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Tacoma is Washington state's third-largest city, with approximately 200,000 residents. Located 30 miles south of Seattle, Tacoma's position on Puget Sound's shoreline allows for beautiful views from across the city. Tacoma is the county seat of Pierce county and the state's busiest port, with the deepwater Commencement Bay drawing a wide range of international shipping traffic. Located at the terminus of the original Northern Pacific Railroad, Tacoma garnered the nickname "City of Destiny" early in its history.
Tacoma (/təˈkoʊmə/ tə-KOH-mə) is a mid-sized urban port city and the county seat of Pierce County, Washington, United States.The city is on Washington's Puget Sound, 32 miles (51 km) southwest of Seattle (of which it is the largest satellite city), 31 miles (50 km) northeast of the state capital, Olympia, and 58 miles (93 km) northwest of Mount Rainier National Park. The population was 191,704, according to the 2010 census. Tacoma is the second-largest city in the Puget Sound area and the third-largest in the state. Tacoma also serves as the center of business activity for the South Sound region, which has a population of around 1 million.
Tacoma adopted its name after the nearby Mount Rainier, originally called Takhoma or Tahoma. It is locally known as the "City of Destiny" because the area was chosen to be the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the late 19th century. The decision of the railroad was influenced by Tacoma's neighboring deep-water harbor, Commencement Bay. By connecting the bay with the railroad, Tacoma's motto became "When rails meet sails". Commencement Bay serves the Port of Tacoma, a center of international trade on the Pacific Coast and Washington's largest port. The city gained notoriety in 1940 for the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which earned the nickname "Galloping Gertie".
Tacoma skyline from McKinley Way
Like most industrial cities, Tacoma suffered a prolonged decline in the mid-20th century as a result of suburbanization and divestment. Since the 1990s, downtown Tacoma has undergone revitalization effort. Developments in the downtown include the University of Washington Tacoma; Line T (formerly Tacoma Link), the first modern electric light rail service in the state; the state's highest density of art and history museums; and a restored urban waterfront, the Thea Foss Waterway.
Tacoma has been named one of the most livable areas in the United States. In 2006, Tacoma was listed as one of the "most walkable" cities in the country.
The area was inhabited for thousands of years by American Indians, predominantly the Puyallup people, who lived in settlements on the delta.
In 1852, a Swede named Nicolas Delin built a water-powered sawmill on a creek near the head of Commencement Bay, but the small settlement that grew around it was abandoned during the Indian War of 1855–56. In 1864, pioneer and postmaster Job Carr, a Civil War veteran and land speculator, built a cabin (which also served as Tacoma's first post office; a replica was built in 2000 near the original site in "Old Town"). Carr hoped to profit from the selection of Commencement Bay as the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad, and sold most of his claim to developer Morton M. McCarver (1807–1875), who named his project Tacoma City, derived from the indigenous name for the mountain.
View of Mount Rainier and the Port of Tacoma from Brown's Point, 2009
Tacoma was incorporated on November 12, 1875, following its selection in 1873 as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad due to lobbying by McCarver, future mayor John Wilson Sprague, and others. However, the railroad built its depot in New Tacoma, two miles (3 km) south of the Carr–McCarver development. The two communities grew together and joined, merging on January 7, 1884. The transcontinental link was effected in 1887, and the population grew from 1,098 in 1880 to 36,006 in 1890. Rudyard Kipling visited Tacoma in 1889 and said it was "literally staggering under a boom of the boomiest".
George Francis Train was a resident for a few years in the late 19th century. In 1890, he staged a global circumnavigation starting and ending in Tacoma to promote the city. A plaque in downtown Tacoma marks the start and finish line.
The Commencement Bay Land and Improvement Co. played a major role in the city's early growth.
