Robert T. Olson

Olson, Robert T.

(1927 – 1994)

Architect Robert Thorwald Olson, was born on March 13, 1927 in St. Louis, Missouri. While his parents were from Tacoma, they had moved to St. Louis in the mid-1920s, only to return to Tacoma shortly after Robert was born. His dad, Nels, was a noted civil engineer specializing in bridge design and took a job with the Washington State Department of Highways. He was heavily involved in the design of the replacement 1950 Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Olson grew up in Tacoma and graduated from Stadium High School in 1944. Upon graduation he enlisted in the Army, and was stationed in the South Pacific during the waning months of WWII. Discharged at the age of 19, he took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled in the architectural engineering program at Washington State University in Pullman. Upon graduating in 1949, he returned to Tacoma and started to gain practical experience by working for a variety of local architectural firms.

He passed the state architectural examine in 1952 and decided to open his own independent practice in Olympia in 1959. Ron G. Rowe started working at the office in 1962 and was made a partner in 1966 along with Ronald E. Hulbert. In 1984 the firm (by then called the Olson-Rowe Partnership) merged with Pardini & Associates. The new firm was called the Olson-Rowe-Pardini Partnership.

Notable projects include the Blume Realty & Insurance Office in Lacey (1961); alterations to Dawley Bros. Office (120 Union Ave) for new office space for Robert T. Olson (1961); Southwest Washington Production Credit Union in Chehalis (1962); Capitol Center Building (1962-66, with G. Stacey Bennett); Tanglewilde Swimming Pool (1963) in Lacey; South Sound Shopping Center (1964-66) in Lacey which consisted of several stores including the Peoples Store and South Sound National Bank (1967, at the time, the region’s 3rd largest regional shopping center); Karine’s Styling Salon (1966) in Lacey; and the Boy Scout Service Center (1969) in Tumwater.

Olson served as Vice President of the Southwest Washington AIA Chapter in 1957, then served as President in 1959. He passed away in Olympia on December 22, 1994 at the age of 67 and was buried at Mountain View Memorial Park in Tacoma.

– Michael C Houser

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