 million.

The company responded by raising $11 million from some 50 Northwest investors, including Tacomans willing to place a bet on their city. They’ve all caught the vision for a destination venue cocooned in a restored shell of Beaux Arts-style architecture.

Having rehabilitated more than 50 historic properties in Oregon and Washington since 1983, each painstakingly researched “to keep the past in the present,” the McMenamins now say they’re ready to start rehab work next month on their first Tacoma venture.

Like a classic barrel-aged October beer, the Elks project simply needed sufficient time to mature. The estimated opening date is early 2019. We’ll drink to that.

Meanwhile, four miles away and seven years younger, the Weyerhaeuser mansion at 4301 N. Stevens St. stands at the threshold of its own exciting opportunity.

The 5.1-acre property, anchored by a stunning 1923 Tudor mansion known as Haddaway Hall, has idled on the high-end real estate market for seven years.

Its sale to a local nonprofit broker closed last week for $5.9 million, making it easily the most expensive quasi-residential property transaction in Pierce County this year.

The Tacoma Waldorf School has announced it will move into the two-level education building after renovations are complete.

Waldorf offers a whole-child curriculum for students pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. Its move from temporary digs at Hunt Middle School will mark another milestone on the local private education scene, after Annie Wright School added its first class of high school boys this year. (Annie Wright had eyed the Weyerhaeuser mansion as a potential expansion site.)

Tenants for the rest of the Weyerhaeuser campus are up in the air, but we trust they’ll be suitable. Not only must they co-exist with a hundred or so Waldorf students, they must get along with vigilant residential neighbors, who fought the mansion’s previous lease to a cooking school. The Seattle-based school used the grounds for weddings and other noisy events.

The North Tacoma neighborhood surely knows it won’t return to the idyllic peace it once enjoyed; long gone are the Dominican nuns and seminary students who occupied the lumber baron estate for more than a half century. But it could do a lot worse than the sweet sounds of Waldorf children rehearsing Michaelmas end-of-harvest festival songs.

The sale of the Weyerhaeuser property is best viewed through a lens of hope and re-purposing. That air of expectancy is not unlike what Tacomans have felt for years about the Elks Lodge — a thrill that surges stronger now that the downtown treasure is poised for rebirth at last.

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