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The Whitney Building contains art studios and exhibition space in a rehabilitated building that once housed Tacoma’s Japanese Methodist Episcopal Church. George W. Bullard designed the church as a simple gable-roofed structure with a bell tower rising from the center of the main facade and breaking through the apex of the gable. Pointed arched windows piercing all four walls evoke the Gothic Revival.
Erected in 1929, the modest brick building helped anchor the Japanese American neighborhood now occupied by the west edge of the University of Washington Tacoma campus. The congregation and neighborhood were decimated during World War II when the U.S. government forced Japanese and Japanese Americans living along the west coast to move to inland internment camps. Only about ten percent of Tacoma’s Japanese community returned to the city after the war. The church reopened, but faced with declining numbers over the following decades, the congregation sold the building to the university in 1999, after which it underwent its first rehabilitation.
The university renamed the structure the Whitney Building after Nettie Whitney, a public schoolteacher who befriended the congregation in the early twentieth century. She helped raise money to build the church as the first permanent home for the congregation. After acquiring the building, the university initially used it as space for special events, then leased it to various businesses for a number of years. In 2013, the university remodeled the old church again to function as the campus art center. Today, it accommodates studio art courses, with the main hall acting as both classroom and gallery space. The building appeared somewhat forlorn in 2016; most nearby lots are vacant or serve as parking lots, but once held houses and apartment buildings. Only a few early-twentieth-century houses remain standing.
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