Georgia - Pacific Plywood Co. Office
The number of formally recognized and designated Modern resources in Washington State is low. Less than two dozen properties (constructed from 1941 or later) are listed on local registers and just seventy-five are listed on the State and/or National Register. Slowly, individuals and communities are beginning to recognize the need to document and celebrate the recent past.
Among the most recent Modern properties to be recognized is the 1952 Georgia-Pacific Plywood Company Office Building in Olympia, which was formally listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2007.
Despite its listing, the building is still threatened with demolition. Owned by the state, legislators have specifically asked that the property, along with others owned by the state in downtown Olympia, be issued for surplus. Located next to the farmer’s market, legislators note the site has high redevelopment potential, and that the existing structure is not the best and highest use for the property. What they seem to be missing however, is the historical significance of the resource.
The building, which served as headquarters for a large and bustling plywood mill, is the last extant structure (in Olympia) associated with the Georgia-Pacific Company and its subsidiary, Washington Veneer. The building holds the distinction of being the first NBBJ designed project to be listed on the National Register.
Georgia-Pacific, founded in Augusta, Georgia in 1927, served mainly as a wholesaler of hardwood lumber in its early development years. Seeing the demand for building products after World War II, the company decided to move into plywood production. In 1947, it acquired its first West Coast mill, a plywood facility in Bellingham. The next year, Georgia-Pacific acquired the Washington Veneer Mill in Olympia and a mill in Springfield, Oregon from Weyerhaeuser.
At first, Georgia-Pacific struggled to sell plywood products since the company was unfamiliar with the marketing networks for the product. The firm re-organized its operations and moved the operational headquarters for the company to the west coast. Executives chose Olympia, Washington, the location of one the company’s most successful manufacturing plants.
Before the major move of the operations side of the company to the west coast could occur, the company needed an adequate facility to house the various executives and staff. It also needed space to house lumber scalers and buyers that were associated with operating the local plywood mill. Georgia-Pacific hired the prominent Seattle architectural firm of Naramore, Bain, Brady & Johanson (NBBJ) to design a Modern facility which would highlight the products of the growing lumber company.
Completed in July of 1952 for $200,000, the building served as a unique marketing tool for the company by demonstrating the many uses of its products in a unique integration of plywood veneers for interior and exterior finishes. Inside, each office featured exotic plywood veneer walls and built-in cabinetry (each with its own plaque). On the outside, the design demonstrated how plywood could be applied in a variety of exterior applications.
Formed in 1943, the partnership of NBBJ was established initially to take advantage of large contracts commissioned by the federal government during WWII. By the end of the war, the partnership was solidified, emphasizing a “team” approach to design and a service approach to practice. By the early 1950s, the firm began to receive a variety of important commissions such as facilities at the University of Washington and Swedish Hospital, downtown Seattle office towers such as the Public Safety Building, and a variety of schools across the Pacific Northwest.
In 1954, just two years after arriving in Olympia, Georgia-Pacific moved their headquarters to a multi-story building in downtown Portland, but maintained offices in the nominated building. Not needing such a large space, Georgia-Pacific sold the nominated office building to the State of Washington Department of Game in 1959. It was during the late 1950s that the growth of state employment began to supplant the manufacturing base of the city.
Upon purchase of the building, the State Department of Game asked the architectural firm of Wohleb & Wohleb to complete drawings for an addition to the rear southeast corner of the building. The addition was completed in 1960 and is reflective of the original 1952 building with its use of plywood on the interior and exterior.
In December of 1971, the Port of Olympia purchased the former Washington Veneer/Georgia-Pacific manufacturing site. Shortly thereafter, the Port began dismantling the former plant to accommodate the area as a cargo hold for logs and other exports. The last of the Washington Veneer/Georgia-Pacific facility, except for the nominated building, was demolished in 1993, ending a chapter in the industrial history and development of the city.
The only remaining buildings from the plywood veneer industry in Olympia are the nominated Georgia-Pacific Plywood Co. Office, four manufacturing buildings, and an office building from the Olympia Veneer/St. Paul and Tacoma/St. Regis operations.