Harris, James M.
Born April 30, 1928 in Lead, South Dakota, James Martin Harris graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Architecture and Allied Arts in 1953. Previously, he had spent a couple of summers at the University of Wyoming taking engineering courses but transferred to the University of Oregon in 1948. Upon graduation, Harris served as a project engineer for the Busch-Copenhagen Co. in Portland. Then in 1956 he became a draftsman and supervisor in the office of Robert Billsbrough Price in Tacoma.
In 1960, Harris left the Price firm to open his own independent practice. The next year he formed a lasting partnership with architect William Reed. They were briefly joined by architect Benjamin Wilson (1961-62), and then took on another partner Theo Litzenberger in 1967. Together the firm of Harris, Reed & Litzenberger made a profound impact on the built environment in the South Sound area, specializing mainly in educational facilities and housing projects.
Award winning projects include the octagonal shaped Lecture Hall at the Evergreen State College in Olympia (1971) which was a Washington Aggregates & Concrete Association award winner in 1972; Purdy Elementary School (1971) in Gig Harbor; the Dr. Stewart Govig House (1967) in Parkland; and Brookside Mortuary (c. 1966) in University Place.
The firm found work by taking an empathetic, client-first approach to its designs. No two buildings look alike, and a distinct Harris, Reed & Litzenberger style cannot be found. Projects range from the Shed style Tacoma AAA office (1968); to the round United Mutual Savings Bank (1963) in the Proctor neighborhood of Tacoma; to the beautifully executed Brutalist style Salvation Army Citadel (1969) in Tacoma.
Other notable projects include the Pacific Northwest Bell office (1976); the Wallace Starkey House (1961); and Western Clinic (1964)—all in Tacoma; as well as several apartment buildings and a variety of projects for the Weyerhaeuser Company.
Professionally, Harris served in a variety of leadership capacities to the AIA including a term as National Vice President in 1979. That same year, he was inducted into the AIA College of Fellows. He also traveled extensively for architectural projects in China, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Egypt and England.
Since moving to Tacoma, Harris became heavily involved in a variety of civic activities including serving as President of the Downtown Association, President of the local Rotary Club, Vice President of the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) and serving on the board for the United Way and Chamber of Commerce. One of his primary interests was the health and welfare of downtown Tacoma. He became founding co-chair of the Downtown Area Revitalization Task Force (DART) and convinced members of the AIA Southwest Washington chapter to study the proposed freeway spur into downtown Tacoma.
In the early 1980s, James Tsang joined the firm, forming Harrison Tsang Architects. This firm later dissolved and the successor firm is BCRA of Tacoma, which acquired The Tsang Partnership in 1999. Today Harris is retired and continues his new passion, humanitarian work, from his home in Tacoma.
- Michael C. Houser