Tacoma Paper & Stationery - From Candy and Paper to Student Success

Main page content

UW Tacoma kicks off the renovation of the campus's last unrestored historic warehouse, the Tacoma Paper & Stationery Building.

(Image above shows rendering of renovated Tacoma Paper & Stationery building, viewed from Prairie Line Trail. Image courtesy The Miller/Hull Partnership.}

If you see any ream remnants blowing around on Jefferson, or if you detect a faint sweet odor, or maybe a tomato scent, wafting along the Prairie Line Trail, blame history.

But celebrate the milestone that such fragments of the past denote: the renovation of the last unrestored historic warehouse on the UW Tacoma campus, the Tacoma Paper & Stationery Building (TPS).

Historical view of UW Tacoma's Tacoma Paper & Stationery building, date unknown (probably 1940s) emblazoned with Blake, Moffitt & Towne brand.That visual or olfactory flotsam would be leftovers from the tenants that once called the building home. Soon, you will see metal, glass, brick and wood forming new labs, classrooms and gathering spaces.

UW Tacoma calls the building Tacoma Paper & Stationery after its longest-tenured occupant, a wholesale paper and office supply company, but the structure was built by a company in a very different line of business.

Tacoma Biscuit & Candy Co.

Tacoma Biscuit & Candy Co., which erected the 40,000 square foot, four-story structure in 1904, made its mark in Tacoma during the endgame of the “cracker trusts,” a national wave of consolidation in the baking industry that started in the late 19th century, eventually resulting in the creation of the National Biscuit Company, or Nabisco. Prominent in the cracker machinations was the Pacific Coast Biscuit Company of Seattle, which did eventually swallow Tacoma Biscuit & Candy Co.

Perhaps that merger was what led to Tacoma Biscuit & Candy departing the Tacoma scene only three years after it built what was called the “best cracker plant upon the Pacific coast” at 1735 Jefferson Avenue, today’s Tacoma Paper & Stationery building.

The building was constructed to meet the special needs of a cracker baker/candy formulator. It was designed by Isaac Jay Knapp, who also designed the W.W. Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma’s Wright Park, and who had flourishing architectural practices in Muskegon, Michigan, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, prior to moving west to Tacoma, and later to Klamath Falls, Ore.

The ground floor featured loading-dock access to the Northern Pacific Railway (now the Prairie Line Trail). The second floor, with the company offices and a sales room, featured fine woodwork and large plate glass windows along Jefferson Avenue.

Floor plans of UW Tacoma's renovated Tacoma Paper & Stationery Building. Courtesy The Miller Hull Partnership.The fourth floor had a waterproof cement floor specially designed so that it could be hosed down, draining food waste directly out of the building, said to be “the only candy floor of the kind in the West.”

Tacoma Biscuit & Candy was known regionally for baked items such as “Snowflake Crackers” and a line of candy products whose brand emphasized a populist excellence, with names such as “Everybody’s Quality Marshmellows.”

Tacoma Paper & Stationery

But, for whatever reason, the candy and cracker company moved out after only a few years, and the building was then owned by Tacoma Paper & Stationery from 1910 to 1953 (the last 10 years under the name of its parent, Blake, Moffitt & Towne).

In those pre-office-superstore days, the paper and office supply needs of the country’s businesses were met by a series of regional suppliers. Blake, Moffitt & Towne had the west coast pretty well covered, with operations spreading from San Francisco to Portland, Los Angeles, Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and many other western locations. In a privately-published history of the company, issued in 1955, the expansion to Tacoma was depicted in terms of its inevitability:

“The Spreading Tree – The March of progress on Puget Sound carried Blake, Moffitt & Towne to still another point—Tacoma—in 1910 [sic]. This beautifully located city with Commencement Bay at its feet, the valley of the Puyallup at its back and the Coast’s most massive mountain looming a few miles away, had grown steadily and was considered a fruitful field for the Company. In 1910, therefore, a division was opened under the title The Tacoma Paper & Stationery Company, serving customers of southwestern Washington, at 1735 Jefferson Street. [sic]

“Otto W. Mielke, who since 1899 had been in charge of the Company’s interests in the North, as vice-president, and since 1908 manager of the Company’s Seattle division, the American Paper Company, had on his staff Frank E. Jeffries, who previously had been in the paper business in Minneapolis. Upon the establishment of the branch house at Tacoma on September 1, 1910, Frank Jeffries was appointed manager. There were four employees at the time.

