The rich history of UW Tacoma lies in its architecture

Unique history found in campus buildings help students feel a connection to the city of Tacoma.

The University of Washington has an academic history dating back more than 100 years. But the Tacoma campus offers something more. 

For students and staff, the campus offers a richer history by including the city’s own history. It doesn’t feel like an addition to the city but more a part of it rather than traditional university campuses which can look like their own city or town. 

“The university has just bloomed like a flower,” said Dr. Nicole Blair, professor of Culture, Arts and Communication at UW Tacoma. “I don’t think you have to be here very long to appreciate the architecture. It’s awesome to see that we were able to keep that essence of Tacoma.” 

Students can feel like they are part of the city, and with that they can have a sense of belonging not only to a renowned historic university, but also to a unique history found on and within every building on campus. 

The plan from the start was to make the campus look and feel urban to reignite the city of destiny. In the ’90s, students attended classes in the Perkins Building, which was built in 1910 on A street, and later moved to where the campus is now after the university obtained the four warehouses on Pacific Ave. 

Rather than tear those down and start from scratch, the buildings were renovated on the inside for 21st century use, while the outside was left alone to preserve history since 1890 when they were erected. The faded paint on the bricks can still be seen stating the buildings’ old use along with the names of the businesses that occupied them. 

A “vintage academia vibe” was the phrase a couple students I spoke with expressed, when I asked what a university should look like. They added that if the campus had a more business-like architecture, the atmosphere would be depressing and not an enjoyable experience. 

To be a part of something greater is what I sensed from the students I spoke with. Walking historic grounds and corridors and learning in the same classrooms as those who came before adds value to the journey while attending university; not only value, but also inspiration to do better. 

From what I was hearing, I wondered if the students always felt that way, so I asked around and found out that since the beginning students wanted a real campus. They were happy to come to class and valued the education but understood only one building was limiting to their own growth. 

“Even though the campus was small, and the student organizations were small, and the activities may have been on a smaller scale, the passion that the students had then was pretty strong,” said Marcia Monroe, Access Services Supervisor at UW Tacoma. “They were really excited and eager to make the campus what it is now.” 

In the beginning, UW Tacoma offered classes to juniors and seniors, but once the freshman classes started in 2006, the campus started to shine due to the needs of the first-year student and first-generation students being met. 

With a simple search on the internet, it’s easy to find pictures of some of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States and the world. But UW Tacoma already shares in a long scholarly history and on top of that, has made its own. 

Walking up to any building on campus you can find a plaque next to the door and read the history and process of what it has become and will remain as a testament that when it comes to learning, the history that surrounds a student can teach much. 

Getting to go to a four-year university is a privilege and not one people should take lightly. As a person of Latin American decent and first-generation student myself, I know where my roots are. And it’s a great thing to know that when my kids are ready to go to college, if they choose to go to UW Tacoma, they can see and walk through the same historic buildings as I did, so they can add their own life story to that century long history. 

Walsh Gardner (WG), built in 1911 by Carl A. Darmer as a warehouse for Edward J. Walsh and Alexander R. Gardner, founders of Walsh & Gardner. Renovated in 1996 by architects McGranahan, and Miller Hull. Photo by Cameron Berrens.

Pinkerton (PNK), built in 1889, in Italian style architecture is the oldest building on any UW campus, and has served as hotel, apartments, and commercial real estate through the years. Photo by Cameron Berrens.