Larson Light: Downtown Yakima landmark hopes to shine brighter than ever
By Pat Muir
YAKIMA, Wash. -- The A.E. Larson Building, the 130-foot-tall Art Deco jewel of the Yakima skyline, will shine brighter than ever if a dynamic new lighting plan comes to fruition.
The plan, spearheaded by Leading Force Energy and Design owner Steve Weise, Larson building owner Larry Hull and Yakima Valley Museum Executive Director John Baule, would illuminate the building from top to bottom, using it as a canvas for dynamic displays of color.
On the Fourth of July, it could be lit with red, white and blue. On Apple Cup weekend, it could be lit with Cougars crimson or Huskies purple and gold — depending on which school’s fans donate the most to charity.
“Any color you want,” said Weise.
He conceived of the lighting project a year or so ago in his capacity as design committee chairman for the Downtown Association of Yakima. He brought Hull and Hull’s Megalodon real estate development company on board shortly thereafter. Together they enlisted the help of Baule, who had worked with the now-dormant Yakima Light Project arts group, and in March gained the endorsement of the Yakima Arts Commission.
They viewed the lighting project, which they call “Larson Light,” as public art and wanted the commission’s go-ahead, even though no public funds would be spent on its installation or operation. They’ve raised most of the $120,000 they need to light up the building’s east side, which they hope to have done by fall, in time for a harvest-themed lighting scheme.
“Then, based upon fundraising, we’ll move around the building, doing the north side, the west side and the south side,” Weise said.
“Then there’s a fifth phase, where we’ll actually do the corners.”
The electricity for the lights will be generated by solar panels, and the design of “Larson Light” won’t detract from how the building looks in the daylight, Hull said.
Spokane Valley-based Blankenship & Associates will complete the project. Blankenship & Associates is a manufacturer’s representative that works with architects, engineers, consultants, electrical contractors and electrical wholesalers.
“With our special knowledge of the products we represent — like Lumenpusle — we help specify the correct products and accessories needed and sometimes we get samples from the factory and demonstrate them to building owners or end-users,” company president Darren Blankenship said in an email.
The most prominent outdoor Lumenpulse RGB job the company has completed is Spokane’s Division Street Gateway project, which includes a large stainless steel statue of a fish just across the street from the Spokane Convention Center.
“The color-changing floods surrounding the sculpture light up the fish and the ‘water’ to make it look like it’s in motion. We change the color scheme at different times of the year as per the city and Public Utility District’s requests,” Blankenship emailed.
The Public Utility District runs the convention center, opera house and arena.
The Larson project came to Blankenship & Associates’ attention through Derek Karol at e3 Solutions Inc. in Yakima. e3 Solutions is a low-voltage electrical contractor, and Karol contacted Blankenship through Wesco, which was the electrical wholesaler he was working with, Blankenship said.
“We actually installed a mock-up of these color-changing floods at night a few months back and when the floods were powered up, people actually came out of the Cowiche Canyon Restaurant across the street and commented ‘way cool’ and ‘that’s awesome,’” Blankenship said.
From Hull’s perspective, it’s an enhancement of a building that already stands out for its architecture as well as its height.
Built on Second Street by prominent Yakima businessman Alfred E. Larson in 1931, the building has been a local landmark for 85 years. Its architect, John W. Maloney, designed dozens of prominent buildings in Washington state including the Kittitas County Courthouse, Seattle First National Bank and several buildings on the campus of Central Washington University.
The Larson building was, according to its 1976 nomination for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, designed to stand out.
“At the time of its completion, the Larson Building was the city’s first skyscraper and it continues to dominate the city’s low-lying skyline,” the nomination reads. “Its bold profile is starkly visible from all directions upon descent from the surrounding hills into the Yakima Valley.
“...Over much of its exterior, the building is faced with salmon-colored brick of custom dimensions, and is trimmed in various locations with granite, travertine, bronze, cast stone, terra cotta, and copper. The juxtaposition of these materials results in a texture that is extremely rich and one that, for the Art Deco Style, is unusually warm.”
The building was listed on the registry in 1984. Megalodon bought it in 2007 and has restored several features, including the building’s elevators and marble entryway.
“When I was a little boy, my dad showed me that building,” Hull said.
Its cultural and historical significance will only be enhanced by “Larson Light,” Yakima Arts Commission Chairwoman Noel Moxley said.
“It will be a huge asset,” Moxley said. “It will help to bring attention to downtown, and it will add another piece of public art downtown. I would hope that when people see it, they’ll stop and look.”
Capitol Theatre President and CEO Charlie Robin was similarly enthusiastic about the project. The Capitol, another of Yakima’s most prominent and architecturally significant buildings, faces the Larson from a block away on Third Street.
“A project like that automatically pulls focus to the downtown,” Robin said. “It helps identify the central core as the heart of the community.”
Beyond aesthetics, the project’s boosters believe “Larson Light” can benefit Yakima as a fundraising tool for nonprofits. Lighting rights could be auctioned off by organizations such as the Downtown Yakima Rotary Club, with proceeds going to charity, Hull said.
“All the money we generate is going to go to charity,” he said. “This isn’t about making money. It is going to be a major charity fundraiser, I believe.”
The Downtown Association of Yakima will administer those efforts, with the Millennium Foundation handling the money, said David Lynx, director of Yakima Valley Community College’s Larson Gallery and a member of both the Yakima Arts Commission and the Millennium Foundation.
“The Millennium Foundation will act as a fundraising agent for this project,” he said, during the March commission meeting. “So all the money will be going through the Millennium Foundation.”
All of which mirrors the spirit with which A.E. Larson first imagined the building, dedicating $600,000 to its construction in the midst of the Great Depression, Baule said.
“He really had a belief in creating something lasting to benefit the community,” Baule said.
Larson Building Yakima WA