Throwback Thursday: Richland’s iconic fingernail stage

Ever wonder about the unusual building that stands out like a gleaming white shark’s tooth at the corner of George Washington Way and the Bypass Highway?

In its day it was one of the best-known landmarks in Richland. But today it is just an expensive white elephant that will probably be torn down one day to make way for Interstate Highway 182.

When it was built in 1963, it was unique — and quite expensive.

As far as anyone knows, there is no other building quite like it.

According to Warren Robertson, manager of Tru-Stone, the building was designed primarily to draw attention to the firm.

“We were getting established and there were already several readi-mix concrete companies in the area, and we needed something to attract attention,” said Robertson.

Apparently the idea succeeded. The building became known all over the region, Robertson remembers. All Tru-Stone had to do was say they were located in the Richland “fingernail” building and people would know how to find them.

The cone-like design itself (technically a segmented elipsoid) apparently wasn’t all that unique. What was unique was to pack it with tons of concrete.

The concrete, of course, was supposed to draw attention to the company’s product, but it also pushed building costs out of sight.

According to Robertson, the building cost $72,000 to build in 1963, which amounts to about $120 per square foot. Even today, most office buildings cost only about $40 a square foot.

The building is valued for tax purposes at more than $130,000, excluding land.

Tru-Stone used the building as a display office from 1963 to 1968 when it sold the building and land to Acme Concrete Co. after getting out of the readi-mix business.

While undeniably conspicuous, it never really was a very convenient place to do business, Robertson said.

The building was expensive to heat in winter and to keep cool in summer. Heat easily escaped from the glass front, which was purposely designed so that the sun never shone directly through the glass.

In an age of rising energy costs, it hardly qualifies as an energy efficient prototype. “It probably was the least efficient design you could think of,” said Robertson.

It was hard to clean and replace windows, and the building was inconveniently distant from the main store of building supplies and hard to get to.

Since Acme took it over, a handful of tenants have used the building, including one that added a second floor to the design.

But it has been abandoned for about three years since the last tenant, an engineering firm, pulled out leaving behind decals of gears on the windows.

From time to time, the Richland planning department gets inquires from people who want to live in the building or open a store.

But a spokesman for Acme Concrete said the firm has no plans for the building and that it will probably be torn down when the freeway spur is built.

Update: The fingernail was not destroyed. It was moved to Howard Amon Park and painted blue and remains in use today as an event stage.