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A win-win

Guard and Olympia work together

The City of Olympia will soon take possession of the Washington Army National Guard’s Olympia Armory. Plans call for the creation of a creative campus. Photo credit: JM Simpson

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The Olympia Armory is part of a long history of the Washington Army National Guard's presence in Olympia, as well as being a central part of the city's cultural history.

Built in the late 1930s on the site of the Washington School, and recently listed on the Olympia Heritage Register, will transition from a military installation for the Guard to a Creative Campus to be owned by the City of Olympia.

"The Armory has been central to Olympia's community history as a well-used venue and gathering place for events such as basketball games, antique sales, pet shows, wrestling matches, car exhibitions, festivals and inaugural balls," said Caitlyn Roehmholdt, a natural and cultural resources specialist with the Washington Military Department Construction Facilities Management Office."

"Designed by Olympia's premier architect Joseph Wohleb in association with noted Tacoma architect Roland Borhek, the Armory has been a building ‘fitting for a capital city' during its long military and community service."

Roehmholdt has been collaborating with the Olympia Historical Society to also implement the Olympia Armory Storytelling project.

"We are crowdsourcing individuals' stories, images and recollections of the armory to preserve our collective history," she continued. Individuals can submit a story or recollection about the armory at

Washington state will pay the Guard $2 million on behalf of the City of Olympia for the Armory and two other detached storage buildings.

The divestiture is tied to the federal funding that went into the building of the Guard's new Thurston County/Tumwater Readiness Center. The transfer of the armory to the city is expected to be completed by May, 2022.

"It is a win-win situation for all concerned," noted Col. Adam Iwaszuk, director of the Guard's Construction Facilities Management Office.

The City of Olympia plans for the soon-to-be former armory are to emphasize equity, inclusion and access to the space in a variety of ways.

"The armory offers almost limitless opportunities to host and facilitate different types of activities," said Paul Simmons, directory of Olympia's Parks, Arts & Recreation Department.

Artists, leaders of arts organizations and those working in the arts are happy about the coming handover. 

"This is the right thing at the right time," said Stacey Waterman-Hoey, a longtime proponent of a community arts center in Olympia. "That building has a lot of promise, and the city is really good at owning and managing buildings, like the Washington Center and the Hands-On Children's Museum."

"From an outside perspective, their community process in determining the future use of this facility to best serve the community is very impressive," concluded Roehmholdt.

"The general consensus is that it's wonderful that the Armory will maintain its historic structure and continue to serve as a community gathering place as it has for many years."

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