Downtown Walla Walla: Walla Walla, Washington
What residents, businesses, city officials, and local organizations in Walla Walla have achieved since 1980 when they began implementing their plan to rehabilitate and revitalize their downtown neighborhood has been nothing short of profound. Results include more than $50 million in private and public funds to preserve and improve nearly 300 neighborhood buildings; national awards for having revitalized Main Street, their business and commercial corridor; and exponential growth of the region's newly established wine industry that now generates $100 million a year for the city and region.
The neighborhood is bounded by Highway 12 to the north; Park Street to the east; Birch and Willow streets to the south; and 7th Avenue to the west.
Arts, culture, and education have been a cornerstone of Walla Walla since the nearby and prestigious Whitman College was established in 1860. Citizens further developed the arts community when multiple theaters were built, including the Keylor Grand Theater in 1905 and the Liberty Theater in 1917, both capable of seating 1,000 people. Walla Walla's first privately funded renovation occurred in 1990, when Bon-Macy's renovated the Liberty Theater as an addition to its department store, further stimulating the renovation of downtown.
Meandering Mill Creek is one of Walla Walla's most important assets despite a 1931 flood that sent boulders down streets in the neighborhood, destroying bridges and many public amenities. The creek was subsequently channelized by the Army Corps of Engineers to control flood events, but today the concrete waterway is deteriorating and will need to be repaired or replaced. The city's 2004 Downtown Master Plan, which recognizes a number of unique views that exist in the neighborhood, recommends capitalizing on Mill Creek. Considered the city's greatest natural asset, the plan calls for a study to assess whether some of Mill Creek's downtown streambanks can be returned to a natural condition and still provide flood protection.
Walla Walla has always been a shining gem in the remote southeast corner of Washington, but its out-of-the-way location left it off of many itineraries. That started to change in 1977 when the first winery opened its doors in the Walla Walla Valley, leading to a new industry for the region that today counts more than 100 wineries. Local wines are featured on the lists of Walla Walla's finest restaurants and are served at the many art events taking place in art galleries downtown.
In 2008, a historic property survey was completed, identifying 188 properties 45 years or older located downtown. Fifteen architectural styles are represented, ranging from Beaux- Arts to Art Moderne and nearly every style in-between since 1850. Among the neighborhood's iconic buildings are the Marcus Whitman Hotel (1906), the Interurban Depot Building (1909), the Baker Boyer Bank (1911), and the U.S. Post Office (1914).
A privately funded $35 million renovation of the Marcus Whitman Hotel in 2001 brought luxury rooms, a new conference center, and 30,000 square feet of office space to downtown Walla Walla. Considering what city officials, community leaders, organizations, and citizens have accomplished thus far, the neighborhood's future looks promising.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- First merchant, William McWhirk, erects tent for store at Main and Second Streets (1857)
- In 1860, Schwabacher Company department store opens at corner of Third and Main Streets; first such store in the territory of Washington
- In the 1860s Walla Walla experienced the gold rush and the consequent banking, commercial, and manufacturing activities
- First Washington constitutional convention convenes at the Reynolds-Day building on Main Street to draft a state constitution
- In 1886, Dr. Dorsey Baker builds state's first successful common-carrier line between Walla Walla and Wallula; followed by Northern Pacific Railroad's transcontinental line (1880s)
- Economic decline during early 1980s; two malls open in city's outskirts and downtown vacancy rates reaches 30 percent; Downtown Walla Walla Foundation created to revitalize area
- In 1991, a $1.3 million streetscape project to beautify Walla Walla initiated, bringing vacancy rates down to 4 percent; 125 shops opened or expanded
- 2012 is 150th anniversary of Walla Walla's incorporation of a city (1862)
- Neighborhood features 15 architectural styles including Queen Anne, Italianate, Bungalow, Renaissance, 19th and 20th century revivals
- Neighborhood buildings in National Register of Historic Places: Max Baumeister Building; ; Dacres Hotel; Electric Light Works Building; Kirkman House; Liberty Theater; Marcus Whitman Hotel; Northern Pacific Railway Passenger Depot; Post Office; Carnegie Center of the Arts (formerly Walla Walla Public Library), National Guard Armory, Whitehouse-Crawford Planing Mill (now a restaurant), St. Patrick Church School and Rectory
- Renovation of the Die Brucke Building in 1993 considered one of the most important milestones in Walla Walla's rebirth; enables city to retain Bon Marche store that adds 4,000 square feet
- Kirkman House (1892), on edge of Northern Pacific Railroad, converted to a museum to save it from demolition; added to the National Register of Historic Places (1974)
- Downtown Walla Walla Foundation (1984); formed by grassroots activists to revitalize ailing downtown after losing business to local malls
- In 1987, as part of the Downtown Walla Walla revitalization, the city worked with 10 local banks to establish a $350,000 low-interest loan program for facade restorations
- The 1991 streetscape improvement project included installing benches, lampposts, bike racks, paving stones, and widening sidewalks and planting more than 100 street trees
- Downtown Development Guidelines (2002) for the rehabilitation of existing buildings; limit the adverse impacts that newer building codes impose on historic buildings
- Downtown Walla Walla Master Plan (2004); collaborative effort by residents, local government, and organizations; articulates vision, goals ensuring high-quality downtown development
- Encourage sustainability by regularly planting street trees for aesthetic value and cooling effect during summer; Arbor Day Foundation designates Walla Walla a "Tree City" for past 18 years
- Comprehensive Plan 2007 Update seeks to strengthen, expand downtown neighborhood's pedestrian orientation and local public space network
Amenities and Attributes
- Award-winning Main Street business model; pedestrian-friendly, accessible downtown with close-by services, venues include The Ice Chalet (indoor ice rink) Power House Theater, Heritage Square Park, and Title Plaza (site of free summertime concerts and other gatherings)
- Walla Walla Valley Farmer's Market and Valley Transit Transfer Center located at 4th and Main Streets; downtown served by both local transit and the inter-city Grape Line
- Sweet Onion Festival (July) celebrates the state vegetable, brings local farmers together
- Wheelin' Walla Walla Weekend showcases 350 classic cars downtown; attracts thousands
- Public art personalizes downtown with murals, mosaics, sculptures — unique "place markers"
- Antique clock on Main Street operational since 1906; local shopkeeper winds weekly