Historic Olympia armory looks to past for a bright future
The Olympia Armory after construction in 1939, Photo Credit: Vibert Jeffers, Parish Collection, Washington State Archives
A critical facility for the Washington National Guard, which became an east side Olympia landmark over the last 80 years, is scheduled to get a makeover.
Next year, the Olympia Armory will transition from a military installation to a creative campus owned by the City of Olympia. During the transition, the Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum, Washington Army National Guard, City of Olympia, and many other partners have come together to commemorate the life of the monumental building and the lives it has touched.
“We are asking those who have stories, photos and memories of the armory to share with the community as we celebrate the location,” said Caitlyn Roemholdt, Environmental Services, Washington Military Department.
An iconic Art Deco style building that was constructed by noted architects Joseph Wohleb of Olympia and Roland Borhek of Tacoma in the late 1930s, the Olympia Armory has been an integral part of the community’s history and the long history of the Army National Guard presence in Olympia. Guard members from the armory deployed to the Pacific Theater during World War II, and the Middle East during Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, while continuing to serve our state during countless disasters. The Armory has been used not only by the National Guard, but by the community as a venue and gathering place for events such as basketball games, car exhibitions, festivals, inaugural balls, and more.
St. Martin’s University basketball game inside the Armory, Photo credit: St. Martin’s University
With Guard units moving into the newly opened Tumwater Readiness Center, the Washington National Guard will be transferring ownership of the armory to the City of Olympia. The City plans to carry on the Armory’s long tradition of being a community space by transforming the building’s interior into a community creative campus while retaining the striking and historic style of the building’s exterior.
“The city hopes to use the new dedicated arts space to support the arts as integral to Olympia’s way of life; encourage community growth through creativity and innovation; use the arts to connect people, ideas, and place; and operate from an equity framework,” said Roemholdt.
Due to the Olympia Armory’s historic role in the National Guard, along with being constructed as a New Deal era project, its notable architectural style and its famous architects, the location is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Washington Army National Guard, working with the Olympia Historical Society, Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, as well as other stakeholders developed the Storytelling Project and Website as a way to memorialize the building’s history prior to its new phase of life.
“Collected stories will be curated at the Washington State Archives, made accessible to the public on the Olympia Historical Society’s website, and developed into longer video interviews for the public to enjoy,” said Roemholdt.
The deadline for submission is March 31, 2022. Storytelling contributions will be reviewed and may be used in a public website, presentations or other formats by the Washington Military Department and Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum. All submissions will be preserved at State Archives.
To submit your story and become part of the living history of the Armory, visit https://olympiaarmory.org/.