“The plant in Tacoma became a familiar landmark, serving the Company for the next 44 years. It was a large brick structure of several floors. When the Tacoma division started, it used only a third of the building and rented out the rest. But in time it needed all the space.”

Deep Roots: The History of Blake Moffitt & Towne, Pioneers in Paper Since 1855, by Neill Compton Wilson, San Francisco, 1955.

Blake, Moffitt & Towne moved out of 1735 Jefferson Avenue in 1953 and relocated to a new, one-story industrial building at 1157 Thorne Road on Tacoma’s Commencement Bay tide flats. The paper and office supply industry underwent enormous changes in the succeeding decades; the Tacoma office closed in the early 1970s. The company still exists, in much altered form, with headquarters in Sacramento, Calif. The Tacoma tide flats location is now occupied by PCC Logistics, a west coast warehousing and distribution concern.

Old Spaghetti Factory

A period followed during which TPS went through various owners and uses, including vacancy. By the early 1970s, downtown Tacoma was in a ravaged state: retail stores were relocating to suburban shopping malls and warehousing and distribution tenants were moving to newer industrial precincts.

Participants wielding the ceremonial sledgehammers at the Tacoma Paper & Stationery groundbreaking included, from left, UW Regent Herbert Simon, ASUWT President Sophie Nop, and UW Tacoma Chancellor Mark A. Pagano. Photo by Cody Char.When Old Spaghetti Factory, a Portland-based restaurant, leased the second floor of TPS, it represented a calculated gamble that the aesthetic of the older loft-style architecture would appeal to diners. The gamble paid off, as Old Spaghetti Factory became Tacoma’s go-to party and event restaurant for the next 44 years.

UW bought TPS in the early 1990s as part of the assembly of properties to create its Tacoma campus. Since TPS was not in the first phases of campus construction/renovation, Old Spaghetti Factory continued to operate on the second floor, complete with a historic trolley car from Rainier, Wash., providing a private nook for a few tables. The rest of the building was used by UW Tacoma as storage, and, until the renovation of the Whitney Building, as an art studio by sculptor/lecturer Tyler Budge.

After UW Tacoma announced its intention to renovate the building, a successful negotiation resulted in Old Spaghetti Factory relocating three blocks away on Pacific Ave, trolley and all.

Academic Service

Critical support for the renovation of TPS came from the Washington legislature, which approved $16 million in capital funding for the project. That funding will allow UW Tacoma to create 40,000 more square feet of desperately needed space for new and growing academic programs, which in turn will bring growth in student enrollments and degrees awarded.

Rendering of renovated Tacoma Paper & Stationery building viewed from Jefferson Ave. Image courtesy The Miller Hull Partnership.On the ground floor, opening out to the Prairie Line Trail--the campus backbone that was originally Northern Pacific Railway’s transcontinental railroad line--will be a spectacular, open multi-use space that will serve as a student commons, an area for informal meetings and gatherings, and an event venue. The ground floor will also house what is being called a “tinker” lab, a space available for student projects, and for using equipment and technology like 3D printers.

The second floor, at the Jefferson Ave. level, will have multiple studio classrooms and seminar spaces, plus an urban design lab that will support a new Master of Arts in Community Planning.

The third and fourth floors will have biomedical research labs, to support a new Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences, plus collaboration spaces, classrooms and electrical engineering labs, to support a forthcoming Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.

The building will be brought completely up to modern seismic standards. Where possible, the existing massive interior wood beams and columns that came from the Northwest’s fabled old-growth forests will be reused. The campus is seeking certification from LEED, the national sustainable building body. The state requires Silver certification, but the renovation project team is aiming for Gold. The renovation, whose total cost is estimated to be about $28 million, has been designed by the architecture firm Miller/Hull, and is being executed by the Mortenson construction company.

Written by: 
John Burkhardt / February 19, 2016
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu