How to save a Superior Building
By Jason Miller and Eric N. Archuletta
Last year, almost three dozen citizens from Concrete and its vicinity gathered in front of the Superior Portland Cement Company administrative building on Main Street in Concrete, holding signs that demonstrated their feelings about the old landmark: “This Place Matters.”
The structure is one of the last reminders of the town’s cement-producing history. In 1968, the industry closed up shop; in the early 1970s, most of the buildings in what is known today as Silo Park were razed, bulldozed, and covered with soil, leaving only the massive silos at SR 20, the Superior Building, a safety monument out front, and a small electrical generator building in back.
During the past several decades, the Superior Building has suffered from neglect. Although it is still structurally sound, its roof leaks like a sieve, and mold, moss, and mildew have gained a foothold. During two cleanouts in 2010, volunteers discovered decades of sodden debris, which was removed.
Constructed in 1923, the Superior Building housed the administrative offices for the Superior and later Lone Star Portland Cement companies in Concrete. This enterprise, once the largest Portland cement manufacturer in Washington and one of the largest in the country, greatly influenced the development of Concrete and the region.
In 1928, a basement addition was constructed to house laboratory facilities. The safety monument at the front of the building was installed in 1932.
The Superior Building has been on the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s Most Endangered Historic Properties List since 2006.
The most recent push to restore the old building began in 2009, after an April Imagine Concrete workshop revealed community interest in saving it. After the workshop’s 42 attendees voted on the ideas that were generated that day, organizers found that 32 votes had gone to the Superior Building restoration idea—second only to the community garden.
The building is owned by Town of Concrete. In 2009, the Town Council and Imagine Concrete representatives began the process of restoring the building. Thus began a years-long collaborative effort among the Town of Concrete, Imagine Concrete Foundation, Historic Preservation and Landmarks Commission, citizens, and local businesses, who have contributed more than 450 volunteer hours in the form of two building cleanouts, a public information workshop, and numerous hours of historic and grant research. Local contractor Don Payne removed the rotted remains of the original wooden roof in 2011.
Last year, the Concrete Town Council tasked Imagine Concrete Foundation and the Historical Preservation and Landmarks Commission with securing funding for the Superior Building.
The proposed adaptive reuse project is a restoration of the historic landmark back to its 1920s period design. The first step in stabilizing the building is the construction of a permanent roof. As stated in the “Superior Building: Historic Structure Report” completed in March 2012 by Seattle-based architectural firm The Johnson Partnership, the estimated cost for a new roof superstructure is $40,000.
There is an element of urgency surrounding the project, and with good reason. According to Larry Johnson, principal at The Johnson Partnership, the building is “on the bubble” with regard to its point of no return—the point at which it would become neglected to the point that it wouldn’t be worth saving. It now has about two years before that occurs.
Using this time estimate, the Town Council gave the two groups working to save the building until Dec. 31, 2015, to come up with the money for the new roof. Stopping the infiltration of water will effectively halt the degradation that has been occurring for decades.
Fundraising effort begins
Imagine Concrete Foundation has now officially kicked off its campaign to raise the $40,000 needed to put a permanent roof on the town’s most historic building. For information on how to donate, see the information box on this page.
You can stay up to date with all the goings-on and latest Superior Building news on Facebook: search “Superior Portland Cement Building.”