Puyallup National Guard Armory

  • By Shanna Stevenson
  • Posted 9/02/2021
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 21280

The National Guard Armory in Puyallup was home to National Guard units since the 1950s, beginning with Battery B, 240th Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion. It later hosted other artillery units and support functions for the 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry. By the 1990s, Troop E, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, 81st Infantry Brigade was at the facility, and then A (Alpha) Troop, 303rd Cavalry Regiment under the 96th Troop Command. Puyallup National Guard members were put into state service fighting wildfires, providing Mount St. Helens eruption assistance in 1980, and guarding the Washington State Capitol in 2021. Their federal deployments include Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004-2005 and 2008-2009. The Armory, situated in a residential area of Puyallup, was an important part of the community, hosting and participating in local events. It was the site of an evening community meals program for more than 27 years. In 2017, history was made at the armory when Captain Samantha Domingue became the first cavalry-qualified woman to take command of a troop in the U.S. Army. The Armory site was sold to Puyallup Central Pierce Fire and Rescue in 2021 and the units re-assigned to another armory.

Early History

Although the Puyallup Armory was not built until the 1950s, Puyallup residents had joined the Territorial Militia during the Puget Sound Indian War in the 1850s and organized militia units during the period around World War I. In 1940, Puyallup residents volunteered to be part of a National Guard platoon of the 103rd Anti-Tank Battalion.

After World War II, the National Guard reorganized since all guard units had been called up for the war. Before World War II there were units in only 13 Washington counties. After the conflict, the Washington Military Department undertook to locate armories in the non-served locales, which were eager to have units to provide Guard opportunities in their communities. Several armories initially used surplus sites or other locations. The new units generally used World War II equipment. 

Securing an armory for Puyallup was one of the first projects of the newly organized Puyallup Rotary in 1948. The club raised funds to purchase the land for the Armory to qualify Puyallup for the renewed federal funds program for armory construction. Heading the Rotary efforts were W. P. Wotton, first president of the Puyallup Rotary, along with other Rotary Club members including Carter Harmes, Paul Sulkosky, C. E. Bond, Frank Peters, and Charles Dilling.

Located in a residential area of Puyallup adjacent to a school, the Armory consisted of two buildings: a vehicle storage building and the Armory, with a central drill floor and offices. Groundbreaking at the site was heled on June 15, 1949 by the local Rotarians. The first building (later the storage building) was dedicated on September 13, 1950, with a plaque presented to Army officials from members of Puyallup Rotary Club when the building was accepted by the National Guard. The initial National Guard unit stationed at Puyallup was Battery B, 240th Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion. By 1954 the site had permanent equipment, including guns and radar, and the armory was manned 24 hours a day. All members were required to report in case of an emergency.

The larger Armory building was designed in 1953, with a 1954 date on the building plaque, and was formally dedicated in February 1955 as part of a rebuilding effort of the National Guard. Funding for the building included $40,800 in federal money, $19,065.25 in state funds, and an additional $5,159.37. Reuben Knoblauch, a Washington state legislator and World War II veteran from the Puyallup area, was instrumental in sponsoring legislation for the extension of the National Guard Armories to take advantage of 75-25 percent funding from the federal government to match state funds to build the facilities. Tom Montgomery, a legislator from Puyallup and member of the Puyallup Rotary, also backed the bill.

The New Armory

The Armory was designed by the Tacoma architectural firm of McGuire & Muri as a "one-unit" facility. Several other "cookie-cutter" armories, including those in Wenatchee, Snohomish, Longview, and Okanogan, were of similar design, meeting federal guidelines. The Puyallup Art Moderne style building was built with "tilt up" construction using concrete cast panels that were lifted into place, supported by wall columns. The wood barrel ceiling was fabricated with glue-laminated beams. The drill floor was constructed with wooden two-by-fours placed on end for strength. Offices wrapped the front and sides of the building. There was a vehicle entrance bay on the south end with access to the drill floor, and an adjacent open lot and the vehicle storage building. Highlighting the Moderne character of the building was the period lettering over the north main entrance doorway.

