June 6 meeting about historic Parkland School

Councilmember Jani Hitchen has reserved a room at the James Sales School to have a community discussion about the fate of the historic Parkland School. The meeting will be held June 6. 2022, at 6:30 p.m. at 11213 Sheridan Ave S, Tacoma, WA 98444.

It was only May 15, when a group of people in Parkland learned of the permits that Pacific Lutheran University’s potential buyer was seeking to de-list the school and demolish it for a high-rise apartment complex at the “east campus” site. There is the rub. It was referred to as a PLU historic structure, not the Parkland School, so it was not obvious to the public what was being demolished. On March 15, 2022, a poorly advertised meeting was held by the Pierce County Landmarks and Architectural Preservation Commission regarding the de listing. Not a soul from the public was present and the meeting barely had a quorum of members. On May 17, 2 days after learning of the plans, the community stepped up!

This is the commission membership, showing how few are currently even appointed to the commission. District 6, which includes the Parkland School has no member.

Current Membership

MemberResolutionRepresentingTerm Expiration
John “Jack” TaylorR2022-1District 101/31/26
Vacant District 2 
Joel GreenR2022-33District 303/20/25
Vacant-FillR2020-82District 408/31/23
Nancy LarsenR2019-136; R2020-78District 509/15/23
Vacant District 6 
Donald TjossemR2016-76; R2017-19; R2020-32District 702/01/23
Barton WolfeR2022-17At Large 1 – Architect02/28/25
Robert Koreis, ChairR2019-136At Large 2 – Archivist10/01/22
Vacant At Large 3 – Historian 
Vacant At Large 4 – Archaeologist 

The Commission meets on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. At the March meeting, the commission had no public input before deciding to de-list the building to assist PLU in its sale. The agenda merely said, “Review proposed changes to historic structure at Pacific Lutheran University.”

In the two days before the meeting on May 17, the community got the word out enough for the meeting to have 41 participants instead of 4. One of the commissioners noted it was the largest turnout he had ever seen. Then, after the testimony of a number of upset Parkland community members, the Commission voted to revisit both the de-listing as an historic site and the demolition application at their June 21, 2022 meeting.

That gave the community time to organize a bit, hence the June 6 meeting and in the meantime, many calls to the County Council and articles here in the PPP.

The ordinance creating the historic Pierce County Schools was approved in 1986. Ordinance 86-84 was Signed by the Pierce County Executive, Joe Stortini on September 9, 1986. The following is a excerpt from that 31 page document.



The schools included in the Pierce County Public School (Rural/ Suburban) thematic nominiation (sic) are significant as symbols of Washington’s early emphasis on local school control and the role which schools played as the focal point for community development. Between 1853, when Washington became a territory, until the 1940’s, when rural school consolidation resulted in the construction of larger facili- . ties, these buildings were social, cultural and educational centers. In many cases, these are the only public buildings remaining in the once thriving rural settlements of Pierce County.

This area, like others in the Puget Sound region, was settled by immigrants from the East Coast and abroad and thus the social, cultural and economic developments were influenced by both traditional and ethnic factors. Transportation played an important role as Tacoma, the County’s largest city, became the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Other communities developed along rail routes. Pierce County encompasses hundred of miles of waterfront and many people settled along the shores and inlets of Puget Sound. Here, the water offered the only means of transportation and was the major link between communities. The rich forests caused logging and timber related industries to develop. Shipping, fishing, mining and agriculture all contributed to the growth of the region. By the 1930’s, many other industries had appeared, but the economic climate was controlled by timber and water-related activities.

