History

Published on November 6th, 2013 | by Daniel Rahe

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Historic Tacoma shines the spotlight on our Armory Building

Over the years, Tacoma’s Armory, completed in 1908, has served primarily as quarters for cavalry and infantry troops, though it has also been a sporting events center, a concert hall, a graduation ceremony hall, a venue for presidential speechmaking, and a roller derby rink. With its sale to developer Fred Roberson (who famously redeveloped the Harmon building downtown) in July, it has passed for the first time from serving predominantly as a military facility to being a behemoth of possibility: Roberson purchased the building with no definitive plan for its future use.

Last night, Historic Tacoma, the local preservation policy and advocacy organization, teamed with EarthWise Architectural Salvage and the City’s Art at Work Month program to open the Armory’s main arena for a night of public historic appreciation and brainstorming.

Judging by the attending crowd of about 100 curious citizens, artists, city employees, architects, and preservationists, there is a lot of interest in this beautiful brick structure, with its arrow-slit windows and stylized battlement walls. Historic Tacoma presented the history of the Armory, from its initial purpose as a base for controlling urban insurrection to its more modern uses as National Guard training facilities. New owner Fred Roberson was on hand to answer questions from the crowd about his interest in this building (apparently, the man likes a challenge).

In keeping with celebration of Art at Work Month, artist Gabriel Brown made an appearance, dressed in his now-familiar Old City Hall Hard Time Shoe Shine guise, as did Diane Knuckey Hansen’s First Night horse sculpture (perhaps the first horse to pass through those doors in decades). But the main show seemed to be the structure itself. Few resisted the urge to go exploring with barely concealed wonder.

The exterior of the Armory is familiar to many of us, though not as many have seen inside it or journeyed into the office space and basement. We were lucky enough to explore the building from end to end, balcony to basement, and snapped a few photographs along the way. As we strolled through the halls and stooped into the eerie lower levels, we pondered the possibilities. What does the future hold for the Armory?

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New owner Fred Roberson addresses the audience

Attendees mill about on the arena floor with local art and informative displays

Attendees mill about on the arena floor with local art and informative displays

A perspective of the balcony seating (photo by Patricia Sully)

A perspective of the balcony seating (photo by Patricia Sully)

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A storage area in the basement hints at the building’s military history

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Historic Tacoma president Gary Knudson

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About the Author

Founder of Post Defiance, Dan is a father, surveyor, writer, and runner.



3 Responses to Historic Tacoma shines the spotlight on our Armory Building

  1. Dan Moffett says:

    I worked at the Tacoma Armory for many years while a member of the Washington National Guard. I think it is a really tremendous building and wonderful space. I’m a big fan. Did you notice the special designed Earthquake movement joints connecting the walls and the arching ceiling beams structures?

    Could have lots of uses. For example, the outer perimeter of the “drill floor” is 1/10th of a mile around and so is the perimeter of the upper balcony, for an indoor walking track. Former weapons vaults are strong for secure storage.

    The main floor is about 3 basketball courts – tremendous all weather practice or training space for any group -HS School Marching Band, Ballet, sports team, or ??

    Large classroom or training room spaces on the main floor.

    Etc., etc., etc., etc.

  2. Jo Black says:

    In July or August of 1971, I attended a live Roller Derby game in the Tacoma Armory. The two teams were the Eastern Red Devils (designated as the home team) and the Northeast Braves. Usually, Roller Derby appeared at the University of Puget Sound fieldhouse, so it was unusual for the Derby to appear at this facility. It was a good game that drew a good-sized crowd. I’m glad to learn that the facility has been preserved! That was the only Roller Derby game that was skated in the Armory, to my knowledge.

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