Opinion

Firm abandons architectural masterpiece, South Sound

The Weyerhaeuser Co. is moving its corporate headquarters from its landmark Federal Way campus to Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle.
The Weyerhaeuser Co. is moving its corporate headquarters from its landmark Federal Way campus to Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. Staff file, 2013

As the sun rose above the fir trees to the east, the panorama through the glass wall beyond Charlie’s desk was stunning. I watched in wonder as the slowly moving light pierced the rising morning mist and caught the colors of the rhododendron gardens on the west slope of the meadow spread below.

Then, as if on cue, our two snow-white swans – gracious gifts to the company from the people of Japan – arose from their slumber, stretched their wings and gracefully slipped from their private island habitat onto the motionless lake surface to create their gentle overlapping wakes.

That was the scene I enjoyed as, coffee mug in hand, I waited for the others to arrive for a 6 a.m. meeting where we would brief a senior VP for his upcoming visit to the Far East. The date was May 11, 1978. The place was the top floor of the Weyerhaeuser Co. corporate headquarters building in Federal Way.

I went to work for Weyerhaeuser in the mid-1960s. At that time, corporate operations were guided from all or parts of 25 different buildings in and around downtown Tacoma. In 1971, under the leadership of George H. Weyerhaeuser, the firm consolidated these functions into a new corporate home in Federal Way, at the time a mostly rural and picturesque area north of Tacoma.

I was there for the dedication of this striking new building when the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architects proudly described their work and corporate seniors extolled the benefits of the then-new open-office concept.

Situated amidst its lush, wooded 480-acre campus and blending so beautifully with its natural surroundings, this structure was and is an architectural masterpiece. This was the perfect home for the “Tree Growing Company,” as we were then known to the world.

Having done much of the PR and promotional work for this event, one might say I was on fairly intimate terms with this building. For me, and surely for anyone who has had the good fortune to work there, the working environment was unlike any other.

So, why am I going on like this about a building? After all, it is just a building. The announcement was made nearly a year ago, but the news only just caught up with me here in the wilds of Southern Utah where I now live and work. It seems the company is abandoning this magnificent Federal Way facility and relocating to an oversize breadbox in downtown Seattle.

With due respect to the present corporate decision-makers, I find this unthinkable! To further sever its historic ties to the South Sound and the City of Tacoma is bad enough, but to trade off this engineering marvel and work of art that has such deep meaning for so many for an ordinary concrete box in the midst of any downtown is an insult to the public, the shareholders, past and present employees, and a betrayal of the innovative spirit of the company.

At the 1971 annual shareholders meeting held at the new building, the mood was electric. The vast central dining area, abuzz with excitement and crowded to overflowing with wall-to-wall well-wishers, went silent when Weyerhaeuser rose to speak.

He hesitated for a long moment, looking first to his right at the unobstructed view of the meadow spread below and then to the left at the shimmering lake to the north. Then with rarely displayed emotion betrayed by just the hint of a smile, he took a deep breath and said simply, “We are walking out to meet the future!”

Surely this recent move – a giant step back – was not what he had in mind when he spoke those words.

During my years with the company I wrote with pride about Weyerhaeuser products, capabilities, history and accomplishments. Not once did the word “downsize” appear in any of it. For me, and I’m sure for many others, this building for as long as it stands will represent Weyerhaeuser at its best.

Bob Sears, a former Lakewood resident and Weyerhaeuser employee, is now a business owner, author and freelance writer living in Southern Utah.

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