Within this general historical setting, Pierce County’s communities and neighborhoods evolved. Outside the incorporated municipalities, small activity centers grew around railroad or streetcar stops, areas of concentrated economic activity, or shipping points. Today, many of these places are still marked by grocery stores, service stations, and, on occasion, churches. They all at one time also had a school located nearby. The school was named for the settlement wherein it was located. Not all of these schoolhouses have survived over time. Some have been demolished; others are highly altered. Those that are included in this thematic nomination symbolize settlement activity within the following communities:

  1. Waterfront communities: Glencove, Fox Island, Anderson Island, Arletta, Midway, Vaughn, Wollochet, Longbranch
  2. Suburban communities: Parkland, Custer, American Lake, South Park Lodge
  3. Rural communities: Woodrow, Weyerhaeuser, Collins, Elk Plain, Alder, Woodland, McMillin, Rocky Ridge, Alderton, Harts Lake, Manley-Moore, Kapowsin

In Pierce County, pioneers formed schools even before W. H. Wallace became its first superintendent of schools in 1857. By 1864, there were six school districts located at Steilacoom, near Steilacoom Lake, Puyallup, Elk Plain, Muck and Spanaway. The impetus to form these districts came from the settlers themselves: “a group of settlers interested in the education of their children would call a meeting of the heads of the families in the neighborhood, elect directors, secure a place for holding a school, raise money by taxation or voluntary contribution for the support of the school, employ a teacher, and open a school.” (Bowden. p.13) The group would then petition the county superintendent to form a district.

Territorial legislation encouraged local school control. The Territorial Organic Act set aside the federally mandated two sections of each township for the purpose of funding education; but, since the Commissioner of the land office had decided that grants from the sale of this school land would not be available until statehood, funding had to come from local sources, primarily an annual tax. Fines obtained from offenders of the law were also put into the school fund. By an 1854 act of the Territorial Legislature, the county super[1]intendent was the highest officer in the state school system.

The period between 1854 and 1874 has been called the “Dark Ages” of public education in Washington.

The lack of central authority made the schools a system in name only. Few county superintendents were seriously interested in their jobs; the difficulties of travel prevented many from making the required annual visits, and few submitted annual reports. (NEA. p.1320)

To remedy the situation, the 1877 Territorial Legislature set rules for governing the schools, including a requirement that county super[1]intendents must submit annual reports or be fined. By this time, Pierce County had fifteen school districts covering settlements from Wollochet to Wilkeson. There were forty-six districts maintaining schools in the county at the time Washington achieved statehood in 1889.

With statehood came a move toward greater standardization of the school system aided in part by the funds brought by the sale of school lands. The condition of school buildings came under closer scrutiny. A 1908 report noted that of the 2888 school buildings in the State, 2604 were of frame construction. The author lamented:

Not only does the erection of a frame building establish a serious fire hazard which menaces the lives of little ones, but when erected with borrowed funds, constitutes an unethical act, for it leaves a debt without a compensating asset. (Raymer. p.178)

In 1911, State School Superintendent Henry B. Dewey instituted recommended standardized rural school plans and specifications. While the use of wood in their construction was not prohibited judging from later school buildings constructed in Pierce County, the move toward masonry can generally be dated from this time.

Another change which occurred during this pre-World War I period involved a legislative act authorizing school directors to make school property more available for community purposes. Thus schools were encouraged to become centers of community social and intellectual life. This action symbolized the role which schools already played in rural community life. In Pierce County, these buildings were often the only ones centrally located and able to hold gatherings of people within a convenient traveling distance. Most of the schools included in this nomination represent communities which evolved around them and are often the only building remaining which suggests early settlement activity. It is interesting to note that of the seventeen buildings presently not used for school purposes, nine still retain their social purposes as a community/recreational center (two additional ones are museums).

Pierce County saw one more period of rural school construction before consolidation began. This occurred through Public Works Administration, Works Progress Administration and the State Department of Social Security programs in the 1930’s. The impact of this activity statewide was tremendous:

The generosity of the federal government in its work-creating activities has given the school system of Washington approximately $13 million worth of new buildings at a comparatively small cost to the school districts. Very few of these buildings involved any bond issues on the part of the school districts. (NEW. p.1329)

Four known school buildings, all located within the Peninsula area of Pierce County, were constructed with the use of these federal funds.

