Holy Rosary named one of Washington’s Most Endangered Places


Come and join the “heartbomb” photo event at Holy Rosary – details below

Efforts to save Tacoma’s Holy Rosary church just keeps getting more good news. Last week, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation announced that the church has been added to its statewide list of Washington’s Most Endangered Places. The church is already on Historic Tacoma’s watch list as “threatened.” In addition, members and supporters of Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church (STLC) nonprofit group held a successful gala fundraising event on Jan. 18 with a Roaring 20s theme – and a cardboard cut out of Pope Francis for fun photo ops.

It was at this fundraiser that the announcement was made concerning Holy Rosary’s listing with the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

“It was a really good time to make the announcement that they bestowed upon us the honor of being on their most endangered list,” said STLC board member Joy Donohue. “Everybody was overjoyed to have an additional preservation society on our team.”

While the final fundraising total from the gala had not yet been calculated as of Tacoma Weekly press time, Donohue shared that the “paddle raising” portion of the evening – when guests raised a paddle to donate as ascending amounts were called out – brought in $94,000. 

“We were really pleased from having our first big event,” Donohue said. 

In its fundraising efforts, STLC cleared the first $1 million as of Jan. 9. That amount represents the initial milestone to show the Seattle Archdiocese that STLC and the broader community can indeed save and repair Holy Rosary. The next milestone would be $2.5 million to conduct repairs and erect scaffolding necessary to open the church doors again. Nearly $7 million would achieve another milestone to completely repair the roof and make needed structural repairs, and another $8 million would make the aging church spectacular again. 

Achieving alliances with Tacoma preservation societies is another key factor, with statewide recognition being the icing on the cake. “It calls more recognition and attention to the process that we’re going through,” Donohue said. “A statewide designation is something that we were shooting for. We were told it was possible that we wouldn’t get this recognition, but the vote was unanimous by their board. They have faith in our cause, which is great. We hope to see to it that Holy Rosary Church is reclassified on both lists as ‘Saved’ in the nearest possible future.” 

Viewing the interior of Holy Rosary shows that the church is far from being worthy of demolition. Credit: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation 

As stated in a Washington Trust for Historic Preservation news release, the purpose of the Most Endangered Places list is to raise awareness about the threats facing important historic and cultural places in Washington and to rally community support around them. Since 1992, the Washington Trust has maintained a list of Most Endangered Places as its principal advocacy and awareness program for sites significant to communities across Washington. Nominations to the list are solicited from the public and selected by the Washington Trust’s board of directors. Inclusion on the list is reserved for those places of particular historic or cultural significance for the community and for Washington State.
Dedicated in 1921, Holy Rosary is the second church to stand in its site, replacing a wood-frame church built by Catholic German immigrants in 1892. Designed by C. Frank Mahon of Lundberg & Mahon of Tacoma, Holy Rosary has a distinct Gothic revival style and is in the form of a Latin cross. In addition to its architectural merit, Holy Rosary’s significance is also due in part to its prominent place in the Tacoma skyline, thanks to its location at the terminus of Tacoma Avenue, a major north/south corridor in Tacoma, and its visibility from I-5. The church was also one of the earliest City of Tacoma landmarks when it was designated in 1975. Until recently, the church remained in continuous use as a worship space thanks to many renovation projects undertaken and funded by the parish over the decades.
In the fall of 2018, a large chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling into the choir loft. Due to safety concerns, services were moved to the adjacent school building auditorium, and the church building was shuttered and fenced off. The Seattle Archdiocese undertook an assessment of the building and announced by formal decree in August 2019 that the church would be demolished due to the high cost of rehabilitation. 

Donohue said that things are currently on a temporary pause concerning the Seattle Archdiocese’s review of whether to go forward with its decree to demolish Holy Rosary. 

“Our last communication with the Archdiocese was that they are going to proceed with determining whether (Holy Rosary) will remain a viable parish. Until that process is done, we’re kind of in a holding pattern. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for us. It gives us more time to build up more funds. That’s one thing that could cancel the whole decree – if we can prove that we have the money, canon law says that the archdiocese can’t take the church down.” 

The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation is actively supporting Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church in the campaign to save Holy Rosary. The first joint event: a “heartbomb” group photo to show the love for Holy Rosary, will be on Saturday, Feb. 15 at noon. 

Bring any size of homemade valentine – or choose from those that will be available on site – and gather with community at Holy Rosary. Those who wish to are invited to stay for the Rosary prayer at 12:30. Do not park in theparking lots for the school or the church,as that is private church property. There is limited street parking nearby, so please do your best to carpool or find other ways to get there.

Anyone who is interested can join in on Thursday, Feb.13,6:30p.m.at Bethlehem Lutheran (101 E.38th St.) for some group valentine crafting. Supplies will be provided and extras will be made so that everyone who attends the group photo can hold a valentine.

The Washington Trust intends to continue supporting efforts to save Holy Rosary, first with a “heartbomb” photo gathering on Feb. 15 – find details in the sidebar accompanying this story. STLC has more fun events planned in the coming months: a St. Patrick’s Day dinner in March, a big music festival on June 27, and more. 

Visit www.SaveTacomasLandmarkChurch.com for more information and to make a donation. 

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