Part of the demolished structure that served from 1932 until 1992 as one of Western State Hospital’s wards. Though fenced in vandals continue to cut the fence and gain access to a dangerous mountain of concrete and rebar.
Funds already available to begin removal of debris.
For the first time in years the chain link fence surrounding the demolished Hilltop Ward building in Ft. Steilacoom Park was legally thrown open for public access and inspection. Two hours later the gates again closed as viewers made their way to the Pierce College campus to voice their opinions and ideas about the location’s future.
While ideas were plentiful and intriguing, Mary Dodsworth, Lakewood Parks and Recreation Director, is planning on continuing the process of soliciting public input. Wanting to leave no potential unexplored, she will have a copy of the questionnaire on the city website, for those residents unable to attend the public forum.
Among the visitors to the site of the demolished Western State Hospital ward in Ft. Steilacoom Park, visible through the doorway, were authors of Lakewood’s history Steve Dunkelberger and Walter Neary.
The building, built in 1932, has had an interesting history, as described in the recently published book on Lakewood’s history by Lakewood Council Member Walter Neary and Pierce County Business Examiner Editor Steve Dunkelberger. Once a ward of Western State Hospital, its residents turned the soil below the hill and grew produce for use at the hospital. Many of those residents were buried in the graveyard on the opposite side of the hill on the approach to Waughop Lake. The lake is named for the hospital’s first superintendent, Dr. John Wesley Waughop.
When the building was demolished in 1992 it became for a period a training ground for search and rescue personnel. Some of those individuals trained there went on to serve in such historic operations as the search for remains of the space shuttle and astronauts in Texas and the search and rescue attempt at the Trade Towers in New York after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. One of those rescuers was on hand at the public forum. Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz felt that aspect of its history should be preserved in some manner as well as the hospital’s history, as suggested by others.
Among the ideas submitted for the use of the land where the ruins now lie were for a rest area for the many cross-country events held at the park, a botanical garden to showcase vegetation and flowers native to the area, and a labyrinth. Yet others were to allow the land to recover naturally for a period and a simple viewpoint from which to enjoy the surrounding land features.
County Council Member Dick Muri and State Senator Mike Carrell, both instrumental in providing county and state shares of funds for the project were present for the forum. Muri stressed the “risk management” aspect of the project and its funding and suggested that the fence be repaired or completely removed. It has been repaired numerous times only to be cut open at several points by individuals and groups using the ruins for illegal activities, including drug dealing and tagging the remains with graffiti.
Removal operations are expected to begin fairly soon. It was also recommended that sections of the building that may have potential as a part of any memorial for the site be stored rather than wait for a final decision before beginning removal of the dangerous mountain of concrete and rebar.
Part of the demolished structure that served from 1932 until 1992 as one of Western State Hospital’s wards.
Photos and story by Ed Kane