At the 1955 dedication, Major General Lilburn H. Stevens, Adjutant General of the Washington National Guard, presented the Armory to Puyallup Mayor Jack Geiger and dedicated it to the Guard and the community in case of emergency, even down to blood typing the members for emergencies. The new facility housed offices and featured the distinctive large interior, two-story drill floor. The gala dedication was marked by a dance sponsored by the Puyallup Fire Department. Battery B, 240th Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion later moved to Kent, and by August 1955, Battery B, 286th Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion was stationed at the Puyallup Armory. By 1960, Battery B (90 mm), 4th Gun Battalion, 205th Artillery, 41st Infantry Division was serving there as a howitzer battalion.

A Hometown Battery

The Puyallup Armory, according to a long-serving member, was a "hometown battery" originally under the command of Captain James D. McCurdy, a local business owner and World War II veteran. Those serving in the unit were mostly from the surrounding area. Locals used the drill floor for basketball and wrestling matches in the late 1950s. Concerts were staged at the facility, including one by the Tacoma rock and roll group The Ventures, whose lead guitarist, Nokie Edwards (now a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), was part of the Guard unit. The Armory functioned as a Guard recruitment center into the early 2000s.

By June 1964, the Armory unit was designated as Battery D, 1st Battalion, 146th Artillery, 41st Infantry Division. In the late 1960s, Battalion Heavy Mortar and Anti-Tank Platoon, Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry was stationed at the facility, and the Puyallup unit became a Support Company of the 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry in the early 1970s into the mid-1980s, with scout, anti-armor, heavy mortar, and stinger platoon responsibilities.

After the Vietnam War

After the Vietnam War in the 1970s, the National Guard changed to become part of the "all-volunteer Total Force doctrine,"  which integrated the Guard more fully into the regular Army and brought better funding and equipment for higher operational and readiness standards. The Puyallup unit was part of a large contingent of Guard members who mobilized for state service to assist in the aftermath of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.

By the 1990s, the Puyallup Armory housed Troop E, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, 81st Infantry Brigade, operating both tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. Troop E assisted in state firefighting at Mazama and Republic in the mid-1990s. Other state service included working on flood relief in Southwest Washington in 2007. Puyallup Guard members were called to active state duty for firefighting in 2012 and 2014, and again in 2015 and 2017.

After 9/11

After September 11, 2001, the National Guard changed from a "strategic reserve" for final call-up to active federal duty with a three-month training period, to an "operational reserve" with a shorter expected training time prior to active service. This meant more intensive training to enable deployment within 45 days. In 2002, Troop E was called to federal service to assist at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Troop E, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, 81st Infantry Brigade, was federally activated for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, serving from 2004-2005 in Kuwait. The group went first to Yakima and then to California for training before being sent overseas.

After its federal deployment in 2005, the Puyallup unit was re-organized as A (Alpha) Troop, 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, 81st Infantry Brigade, and continued with that designation until 2021. The unit, a part of the 81st Brigade Combat team, was again federally deployed in 2008-2009 for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2.

History was made at the Puyallup Armory in 2017 when Captain Samantha Domingue took command of A (Alpha) Troop, 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, part of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, at the facility, thus becoming the first cavalry-qualified woman to take command of a troop in the U.S. Army. That same year, A (Alpha) Troop left the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat team and was placed between the 96th Troop Command, in Washington, and the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, with headquarters in Oregon. A (Alpha) Troop was federally deployed to Jordan in 2019-2020 and was part of the state National Guard Security for Washington State Elections in 2020 and protecting the Washington State Capitol in 2021. A (Alpha) Troop is currently [2021] part of the 96th Troop Command at Camp Murray (Pierce County). 

Units from the Puyallup Armory have been integral to the community over the years, participating in local events such as the annual Daffodil Festival parades, Pioneer Days, and partnering with nearby schools. For more than 27 years beginning in the mid-1990s, the Armory was the location for a Puyallup St. Francis House program where community groups provided evening meals for the needy, eventually five days a week, and distributed packaged meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unit's federal mission is: "On order, 1-303rd Cavalry conducts reconnaissance, security, and stability operations in order to enable the 96th Troop Command to seize, retain, and exploit positions of advantage in sustained land operations to protect U.S. national interests." The unit's state mission is: "On order of the Governor, the 1-303rd Cavalry conducts domestic support operations, as part of 96th Troop Command or a designated state entity in order to support state and local agencies with response to civil unrest or natural disasters." 

