Seattle Now & Then: the Tacoma Hotel

(click to enlarge photos)
THEN: Designed by the famous New York architect Stanford White, the Tacoma Hotel opened in 1884 one year after the transcontinental Northern Pacific Railroad first reached Tacoma, its Puget Sound terminus. The Mason Building on the right at the southeast corner of S. 10th St. and A St. was built in 1887 with its own namesake hotel. (Courtesy Tacoma Public Library)
NOW: After the Tacoma Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1935 the site was paved for parking and served so until 1988 when the Frank Russell Co, then one of Tacoma’s biggest private employers, moved into its new building, shown here, with “a Mount Rainier view from every floor.” Twenty-one years later the company moved to Seattle.
In 1891 when Tacoma photographer Thomas Rutter recorded this sun-lighted portrait of it, the Tacoma Hotel was already six years old.  Historian Murray Morgan, Tacoma’s favorite son, described the hotel as Tacoma’s “focal point of pride.”  Morgan added, “Let a visitor question the likelihood of the city’s ascendancy and he was likely to be lectured on the grandeur of the hostelry under construction . . . on the edge of the downtown bluff.”
From its prospect on A Street the hotel looked over Commencement Bay and its tideflats to Mt. Tacoma, sometimes “mistakenly named” Mt. Rainier by visitors from out of town – like from Seattle.  The battle over what to call “The Mountain that was God” was a long and recurring one between the two cities.
Seattle had its own grand hotel with turrets, overlooking its own Mt. Rainier and the city from Denny Hill.   However, its career as an elegant hostelry was pathetic when compared to the Tacoma.  Constructed as the Denny Hotel in 1890 the builders quarreled so that it didn’t open until 1903 when it was renamed the Washington.  Three years later during the Denny Regrade it was razed with the hill.
With many additions and much polishing the Tacoma Hotel kept its place until 1935 when after 51 years of hosting it was destroyed by fire.  Built in a variation of the Tudor style, the Tacoma Hotel was constructed of red brick, white stucco and white stone trim.  Following the fire, bricks and stones salvaged from the ruins were prized and used in the building of new homes or proudly extending old ones.
During its half-century the Tacoma Hotel welcomed seven presidents and most famously one 800 lb. bear name Jack. Raised in the hotel since he was a cub, Jack was admired for drinking beer from a mug without spilling a drop on the hardwood floor of the hotel’s 80-foot long bar and billiards room.  One afternoon after having his beer, and deciding to tour Tacoma, the friendly beast slipped his collar.  Jack was soon shot twice on Tacoma’s “main street” Pacific Avenue by a policeman named Kenna.  Carried back to the hotel Jack was attended by friends and doctors but could not be saved.  For many days after, Officer Kenna was the most unpopular man in Tacoma.  The newspapers called him “stupid.”


Anything to add, Paul?
Yup Jean, and in SIX parts.
First, Ron Edge in his crusade to find birdseyes, early aerials and early maps, will put up four birdseye views of Tacoma.  The first one dates from 1878 and the last from 1890.  One can find the hotel in all but the ’78 rendering.  The 1884 sketch includes the hotel but without the turreted extension to the southeast – the addition seen in the “then” photo above.  There are no doubt other evidences of the out-of-date qualities of all the birdseyes because throughout the 1880s Tacoma was growing with a frenzy about equal to that of Seattle.  It was, after all, the company town for the Northern Pacific Railroad, an alliance that gave it frequent advantages until the financial panic of 1893, when Seattle’s more diverse wealth was better able to make it thru the depression that followed and even grow during it.
Second, we will insert a few more photos of the Tacoma Hotel, including one (and possibly two) taken by F.J.Haynes the Northern Pacific photographer that shows it before the 1890 addition.
As just noted above, F.J.Haynes, the Northern Pacific Railroad's official photographer, recorded this portrait of the Tacoma Hotel before its 1890 extension. (Courtesy, Tacoma Public Library)

The Tacoma Hotel with the business district's fire station to the right.
An 1894 look from the Tacoma City Hall tower to Mount Tacoma (aka Rainier) over the fire station and the hotel.
Looking nearly in line with the abandoned main line N.P. trestle seen still in use in the 1884 and 1885 Tacoma Birdseyes printed above. The Tacoma Hotel is top-center and breaks the horizon. The photograph was recorded before the 1890 enlargement of the hotel, and may be another by Haynes.


Third: Ron Edge will insert several “buttons” that when clicked will take the reader to previous features from this blog that have touched on Tacoma subjects, one of them as recent as Nov. 12, 2011 when we visited the Tacoma Public Library for the dedication of the Murray and Rosa Morgan Room.
[Click the above to call forth the recent feature from Nov. 12, 2011 that includes a variety of Tacoma subjects we have connected to the dedication of the Murray and Rosa Morgan Room in the Seattle Public Library.]
[Click the above for the Dec. 5, 2008 feature on Mt. Rainier – aka Mt. Tacoma – Five Times]
F0urth: more buttons.  These will take the reader to several illustrated texts on subjects out of Tacoma history that appeared first in the book, “Building Washington,” which can also be explored on this blog through its library.  PLEASE note that all of these excerpts are dated no further than 1998 when the book was published.
[Click to Enlarge — to read]
[Click to Enlarge – to read]

