Washington State Library

Joel M. Pritchard Building

Washington State Library (Pritchard Building)

415 15th Ave SE, Olympia, WA 98501
Built 1958

Designed by prominent Northwest architect Paul Thiry during the height of his career, the Washington State Library Building (aka 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 1950s 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 building 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. When 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 temporary uses within the building. Meanwhile, the nearby Legislative Building underwent a masterful restoration and was reopened in 2004. The library building continues to be “temporarily” used as a cafe.

A Threat to the Historic Building (2006)

The question of how to reuse and rehabilitate the library building has been under consideration by the General Administration since the early 2000s. A 2006 plan by the GA proposed to upgrade original building systems and 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 were to be removed, and a new addition would increase the size of the building substantially. Docomomo US/WEWA was engaged in advocating for the sensitive rehabilitation of this significant historic public building. At the time, we did not feel that the proposed project met the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. We were also concerned with the lack of adequate public process. The GA’s preferred 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. The project did not move forward and went on the backburner (probably aided by the recession and lack of funding for construction).

The Washington State Library building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.

The New Threat to the Historic Building (2020 – ?)

After a 14-year reprieve, the Department of Enterprise Services (DES) started taking another look at the Pritchard building (as it’s commonly known) as part of its Legislative Campus Modernization (LCM) Pre-design, as directed by a 2020 Legislative budget proviso. In 2020, DES and its pre-design team presented a preferred alternative to the Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee (CCDAC) and State Capitol Committee (SCC) in which the Pritchard building would be demolished to be replaced by a new three-story building.

Since this new threat to the historic building, Docomomo US/WEWA, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, South Capitol Neighborhood Historic District, Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum, Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks, National Association for Olmsted Parks, and many local Olympia advocates for preservation have been voicing concerns and objections to some of the proposed changes to the Capitol campus. The proposed demolition of the Pritchard building is major component of the LCM plan. We believe there’s a preservation solution that both respects and honors the original Pritchard building and allows for adaptive reuse that serves the needs of the campus and potential users.

Docomomo US/WEWA is advocating for 1) alternatives to demolition, 2) design alternatives that respect the integrity of the original building, 3) compliance with State laws, specifically, RCW 79.24.710 and RCW 79.24.720, and the requirement that the project follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, 4) meaningful consultation with the Capitol Conservator regarding the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the Pritchard building, 5) meaningful consultation with the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) to consider alternatives to demolition and options for preservation that meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, 6) peer review by an independent, third-party, geotechnical engineer of the most recently completed (or soon-to-be completed) geotechnical report for the Pritchard building, site, and nearby hillside, 7) more transparency in process and decision-making with better access to project materials and information, 8) meaningful engagement with stakeholders and the public, and 9) update of the 2006 Master Plan for the Capitol Campus to incorporate a more holistic and compatible approach for new construction and retention/rehabilitation of significant historic buildings.

We’ll be updating this page as new information becomes available.

UPDATE (01/14/22): Docomomo US/WEWA has attended three virtual stakeholders meetings to-date (September, November, and December 2021) hosted by DES (Department of Enterprise Services). More public engagement meetings are anticipated in early 2022. DES and its consultants have been presenting findings and recommendations from the Pritchard Rehabilitation/Expansion Validation Study that is under development. Docomomo US/WEWA Board members have attended and commented at these meetings. The purpose of the study, according to DES, is “to consider options to rehabilitate and expand the Pritchard Building. The study will explore options to renovate/expand the existing building, but does not guarantee that this option will be selected. The study will be completed in March 2022.”

Learn more about this project on the DES website here.

UPDATE (04/11/22): Docomomo US/WEWA attended a public stakeholders meeting on January 19, 2022 and provided comment. DES presented its evaluation of three options: 1) Replacement (original to predesign report); Option A (renovation and expansion of existing Pritchard Building); and Option B (renovation of existing building and construction of new stand-alone building). DES’ preferred option is Option A which preserves and renovates the Pritchard Building but expands the original building considerably with an addition. Generally, all parties involved (including Docomomo US/WEWA) support this option. However, it is Docomomo US/WEWA’s opinion that a separate stand-alone new building would  have less adverse impact on the Pritchard Building. But the writing is on the wall that Option A is the most likely path that will both preserve the building and meet program needs of the State.

At its January 25, 2022 meeting, the State Capitol Committee (SCC) approved DES’ recommendation that Option A (renovation and expansion of existing Pritchard Building) be the preferred option in the Pritchard Building Rehabilitation/Expansion Validation Study’s final report. This recommendation is also supported by the Project Executive Team (PET) and Peer Review Panel.

UPDATE (07/17/23): The State Department of Enterprise Services (DES) issued a SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) threshold Determination of Non-Significance on May 26, 2023. Public comments were taken through June 12, 2023.

DES description of the project: “The project involves rehabilitating and expanding the Joel M. Pritchard building, which served as the State Library until 2001. The goal is to enhance the building’s functionality while preserving its character. The existing single-level reading room will be rehabilitated, while the book stacks volume will be demolished and replaced. A three-story addition will extend into the parking lot, matching the height of adjacent buildings. The project aims to modernize the building for legislative office use while respecting its historical significance and maintaining the surrounding architectural context.

The rehabilitation and expansion of the Pritchard Building will incorporate seismic retrofits that anticipate potential slope failure of the adjacent hillside under earthquake conditions. A structural connection will be established between the existing building and the new addition.”

Docomomo US/WEWA statement: While  we are glad to see the State is not moving forward with full demolition of the Pritchard Building and the building will be restored and rehabilitated (at least those portions and features that remain), we do not support the massive addition and alterations to the stone facade of the original building. This will forever change the character and original design intent of the building. We stand by our earlier comments that a separate new building would be a more sensitive design approach. The former Washington State Library building was purpose-built and forcing program needs that do not fit the building will result in an adverse effect, in our opinion.

Learn more about the project on the DES project page

Image credits: Contemporary photo by Joe Mabel (Wikimedia Commons). Historic photos, Washington State Archives Digital Archives. 

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