<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Friday,  May 24 , 2024

Linkedin Pinterest
News / Northwest

Western State Hospital’s chapel was ‘most beautiful building,’ so why was it destroyed?

By Shea Johnson, The News Tribune
Published: April 10, 2024, 7:38am

TACOMA — A long-reach excavator’s claw collided into the burnt-red roof of Western State Hospital’s 99-year-old defunct chapel, digging and pulling apart pieces of the wood structure. Crunched debris collapsed through sudden holes or toppled onto the ground outside.

It was expected to take roughly a day for a construction crew Monday to raze the building in what has become a familiar site recently at the state-run psychiatric hospital, which opened in 1871. Since last month, five buildings on the campus in Lakewood have been demolished. After the old chapel, there will be six more to bring down.

The Washington Department of Social and Health Services is clearing necessary space for a new 350-bed forensic hospital to serve patients in the criminal court system who require mental health restoration treatment. The project, which has seen its price rise by more than half to $947 million due to sharp increases in construction costs, is anticipated to open by mid-2028, according to Aaron Martinez, a DSHS senior capital project manager.

The influx of beds will be unprecedented in the hospital’s modern history, Martinez said, adding that the new project is expected to address a statewide backlog of inmates waiting for court-ordered mental health treatment.

“It’s not overnight,” he said. “It’s a process.”

As part of that process, structures on the campus’ south end have to go.

“Some buildings have gone down in a day. Some of the buildings have taken upwards of a week,” said Taylor Johnson, project executive with Clark Construction Group LLC, which is performing the work.

The chapel hadn’t housed religious services in roughly a decade, officials said, and most recently was used as an administrative building. But it has a long history.

Built in 1925, the two-story property was originally housing quarters for hospital higher-ups and office workers, according to information compiled by chaplain John E. Johnston, who cited a 1964 book titled, “Western State Hospital, Fort Steilacoom, Washington,” by Clara Bergeth Rortvedt Cooley.

Hospital workers considered the property “the most beautiful building on campus,” according to Johnston’s four-page compilation from the book, which DSHS provided to The News Tribune.

The building — 100 feet long and 50 feet wide with a “massive” attic — had been given the nickname “Hollywood” before 1953 by male employees who had observed four young women living there, the paper said. Sometime between the 1950s and 1960s, “Hollywood” — also known as Building #23 — was converted into the hospital’s main chapel.

Since the building ceased being used as a chapel, religious services have been held in individual wards and will continue to be so, officials said, adding there were no plans to construct a new one.