James M. Harris

Fellow | AIA

Harris, James M.

(1928 – )

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 Company in Portland. Then in 1956 he became a draftsman and supervisor in the architectural office of Robert Billsbrough Price in Tacoma.

In 1960, Harris left the Price firm and opened his own independent practice. The next year he formed a lasting partnership with architect William Reed. They were briefly joined by architect Benjamin Lee Wilson (1961-63), and then took on another partner, Theo Litzenberger, in 1967. Together the firm of Harris, Reed & Litzenberger made a profound impact on the South Sound’s built environment, specializing mainly in educational facilities and housing projects.

An award-winning project included the octagonal-shaped Lecture Hall at the Evergreen State College in Olympia (1971), which was a Washington Aggregates & Concrete Association award winner in 1972. Other commissions included the 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 office of the American Automobile Association (AAA) (1968), round United Mutual Savings Bank (1963) in the Proctor neighborhood of Tacoma, and beautifully executed Brutalist style Salvation Army Citadel (1969) in Tacoma.

Other notable projects included 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 in the American Institute of Architects (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 board member 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, to form Harrison Tsang Architects. This partnership later dissolved, and its successor firm, The Tsang Partnership, was acquired by BCRA of Tacoma, in 1999. Today, Harris is retired and continues his new passion, humanitarian work, from his home in Tacoma.

– Michael C Houser

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