Co-working spaces are flourishing, and Eli and Amber Moreno wanted to create a place where artists and entrepreneurs could work and mingle under the same roof. The couple purchased Tacoma’s historic Union Club on Broadway and renovated it into a co-working space with a dedicated artist studio and event space.
The ritzy social and business club was founded in 1888 by 27 of Tacoma’s founders, and in 1906, a three-story addition with a separate entrance was created to give women access to the club. The Morenos have been uncovering the building’s history bit by bit during the year-long renovation. A wall of crisp black-and-white photos in the main room provides a glimpse into the club’s past. One of those photographs is of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt leaving the club, seconds before stepping into a 1941 Plymouth. Eli said she was the first woman to use the men’s entrance to the club, and every woman followed suit after that. A cast-iron clawfoot tub was built specifically for President William Taft when he stayed at Union Club in the early 1900s, and it’s still in the third-story bathroom.
Their daughter Stasha Moreno turned their attention toward the Union Club as a potential co-working space, and as soon as they took a look inside, they fell in love with it, Amber said.
The Morenos opened their first co-working space, Surge Tacoma, in 2014, and they also are angel investors, so co-working spaces and startup companies were nothing new to them, but they were to Tacoma. They got the idea to open another co-working office building while designing another project, the McKinley Artist Lofts in Tacoma, where creatives can live and work in the same cohesive space.
“We thought, at least on the technology side, there are so many individuals doing the same thing, except independently and isolated throughout the community,” Eli said. “And I think it’s the same for the artists’ community. They need a place to meet and communicate, and it will facilitate great things happening.”
Union Club partially reopened in May, and more space is slowly being rented out as different phases of the renovation are completed. The building had deteriorated quite a bit before the Morenos came in. They redid all the plumbing and electrical, and rebuilt the second-story deck from the foundation up. And while the atmosphere feels fresh, it certainly hasn’t lost its vintage vibe. There’s a balanced mix of antique tables and chairs — some of which are original to the club — as well as new furnishings.
“We want it to be a historic building, but also not a boring and stuffy building where you can’t put your cup down because your grandma will yell at you.”
“It was very intentional,” Amber said of the decor. “You can see some of the chairs are in the pictures. Some of the furniture I picked up at antique stores. We want it to be a historic building, but also not a boring and stuffy building where you can’t put your cup down because your grandma will yell at you.”
The recently completed artist studio has an airy feel with views of the water. The Morenos kept the space pretty simple. They repainted the soda bar a sprightly teal with bar stools to match and set up tables and chairs of varying heights. Aside from some easels, paint brushes, and lockers, they’re waiting to hear what the artists want.
The Morenos anticipate renting the space out to about 25 artists who will have 24-hour access to the building. Amber Moreno also envisions quarterly art shows in the event space on the lower floor as a way for the artists to showcase and sell their art.
In total, the Union Club can accommodate 200 to 250 members, and the couple is thrilled with the inquiries flowing in. Within a year they expect to be at capacity.
“We’re very excited about the welcoming we’re getting from the city,” Eli said. “We’re working with the arts commission, and it’s encouraging that not only you have a vision, but it’s being supported by the city.”