Fifth: Next we hang a small gallery of Tacoma photographs, which we title “Seeing Tacoma” or alternatively “You’ll Like Tacoma.”  We will explain those hanging, but only with mere captions, and only when we know something.
If memory services me, this is the oldest extant photograph of Tacoma - old Tacoma in 1871 and so before the Northern Pacific Railroad announced that it was going to build its own New Tacoma just north and west of the old one.
Not as old as the Old Tacoma above it but still old. This may be compared to the birdseyes included above - especially the 1878 one.
The 1913 lift bridge on 11th Street that replaced the 1893 swing bridge also on 11th. The lift survives as the Murray Morgan bridge, named for Tacoma's favorite son, and the dean of Northwest historians. If you wish visit the button a ways above that takes you to the blog's report on the dedication last summer of the Murray and Rosa Morgan Room in the Tacoma Public Library.
The Tacoma Hotel as seen from the 11th Street Bridge and below it Tacoma's Municipal Dock with the steady "Mosquito Fleet" steamer The Flyer beneath it. The Flyer broke all records for number of trips between Seattle and Tacoma, and although I no longer remember how many I do recall that it was enough to steam to the moon. Also note the towers for the Fire Station and City Hall, both on the right.
The Vashon at the Municipal Dock. Part of the 11th Street Bridge shows far left.
The Northern Pacific's long line of pier sheds busy with freighters. The photo was taken, again, from the 11th Street bridge, and note, again, the City Hall tower, upper-left.
The Northern Pacific Railroad wharf in, I believe, its company town, New Tacoma. Someone may correct me on this - or confirm. I copied this from an original that Murray Morgan (of the bridge) loaned to me many years ago.
A copy - it seems - of the fateful 1873 telegraph received in Seattle by Arthur Denny informing him that the Northern Pacific had made up its mind to make its Puget Sound terminus on Commencement Bay rather than in Seattle, or Port Townsend or Olympia or Steilacoom or whatever else had hoped for it.
An early Northern Pacific Depot in Tacoma.
The Northern Pacific headquarters building near the northwest end of Pacific Street and across Pacific from the site of the then still future city hall.
Another look at the Northern Pacific headquarters and before City Hall. The date and creator are written within the frame and directly above this jotting.
Tacoman Paul Richards 1910 recording of both the N.P. headquarters and, upper-right, the Tacoma City Hall. The later was built in 1893. The other landmark, upper-left, was once regularly called Mt. Tacoma by those who saw it repeatedly from this prospect. Note the sign swinging above the roadway. It reads "You'll Like Tacoma," the slogan used repeatedly for a community promotion aimed at visitors to the 1909 Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exposition in Seattle, but kept warm at least into 1910. Jean and I included this view in our book "Washington Then and Now." (Courtesy, Tacoma Public Library)
For - or in - its company town the Northern Pacific had is own eponymous hospital.
Tacoma Masons - one way.
. . . and the other.
Tacoma Walkathon couple - 1936
This Walkathon votary, the peppy Scotty Reed, looks like he could walk all the way to Vegas, or the construction then on Boulder Dam, if he could not find the town in 1936.
The Tacoma Chamber of Commerce on its grandest commercial strip, Pacific Street in 1888.
Parades on Pacific were almost routine.
Construction work beside Pacific, circa 1890. Without motorcars as yet it was easier to gain use of the street for staging a construction beside it.
Pacific from Ninth Ave., 1892.
Pacific circa 1910 with City Hall down the way. Note the sign pointing to the Municipal Dock.
Pacific by real photo postcard purveyor Ellis.
Not Pacific, rather 9th and Broadway at St. Helens. The Tacoma Theatre is on the right.
Somewhere in Tacoma McNulty is either delivering or picking up a piano and, eventually, a hernia.
Tacoma's "Top of the Ocean" never docked at the Municipal Wharf nor buzzed to Seattle. It was, however, claimed to be the vessel that inspired Acres of Clams restaurateur Ivar Haglund to prepare for "Bottom of the Ocean" steamers serving clam chowder to passengers (commuters and tourists) crossing under Puget Sound in - actually - atomic-powered submarines equipped with windows for the study of what he called the "denizens of the deep," which he, personally, found very instructive and lucrative.
Another of Tacoma's roadside attractions.
Once Discovery Bay's latest discovery - the popular Harmony Girls.
Industrial Tacoma, 1927, from the local photo studio of Chapin Bowen. Perhaps Chapin himself stepped to the roof the the nearly new 18-story Washington Building to record this pan. It includes, far left, our primary subject of the day, the Tacoma Hotel. The 11th Street lift bridge, now named the Murray Morgan Bridge, is near the center of the pan. Far right the dome top of the Northern Pacific Depot appears above the slender chimney and beyond the "Your Credit is Good" sign. Jean and I used this pan in our book "Washington Then and Now", where it and its repeat are spread across pages 54 and 55.


Sixth: At last the last button and another return – this one for a “travels with Jean” feature I did in 2008 that describes what fun it is to, well, travel with Jean.

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: the Tacoma Hotel”

  1. The photo you credit as Masons is actually Knights of Pythias, Commencement Lodge #7. It is still there and active if you want a tour.

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