Not all educators appreciated the community values of a rural school. In 1921, Ross Finney argued for their demise:

In many districts, the schoolhouse was a social center where the neighborhood gathered on winter evenings …. Many a romance has been woven around these social events, and many a tender sentiment associated with this dearly remembered institution is celebrated in song or verse. But the sentiments, however tender, have now become obsolete to progress …. The present is a new age; and the new age has no more urgent need than for a new rural school. (Finney. p.136)

Instead, schools should be consolidating. Local rural schools permit too many localities to have poor schools and fails to provide for national unity. (Ibid. p.208)

Finney was not alone in his condemnation of rural schools. Mrs. Josephine Corliss Preston, Washington State School Superintendent from 1912 until 1928, was also a proponent of consolidation as a means of improving rural education. In 1922, she advocated enlarging school districts to coincide with “natural” neighborhood centers. These centers were to be communities and the surrounding rural areas which were tied to the community economically and socially, as well as educationally.

The Washington State Legislature passed the first measure leading to rural school consolidation in 1933. Others were to follow in 1941 and 1955. While local consolidation studies were begun in 1935, major consolidations occurred in Pierce County following the 1941 act. With this a new era of school planning began as improved transportation brought students to more recently constructed enlarged facilities. Of the twenty-four buildings included in this nomination, only four continue to function as public schools.

Pierce County rural and suburban schoolhouse construction paralleled three general periods of development. At the beginning, on land usually donated by the first homesteader, a log school house was constructed. Sometimes, if children were few and resources meager, school would be held in a private home. As the community grew, a larger wood frame schoolhouse was constructed symbolizing increased community stability. Schools constructed between statehood and World War I represent this latter period of growth.

It is not possible to associate a pure architectural style with any of these school buildings. They can best be labeled “carpenter puritan.” Their charm lies in their simple, straightforward design and craftsmanship. These single story, one and two room utilitarian buildings have primarily gable roofs, with shed or hipped roof front porches. They have wood shingle roofs, horizontal siding, multi-pane double hung sash windows, and are symmetrical in form and detail.

Some of the school buildings constructed during this early period of time survived until rural consolidation. Others were replaced by newer, more substantial, masonry school buildings following World War I. Two such schools, Weyerhaeuser and Collins, retained the earlier wood frame building as an outbuilding. Another, Parkland, chose to add onto the existing building rather than to build anew, probably because the building was already of masonry construction. The remaining were Works Progress Administration projects. A symbolic date for the end of this period of construction might be 1938, when the Arletta School was completed, and the move toward rural consolidation was underway.

Classrooms in these buildings were usually rectangular with high ceilings. Rooms were located along a central double loaded corridor. Some had basements used as playrooms. Cloakrooms were located off one end of each classroom. On the interior of earlier buildings of this type included in the nomination is wood detailing at the cornice, brackets and, occasionally, applied classical columns. Later examples are more sparsely decorated and are more easily recognized as school buildings. There are, however, hints of Georgian, Federal, Classic, bungaloid and Deco decoration.

Twenty-four school buildings and one historical archaeological site have been included in the Pierce County Public School (Rural/Suburban) thematic nomination. The Byrd School site has been included because its location has not been compromised by newer development. It is the only undisturbed period of Pierce site of a school representing the earliest settlement County’s history. No school buildings located in unincorporated Pierce County remain from this time.

The twenty-four school buildings possess the architectural integrity, design, workmanship, feeling and/or association required to place properties in a historic register. Historically, they symbolize the results of early local control, and the development of the many com[1]munities which have evolved in Pierce County over time. These representations parallel state trends in public education as this moved from an emphasis on local control, standardization and the use of schools for social purposes beyond education and, ultimately to rural and suburban consolidation. That so many of these buildings remain illustrates how important the activity taking place in them has been in the overall history of the county.


Bowden, A. B. Early Schools of Washington Territory. Seattle, 1936.

Finney, Ross L. The American Public School. New York, 1921.

Pearson, Jim B. and Edgar Fuller, eds. Education in the States. Washington D.C., National Education Association, 1969.

Raymer, Robert G. “Educational Development in the Territory and State of Washington, 1853-1908.” Washington Historical Quarterly. Vol. XVIII, NO. 3 (July, 1927), pp.163-180.


Here is the ordinance from 1986.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Rees Clark says:

    My organization has a potential re-use that could preserve the school while introducing an educational purpose.

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