Tacoma is home to some of the oldest homes and buildings in Western Washington. It’s also a hotbed of real estate activity. It’s hard to drive anywhere in the city, especially in the North End, without seeing evidence of remodeling, house flipping, or demolition. In the process of all that change, a lot of historical architecture is at risk of being lost forever. Fortunately, there are two companies here in Tacoma who have made it their business to keep that from happening.
Second Use Building Materials and Earthwise Architectural Salvage are the two biggest players in the Seattle-Tacoma Metropolitan area. Earthwise has called Tacoma’s East Side home since 2012 and Second Use just opened a store downtown in early 2017. The two companies actually started as one in Seattle back in 1994 but eventually split and have both expanded considerably. Two competing businesses keeping an ear to the ground in as small a city as Tacoma means very little worthwhile building material ends up in the landfill.
People spend so much time and energy making new things look old (distressed wood, cracked paint, rusty metal, etc.) that they sometimes forget how much authentically old stuff is actually still available. And for the pickiest connoisseurs, nothing can really replace the real thing. A lot of cringe-worthy design mistakes were made in the 1980s and returning an old home to its original splendor is a labor of love. It’s in this spirit that the salvage crews at both stores painstakingly remove 100-year-old fir flooring or carry 350 lb. clawfoot tubs down multiple flights of stairs.
Last April, 5 houses and two businesses were demolished in Proctor on N. 25th St. across from Metropolitan Market to make room for a new six-story apartment building. Unsurprisingly, this ruffled a lot of feathers in the neighborhood. The silver lining though, is that before the excavators started munching the buildings pieces, Second Use was given access to the properties. They went building to building and pulled out literal truck-loads of doors, wood windows, hardwood floors, lighting, fireplace mantels, and just about everything else a house is made out of.
In 2016 Stuart Middle School on Pacific Ave. underwent a massive renovation. Earthwise was first on the scene, delicately removing turn of the century slate chalkboards, wire basket lockers, antique lighting, and hundreds upon hundreds of wooden and cast iron theater seats, the likes of which will never be made again. Remember the old garage above the Stadium Thriftway that’s now a German Beer Hall? Earthwise pulled out three enormous French doors from there that eventually found a home in Portland. Directly across the street from there, Second Use will soon be going to work on the Tacoma Bible Presbyterian Church as part of their renovations.
It’s hard to believe it but unless these two companies were here doing what they’re doing, the closest thing you’d see to preservation at a demolition site is the metal going to a scrap yard to be recycled. Even if you don’t give a hoot about historical preservation, it’s amazing how much money you can save buying reused materials for a remodel project. According to HomeAdvisor.com, the average American remodel project costs as much as a new car. Both stores specialize in antique/historical materials but they also have plenty of modern doors, vinyl windows, lighting, bathroom fixtures, and appliances, much of which has never even been installed. Large construction projects sometimes overbuy on projects and donate the surplus. All of this costs fractions of what you’d pay for the same products new at a hardware store.
As if that weren’t enough, both companies keep a stock of milled wood products. Old growth forests are no longer logged in the US but old growth fir is what Tacoma was built on. So when an old building is beyond repair and needs to be taken down to the ground, structural beams and joists are some of the most valuable pieces to be taken out. In case you’ve never seen them side-by-side, the difference between old and new wood is like night and day. Earthwise is conveniently located on the site of one of Washington’s oldest lumber mills and so has access to its milling equipment. This means live edge slabs for dramatically lower costs than you’ll find elsewhere and butcher block countertops made from sliced up glulam beams.
“So what do I do if I have some stuff I want to get rid of?”, you might be asking right now. Earthwise and Second Use have slightly different methods so your best bet is to get in touch with them and go from there. Remember though, these aren’t demolition companies and they’re not junk yards. They won’t tear your house down for you and they do have standards. A few basic points are the same:
- Salvage services are always free
- Store credit, cash, or tax donation receipts are available if your stuff is good enough
- In-store assessments are available without appointment (call for drop-off hours)