Les Tonkin (1945-2016)
Les Tonkin contributed so much to the preservation of historic places around Washington State and was at the forefront of successful efforts to adapt historic buildings for low-income housing purposes. He practiced architecture for almost 50 years after earning his B. Arch at the University of Oregon in 1966.
Les discovered a passion for architecture while studying mechanical and architectural drawing in high school, at which point he determined he would become an architect. His passion for historic preservation and focus on multi-family housing began during his college years. He lived his dream of becoming an architect; always willing to take on the next great architectural or historic preservation challenge. He was innovative and extraordinarily generous with his talents – always seeing the potential for almost any old building as well as the many individuals who he encountered over his life and long professional career.
Les left a tremendous legacy of preserved historic buildings and innovative low-income, senior and work force housing projects. Among his most notable projects involving the preservation and rehabilitation of historic properties are: The Fort Steilacoom Restoration; Triangle Hotel & Bar, Seattle; Wallingford Center (Interlake School Adaptive Use); Old State Capital, Olympia; San Juan County Courthouse; Ronald School (Shoreline Historical Museum); Fort Lawton Adaptive Use Study; Port Townsend Main Street; Port Townsend Library; Hoquiam Public Library; Seattle Japanese Language School; Vashon Historical Museum; and the Snoqualmie School.
A significant portion of his career was devoted to designing projects that created low-income and senior housing units both in new modern complexes and very often in historic buildings adapted to serve those purposes. This work involved the planning, design and construction of dozens of modern housing projects around the region including Rainier Vista, Holly Park, Brettler Family Place and Aki Kurose Village to name only a few. Among the most notable of the adaptive use and upgraded housing projects involving historic buildings are: Morrison Hotel, Seattle; Frye Hotel, Seattle; Julie Apartments, Seattle; Jensen Block, Seattle; Alps Hotel, Seattle; Westlake Hotel, Seattle; Bush Hotel, Seattle; Milwaukee Hotel, Seattle; Baldwin Building, Seattle; Spruce Park Apartments, Seattle; Dorothy Day Apartments, Seattle; Fleetwood Building, Olympia; and Washington School Apartments, Walla Walla.
In the early 1980s, Les became actively involved with the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, serving on the volunteer Trust board and subsequently as vice-president and president. This was the era when there was no paid staff or real office and board members kept the organization going by taking on many challenging tasks. Les volunteered to provide a space (along with phone & office equipment) within his Pioneer Square offices to house the Washington Trust, its records and work space. During his service on the board he led the effort to save Fort Lawton when the Washington Trust undertook litigation in federal court to force the City of Seattle to adhere to the Memorandum of Agreement that was central to the transfer of the Fort property and its use for public park purposes. Seven of the twelve City-owned buildings within the Fort Lawton Historic District at Discovery Park were preserved due to this effort. He also undertook outreach efforts throughout the state and regularly traveled at his own expense to provide technical assistance to property owners and local advocacy efforts in various communities including Ellensburg, Friday Harbor and Port Townsend.
Les also served on the Historic Seattle Council for ten years between 1992 and 2002 and helped to further its preservation mission. In 2016 he was posthumously honored by Historic Seattle at its Annual Preservation Awards Ceremony.
Les loved his work and had no interest in retiring. He continued to work until the last few months of his life. At the end of his career he was actively involved in the renovation of the Winthrop Hotel in Tacoma and was looking forward to seeing his dream of affordable housing in the Navy’s Sand Point Building 9 become a reality.