Spanish Steps Rehabilitation Project

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Project Background

The Spanish Steps, in association with the adjacent Elks Building, is one of four pivotal structures defining the boundaries of the Old City Hall Historic District. The Steps, constructed concurrently in 1915 with the Elks Temple in the Beaux Arts manner, are modeled after the Scalinata di Spagna in Rome, and express the character of the Classical buildings clustered at the north end of downtown.

The Steps and the Elks Lodge are a rare artifact of the City Beautiful movement. The Steps are also a gathering space, having served as the setting for group photographs by tourists and local citizens, celebrating school graduations and weddings for generations.

The Spanish Steps have been declining for several decades due primarily to vandalism and deferred maintenance. In 2005, the City contracted with a consultant to produce a Historic Structures Report, which outlined the history and significance of the Steps, identified key design elements, assessed overall condition, and made recommendations for rehabilitation. Shortly after the release of the report, an unknown individual drove a stolen vehicle down the Steps, destroying the arched balustrade on the landing. The pieces recovered have been in City storage to prevent further deterioration.

Restoration of the Spanish Steps

The Steps were rehabilitated in 2011 with $910,000 in grant funding from WSDOT and Federal Highway Transportation Enhancements program. 

The Historic Structures Report for the Spanish Steps classifies the planting areas on the site as “secondary elements.” Historically, these areas were low cut grassy slopes; in the late 1980s, during restoration activities, boxwood, rhododendron plantings were added, along with beds of exotic annuals. These plantings are not consistent with the character of the Steps, and suffer from deferred maintenance. In addition, there is a monkey puzzle tree planted during the Step’s primary period of significance, as well as nonhistoric alder and big leaf maple that have grown from an unreinforced slope to the south of the property.

The Spanish Steps are public right of way, and provide an important east-west pedestrian connection between Pacific Avenue, Commerce Street and Broadway, as well as access to the light rail station. The Stairs will continue to provide unlimited public access. The project is being conducted in tandem with the rehabilitation of the former Elks Temple, which is structurally and architecturally linked to the Steps. The Spanish Steps currently and will continue to provide public access as a City Right of Way. In the future, the main landing may also provide event space or seating for the anticipated restaurant/entertainment complex to be established in the adjacent Elks Lodge.

The Spanish Steps are an important pedestrian amenity in Tacoma, but have deteriorated from neglect and vandalism. With the opening of McMenamin’s in the Elks Temple, the Steps will be restored as a community landmark, showcasing preservation and sustainability.


For More Information 

About the history of the Spanish Steps, contact Reuben McKnight, at (253) 591-5220 or by e-mail at reuben.mcknight@cityoftacoma.org.

For more information about the Spanish Steps renovation project, contact Darius Thompson at (253) 573-2410 or visit the project website at http://www.cityoftacoma.org/pwactivepage.aspx.