In 2016, the Washington State Legislature directed that the Armory be sold to Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, which planned to raze the Armory and redevelop the property for a new fire station. Elizabeth Murphy, spokesperson for the Washington Military Department, told the Tacoma News-Tribune that the site had become outdated. "Murphy said the placement of the armory isn't practical anymore. The armory is located in a residential area in the 600 block of 4th Avenue SE. Murphy said it would be difficult to navigate tanks if needed or even hold enough parking spaces for drill weekends" ("National Guard To Sell ...").

When the transaction was completed in 2021, Alpha Troop, 1st 303 Cavalry unit, was to be relocated to a new facility at Tumwater in Thurston County and the Puyallup Armory closed after 65 years. According to the News-Tribune, "The state, the City of Puyallup and the historical groups met to discuss preserving the history of the building. A sign memorializing the building will be placed on the property" ("National Guard To Sell ..."). 


Josephine Peterson "Puyallup National Guard Armory To Be Sold," (Tacoma) News Tribune, February 17, 2021; Josephine Peterson, "National Guard To Sell Armory -- To Central Pierce Fire & Rescue," News Tribune, February 23, 2021, p. 3A; "Militia Company to be Organized: Movement Started for Formation of National Guard Unit in Puyallup," The Puyallup Valley Tribune, February 10, 1917, p. 1; "National Guard Organizes Here: Anti-Tank Platoon Needs Young Men of Valley; Advantages Listed for Joining," Ibid., September 13, 1940, pp. 1-2; "Construction of National Gd. Bldg. Set," Ibid., June 9, 1949, p. 1; "Work Started Armory Building," Ibid., June 30, 1949, p. 1; "Armory Dedication To Be September 13," Ibid., September 1, 1950, p. 5; "May Build New Armory Here Soon," Ibid., April 9, 1953, p. 1; "Dedication Ceremonies on Friday," The Tacoma News Tribune, February 7, 1955, p. 19; "New Puyallup Armory at Puyallup Dedicated," The Tacoma Sunday News Tribune and Ledger, February 13, 1955, p. A5; Al Gibbs, "Guard Unit Gets Grand Send-Off," News Tribune, November 16, 2003, p. B1; Roxanne Cooke, "Farewell, Troops: Puyallup Army National Guard Soldiers Say Goodbye to Family," Puyallup Herald, August 21, 2008; Matt Misterek, "81st Has Farewell Parties Galore," News Tribune, August 18, 2008; HistoryLink Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "National Guard Armories in Washington," accessed August 1, 2021 (historylink.org); Virgil F. Field, The Official History of the Washington National Guard, Vol 1-7 (Camp Murray, Washington: Washington State Military Department, Office of the Adjutant General, 1961); Larry J. Kolano, Puyallup Perspectives: Illustrated by Janet P. Nix. Photography and Layout by Gary T. Kolano (Tacoma: Graphic Press, 1977); William Andrew Leneweaver, Richard G. Patterson, and Dr. William H. Woodwar, Jr., Washington National Guard (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2019); Lori Price and Ruth Anderson, Puyallup: A Pioneer Paradise (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2002); "A Brief History of National Guard of Washington," unpublished manuscript, 2008, State of Washington, Military Department, Office of the Adjutant General. Prepared under the direction of Brigadier General Lilburn H. Stevens, Adjutant General and Maj. Reginald Heafield, Chief, Bureau of Record; The Story of the Washington National Guard, 1957 Summer Encampment, n.p., n.d. Available at the Washington National Guard Museum, Camp Murray; Author interviews with Frank Gibson, Property and Acquisitions, Camp Murray and Brad Olson, Construction and Projects Manager, Washington Military Department. Interviews with current and former Guard members with service in the Armory, notes in author's possession.  

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