Washington State Library


Designed by prominent Northwest architect Paul Thiry during the height of his career, the Washington State Library Building (Joel M. Pritchard Building), located on the State Capitol Campus south of the Legislative Building, was the last monumental building to be added to the campus. The Washington State Library Historic Structures Report, prepared for the Department of General Administration (GA) in October 2002, cited the Library Building as “…among the most important regional archetypes of mid-century architectural design and thought. The social history surrounding the Library and the prominence of designer Paul Thiry during the period anchor the building and its history firmly in the Pacific Northwest post-war development. By adding the layers of significance that come with associations to political and artistic figures, the Washington State Library becomes a textbook on how Washingtonians looked at the future in the 1950’s and how public buildings reflected that vision.”

Paul Thiry had created a master plan for the Capitol Campus along with this building as an elegant Modern interpretation of Neoclassicism. The stone and glass library contains contemporary pieces of public art, including a continuous 360 degree mural by renowned Northwest painter Kenneth Callahan. However, little of the interior is open and visible to the public. The State Library Building no longer houses a library. A few years ago, while the nearby Legislative Building was undergoing rehabilitation as a result of damage from the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, the State Library was moved to a speculative office building in Tumwater so that the original library building could serve as temporary offices and senate chambers for the Legislature. A cafeteria was also added to this mix of new temporary uses within the building. Meanwhile, the nearby Legislative Building underwent a masterful renovation, and was reopened in 2004.

The question of how to reuse and rehabilitate the library building has been under consideration by the General Administration for several years. Since mid-2006, the General Administration and the Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee (CCDAC) have been working with architects from SRG Partnership to create design alternatives for changing the building for new, expanded uses. The proposed project will upgrade original building systems as well as permanently change its functions to a legislative support facility and public cafeteria. In response to a larger program, significant elements of the original building design will be removed, and a new addition will increase the size of the building substantially.

The GA will present the new design alternatives in a public workshop scheduled for September 18, 2006 at 6:30 pm in the lobby of the Washington State Library Building (415 15th Ave SW, Olympia).
Docomomo WEWA has been concerned about the proposed alternatives because none of the alternatives appear sensitive to the original library building, and none appear to meet The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. We are also concerned with the lack of public process—the GA has gained approval of the preferred alternative from its advisory committee, the CCDAC, which it is presenting to the public on September 18th, but there has been no public input to date. It appears that the alternative was developed without a review by the State Capitol Conservator, and without consultation of the State’s own guidelines in the 2002 Historic Structures Report for the building.

On August 22nd, Docomomo WEWA Board members, and representatives from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Western Regional Office met with a representative from GA to discuss the project. We received background information and an update on the project and the GA welcomed our input. We stressed the need for transparency and a meaningful and open public process. We also expressed the critical need for design alternatives that respect the integrity of the original building. Furthermore, as mandated by State law (RCW 79.24.710 and RCW 79.24.720), the design must meet The Secretary’s Standards. The preferred alternative includes an addition to the building with considerable increased square footage to meet the needs of the new programmatic uses.

Docomomo WEWA believes that an addition meeting program requirements and designed in accordance with preservation standards is possible, and we encourage the GA and its architects to come up with an appropriate design approach.

We urge you to join us. If you’d like to find out more about this issue or help support our advocacy effort, please attend the public meeting in Olympia at 6:30pm on September 18th and make your voice heard! Alternately, you may email your questions and comments to Craig Donald, General Administration, at cdonald@ga.wa.gov. Please CC us with a copy of your email message, at info@docomomo-wewa.org.

You may also contact us for more information at info@docomomo-wewa.org.

State Library, Olympia (1959)<br>Photo courtesy of DAHP.
Rendering of Proposed Addition by Thiry, Olympia (1971)<br>
State Library, Olympia (1959)
Photo courtesy of DAHP.