McNeil Island

Status: Still Standing

Year Listed: 2011

Location: Pierce County

Ezra Meeker first settled on McNeil Island in 1853, establishing an agricultural and logging community. The land claim was sold and exchanged hands several times over the next couple of decades when, in 1870, 27 acres were donated to allow for the establishment of a territorial prison, which opened in 1875. Officially becoming a federal prison in the early 1900s, the facility became a Washington State prison in 1981 under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Corrections (DOC). Facing tremendous budget shortfalls, the state has closed the general prison facility on the island. The multi-agency jurisdictional responsibilities include DOC, the Department of Fish & Wildlife (whose interests include retaining the island as a wildlife preserve), and the Department of Social & Health Services (which currently operates the Special Commitment Center constructed in the 1990s). Complicating matters are deed restrictions put in place when the federal government turned the property over to the state in the 1980s. In the meantime, over fifty structures related to the operation of the prison facility remain on site, their future uncertain (a handful of residences are already slated for demolition).

Northern State Hospital

Status: SAVED!

Year Listed: 2011

Location: Skagit County

Northern State Hospital in Sedro Woolley is a sprawling campus of over 100 buildings spread over 300 acres of lush landscape in the foothills of the North Cascades. In July 2010, a recommendation was made to the National Park Service to list the entire campus as a National Register Historic District, a recommendation subsequently approved. The site features over 80 contributing historic buildings representing the work of several notable regional architects, while the landscape plan is a major project of the Olmsted Brothers landscaping firm. The near complete execution of this plan, conceived and revised from 1910-1919, makes Northern State Hospital a rare intact example of the Olmsted design work purposefully merging health care and agricultural functions. The largest hospital building at nearly 100,000 square feet anchors the center of the campus and features Spanish Colonial Revival design, an architectural style prevalent throughout the site. Given the state’s budget situation, Northern State Hospital has been slated by the State Department of General Administration to be sold as surplus property. While the entire site is listed in the National Register as a historic district, this designation confers no protection for the historic buildings/resource/landscape. If sold to another entity, structures and other elements of the district could be demolished. The Department of General Administration is exploring potential institutional clients interested in purchasing the site and utilizing the historic structures that remain.

Old City Hall

Status: Most Endangered Places, In the works!

Year Listed: 2011

Location: Pierce County

Location: Tacoma, Pierce County

Constructed in 1893 by the San Francisco-based firm of Hatherton & McIntosh in the Renaissance Revival style, Old City Hall represents Tacoma’s aspirations to be the Northwest’s focal point for commerce and culture. Originally occupied by the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, the building eventually served as City Hall until the late 1950s. Following a period of vacancy, several attempts over the years to adaptively reuse the structure for a variety of purposes have met with mixed success. The latest plan, conversion of the building to condominium units, has been sidelined due to the economic downturn. In November of 2010, broken pipes released thousands of gallons of water throughout the building, raising fears that structural systems could be compromised. With Old City Hall currently vacant, the hope is that the ownership group will be able to move forward with redevelopment plans. In the meantime, issues of deferred maintenance remain a concern.

McMillin Bridge

Status: SAVED!

Year Listed: 2011

Location: Pierce County

Spanning the Puyallup River in Pierce County as part of State Route 162, the McMillin Bridge may be the only known concrete through truss structure of its type in the United States. Inspired by Homer Hadley, Washington’s most innovative bridge engineer, the McMillin Bridge is unique, featuring heavy steel-reinforced through trusses strong enough to eliminate the need for overhead lateral sway braces. When completed in the fall of 1935, the resulting bridge was hailed as the longest concrete truss or beam span in the country. Hadley is credited with numerous bridge designs, including the first floating concrete pontoon bridge in the world, now known as the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge over Lake Washington in Seattle. The Washington State Department of Transportation recently announced plans to demolish the McMillin Bridge once a new parallel bridge has been completed and traffic re-routed. Federal regulations require WSDOT to analyze alternatives to demolition. Once this analysis is released, interested parties will have the opportunity to comment. If the bridge is unable to be retrofitted for continued use, the goal will be to retain it for foot and/or bicycle traffic.

Green Mountain Lookout

Status: SAVED!

Year Listed: 1999, 2011

Location: Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest, Snohomish County

Constructed in 1933, the Green Mountain Fire Lookout in the Glacier Peak National Wilderness Area is a rare example of a fire lookout remaining in its original location. The lookout remained staffed into the 1980s, but the gradual increase of aerial methods of fire detection rendered its original use less relevant. Given the severity of winters in the North Cascades, and a 6,500 foot high site, the building was difficult and expensive to maintain, and threatened with removal when closed to the public in 1994 due to structural deterioration. Additionally, preservation of the building seemed at odds with its setting in a designated wilderness, despite being very popular with hikers.

Trust actions, such as including the lookout on the Most Endangered Places list in 1999, and the awarding of a Valerie Sivinski Fund grant that same year to assist in the rehabilitation, helped create a path to preservation. A federal award of $50,000 from the Save America’s Treasures program in 1999, cooperative planning from the U.S. Forest Service, and the volunteer efforts of the Darrington Historical Society and labor of Passport in Time participants, would have seemed to have sealed the deal.

However, challenges remained, and initial rehab efforts in 2000 did not adequately account for the detrimental effects of snow load. The lookout was systematically disassembled and removed by helicopter tor work off-site. Hundreds of volunteer hours were logged between 2003 and 2008 towards rehabilitation and a grant of $50,000 from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office made possible foundation repair by National Park Service crews in 2009. That same year, the disassembled pieces were flown back and reassembled, and the structure seemed saved.

However, the lookout was once again listed in the Trust’s Most Endangered Place program in 2011 when Montana-based Wilderness Watch sued the US Forest Service and called for the structure’s removal, claiming rehabilitation efforts had violated the Wilderness Act. Preservation advocates, including the Washington Trust, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Darrington Historical Society, filed an Amicus Brief in support of the lookout, but the preservation battle continued when a federal judge ordered removal of the structure in 2012. Ultimately, passage of the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act in 2014 permanently blocked removal. The legislation was sponsored by Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with Representatives Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen. The Green Mountain Fire Lookout received the National Trust tor Historic Preservation’s John H. Chatee Trustees’ Award tor Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy in 2014. Special recognition is due to Scott Morris of the Darrington Historical Society for the countless hours he spent advocating for the preservation of the lookout.

Read more from our “40 for 40” feaured story from the Washington Trust’s 40th anniversary in 2016.