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Garretson Woodruff Pratt Building
Originally built as a dry goods warehouse in 1891, the Garretson Woodruff Pratt Building holds a prominent position at the corner of 19th Street and Pacific Avenue. This section of Pacific Avenue stood near the Northern Pacific Railway tracks and the docks along Commencement Bay, linking rails to sails. All the brick buildings along the west side of Pacific Avenue backed up to Commerce Street and the railroad spur that allowed goods to be directly transported to and from the warehouses. Because of the steep grade rising west from Pacific Avenue, these buildings had primary entrances on the Pacific Avenue side and secondary, more functional entrances on the Commerce Street side.
The Garretson Woodruff Pratt Building’s main facade stands a full five stories tall with brick load-bearing walls and an interior frame of old-growth timber posts and beams. Large windows permit natural light into the interior. Though built as a warehouse, the massive, brick building’s decorative elements go beyond the utilitarian. Its Romanesque Revival style is expressed in terra-cotta ornamentation and arched windows on the third and fourth levels. A thick, muscular sandstone column anchors the recessed corner entrance at 19th Street and Pacific Avenue.
The building and its neighboring structures saw a series of economic booms and busts throughout much of the twentieth century. By the time the University of Washington chose the warehouse district for the site of its Tacoma campus, the structure had sat vacant for some time, yet its solid masonry walls and internal frame of old-growth Douglas fir helped the building survive earthquakes and neglect. The building was part of Phase 1a of the campus master plan and makes up what is known today as the Academic Building, which includes three adjacent structures: the Birmingham Block, the Birmingham Hay and Seed Building, and the West Coast Grocery Building. Large doorways in the common ground-floor walls between the buildings have been opened to allow for convenient access to all four structures. The buildings are also linked along their west facades by a reconstructed loading dock and shed roof that provides an exterior covered walkway.
As with other repurposed warehouses structures on campus, some interior timber framing was removed from the Garretson Woodruff Pratt Building in order to create more internal space for academic operations. This removal allowed for the creation of a four-story central atrium with classrooms and offices. Yet much original wood was re-milled and used for stairs, wall paneling, doors, and railings. In some cases, wood posts, beams, and floor joists remain visible in parts of the building. The structure also features thick reinforced interior concrete shear walls and steel beams so that it will be better able to withstand seismic events into the twenty-first century, while the installation of a concrete elevator shaft rising up through the atrium provides additional stability. The ground-floor level that opens onto Pacific Avenue was renovated for retail purposes. Since the campus’s opening in 1997, the University Book Store has occupied the corner space with a Starbucks next door.
Northwest artist Buster Simpson designed the university’s public art for Phase 1a, much of which is found on the east and south parapets of the Garretson Woodruff Pratt Building, embedded into the Pacific Avenue sidewalk across the street, and in plaques located throughout the campus. Simpson’s parapet installations, entitled Parapet Relay, bear signs displaying different words depending upon one’s vantage point. Simpson wanted to connect the early history of the area’s warehouses as places of manual labor and storage with their new purpose as places of academic work where people come together to teach and gain knowledge. Simpson also envisioned prominent axes linking the campus to other landmarks in the area, specifically Mount Rainier, which is visible from many points on campus. As one walks around the university, plaques in the ground display quotations that make reference to learning or to local history and direct the viewer’s gaze to the parapets of the Garretson Woodruff Pratt Building, where a relevant word, such as “GATHER” or “LABOR,” found in the plaque at one’s feet is repeated on the building.
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