Port Townsend Historic City Hall Restoration

By McNabb, Catherine | Public Management, November 2008 | Go to article overview

Port Townsend Historic City Hall Restoration


McNabb, Catherine, Public Management


In recent years, more than $25 million has been invested in the historic downtown and uptown areas of Port Townsend, Washington (population 8,500). Nowhere is this more apparent than in the restoration of Historic City Hall in Port Townsend.

On May 14, 1971, the city hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1973, the city of Port Townsend was declared a National Landmark Historic District. On May 5, 1977, city hall was named a National Historic Landmark; it shares this honor with only 23 other places in the state of Washington and is one of 2,500 nationwide.

WHAT WAS NEEDED?

Despite the recognition by many residents that Historic City Hall was the anchor to the downtown, the depressed economy of the area prevented the city from undertaking all but the most urgent tasks necessary for health and safety. In 1969, Mayor Frank Smith failed in his attempt at gaining the voters' approval for a $335,000 bond dedicated to restoration of city hall. In 1972, a federal grant provided $169,000 for minimal restoration work. In 1991, 1997, and 1999 condition and repair studies were conducted.

City staff members were all in agreement that something needed to be done, but how much and how to pay for it were the constant yet-to-be-answered questions. By 2003, Historic City Hall was at a point where it had faced years of assault from wind, salt water, and time--it appeared to be just an old brick building with almost nonexistent mortar. Flooring, roof framing, and decking were dry rotted and needed repair. Roof and drainage systems needed replacement, and windows were deteriorated and leaking. The basement walls leaked, and the entire building needed electrical, heating, and lighting upgrades.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Years of minimal city budgets and minimal maintenance had left the building in need of expensive structural and cosmetic repairs. The staff thought that perhaps the most problematic and expensive fix was a seismic support system for this unreinforced brick building that was more than a century old.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

HOW THESE NEEDS WERE MET

In June 2003, the city council adopted a plan recommended by a staff and citizen task force to create a new facility for administrative offices and restore the city hall. The historic building would continue to be used as council chambers by the city and as administrative and museum space by the Jefferson County Historical Society (JCHS).

The city's architect examined several solutions for its seismic support, and most solutions were either too expensive or intruded on the aesthetic sensibilities of the building. The option of choice was to use the new building to provide structural bracing for seismic support of the historic building. …

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