They've survived 95 years of Pacific Northwest weather, about a decade of deferred maintenance and one stupid, possibly drunk, driver. For downtown Tacoma’s Spanish Steps, this spa day is overdue.
Work to rejuvenate the iconic gateway between Commerce and Broadway will start in a few weeks under an approximately $400,000 contract between the City of Tacoma and Pease Construction of Lake-wood. Pease was up against eight other contractors, and it was the low bidder.
Rehabilitating the steps was one of the things the city agreed to do as part of the McMenamin brothers’ planned renovation of the historic Elks Temple.
The steps were designed by Edouard Frere Champney in 1915 as part of the Elks building next door. They are patterned after the Spanish Steps in Rome. In January 2005 , someone drove a stolen red Chevy Nova down the steps in the middle of the night.
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Sue O’Neill of the city’s public works department said the project has a budget of just over $1 million, and that the city “quite likely won’t be spending it all.”
Darius Thompson, a city engineer who has been working on the project since 2007, said about $147,000 has been spent so far on things like right-of-way issues and design work. Barring major changes to the construction contract, the project will come in under budget, he said Tuesday.
Pease Construction has done several historic renovations, owner Loren Pease said, including projects at Fort Vancouver and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Here's a look at the highlights of the rehabilitation, which Pease said should be done by the end of September:
PREPARATION: Crews will clean the steps first. No pressure-washing, Pease said – the mortar and concrete are too fragile for that.
STEPS: Workers will remove the existing crack repair done several years ago. They then will fix the cracks by hand using a special mortar mix. There’s no way to make the cracks invisible, Pease said.
URNS: They’ll all be replaced. “There’s nothing we can do. It’s beyond hope,” Pease said.
BALUSTERS: These are the bowling-pin-type structures that support the handrails. Pease said 23 out of several hundred will be replaced, and the rest will be fixed by hand, using grout on the cracks. Workers then will “try to dress them up to make them look like they’ve been maintained,” Pease said.
ET CETERA: Workers will build a steel-and-concrete wall on the south side of the steps, where the hillside has started to give way. The missing railing on the second landing will be replaced. The lamps will be removed, stripped of their lead paint, repainted and reattached with consistent bolts instead of the current mix-and-match approach. Two benches will be installed at the foot of the steps.