In 2014, Artifacts produced a cultural landscape assessment (CLA) for the Rainier School as well as land parcels historically associated with the campus. This assessment stemmed from anticipated work related to facilities planning. It is intended to provide context about the historical significance of the site and to inform decision-making about the ongoing use and disposition of the landscape and buildings.
There are three primary goals of this assessment:
• Provide a common baseline data set for stakeholder discussions, decision-making, and agency compliance needs
• Determine how, if at all, the broad range of functions that occurred within the site contributed to its sense of place and identity relative to local, statewide, and national history
• Identify the site’s areas of significance and categorize the site and its features according to their contribution to overall significance
For more than 70 years, Rainier School has provided 24-hour residential care for individuals with developmental disabilities. It opened in 1939 as Western State Custodial School. In 1955, the last of the school’s ward buildings was constructed just prior to the peak population in 1958 with a total of 1,958 residents. Beginning in 1971, the number of residents began to decline steadily. As of 2014, the school continues to provide services for 370 adults. The Washington Department of Social Health Services (DSHS) operates the site and commissioned this assessment. Located in rural Pierce County, the facility’s extensive associated properties are spread across 1,111 acres.
The campus represents three general areas of significance, or aspects of history. First, under health/medicine, Rainier School has been the only state facility for the care of developmentally disabled youth in Western Washington. Second, the school’s former institutional farm was a microcosm of the surrounding region’s agricultural patterns. Finally, under architecture, the school is a significant collection of extant institutional buildings and structures dating from 1939 to 1955. Most of the buildings and the walkways, although designed across a span of decades, exhibit cohesive styles and materials. The Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco – Streamlined Moderne style elements begun on the campus in the 1930s by John Graham, Sr. and William Painter, Architects, were carried forward with mid-century modifications in the 1950s by Naramore, Bain, Brady and Johanson (NBBJ).
As part of the CLA, Artifacts developed a GIS database to inventory the historic and contemporary features, including buildings, structures, objects, circulation networks, and landscape elements. Staff recorded each of these, analyzing their age, significance and condition. By adding all findings to the GIS database, DSHS now has a readily accessible reference tool. The CLA connects the layers of historic context with the campus’ built environment and landscape, past and present. By making connections between who and what came before, the document augments the understanding of place. As this document is employed in future planning and research related to the site, its content will guide decisions about maintenance, modification and conservation.
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1938 design sketch by Graham and Painter, Architects, for a typical ward building at Rainier School (then Western State Custodial School). Source: Washington State Archives.
2014 view of the Auditorium and School buildings, designed by John Graham, Sr. and Wm. Painter, Architects. Built in 1940, these buildings exhibit both the Spanish Colonial Revival as well as the Art Deco – Streamlined Moderne styles. Source: Artifacts Consulting, Inc.
Circa 1953 aerial view of the core campus at Rainier School. The cerebral palsy building is under construction at center. Source: Washington State Archives.
Circa 1940 view of the main campus entrance, Administration, and Hospital buildings. Source: Washington State Archives.