In November 1885, white citizens led by then-mayor Jacob Weisbach expelled several hundred Chinese residents peacefully living in the city. As described by the account prepared by the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation, on the morning of November 3, "several hundred men, led by the mayor and other city officials, evicted the Chinese from their homes, corralled them at 7th Street and Pacific Avenue, marched them to the railway station at Lakeview and forced them aboard the morning train to Portland, Oregon. The next day two Chinese settlements were burned to the ground."
The discovery of gold in the Klondike in 1898 led to Tacoma's prominence in the region being eclipsed by the development of Seattle.
A major tragedy marred the end of the 19th century, when a streetcar accident resulted in significant loss of life on July 4, 1900.
From May to August 1907, the city was the site of a smelter workers' strike organized by Local 545 of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), with the goal of a fifty-cent per day pay raise. The strike was strongly opposed by the local business community, and the smelter owners threatened to blacklist organizers and union officials. The IWW opposed this move by trying to persuade inbound workers to avoid Tacoma during the strike. By August, the strike had ended without meeting its demands.
A 1909 postcard image of Tacoma with its ASARCO smelter smokestack
Tacoma was briefly (1915–1922) a major destination for big-time automobile racing, with one of the nation's top-rated racing venues just outside the city limits, at the site of today's Clover Park Technical College.
In 1924, Tacoma's first movie studio, H. C. Weaver Studio, was sited at present-day Titlow Beach. At the time, it was the third-largest freestanding film production space in America, with the two larger facilities being located in Hollywood. The studio's importance has undergone a revival with the discovery of one of its most famous lost films, Eyes of the Totem.
Downtown, early 20th century
The 1929 crash of the stock market, resulting in the Great Depression, was only the first event in a series of misfortunes to hit Tacoma in the winter of 1929–30. In one of the coldest winters on record, Tacoma experienced mass power outages and eventually the shutdown of major power supply dams, leaving the city without sufficient power and heat. During the 30-day power shortage in the winter of 1929 and 1930, the engines of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington provided Tacoma with electricity.
Tacoma manufacturing district and tide flats, 1912.
A power grid failure paired with a newly rewritten city constitution – put into place to keep political power away from a single entity such as the railroad – created a standstill in the ability to further the local economy. Local businesses were affected as the sudden stop of loans limited progression of expansion and renewal funds for maintenance, leading to foreclosures. Families across the city experienced the fallout of economic depression as breadwinners sought to provide for their families. Shanty-town politics began to develop as the destitute needed some form of leadership to keep the peace.
At the intersection of Dock Street EXD and East D Street in the train yard, a shanty town became the solution to the growing scar of the depression. Tacoma's Hooverville grew in 1924 as the homeless community settled on the waterfront. The population boomed in November 1930 through early 1931 as families from the neighboring McKinley and Hilltop areas were evicted.
Collecting scraps of metal and wood from local lumber stores and recycling centers, families began building shanties (shacks) for shelter. Alcoholism and suicide became a common event in the Hooverville that eventually led to its nickname of "Hollywood on the Tide Flats", because of the Hollywood-style crimes and events taking place in the camp. In 1956, the last occupant of "Hollywood" was evicted and the police used fire to level the grounds and make room for industrial growth.
In 1935, Tacoma received national attention when George Weyerhaeuser, the nine-year-old son of prominent lumber industry executive J.P. Weyerhaeuser, was kidnapped while walking home from school. FBI agents from Portland handled the case, in which a ransom of $200,000 secured the release of the victim. Four persons were apprehended and convicted; the last to be released was paroled from McNeil Island in 1963. George Weyerhaeuser went on to become chairman of the board of the Weyerhaeuser Company.
In 1951, an investigation by a state legislative committee revealed widespread corruption in Tacoma's government, which had been organized commission-style since 1910. Voters approved a mayor and city-manager system in 1952.
Tacoma was featured prominently in the garage rock sound of the mid-1960s with bands including The Wailers and The Sonics. The surf rock band The Ventures were also from Tacoma.
Downtown Tacoma experienced a long decline through the mid-20th century. Harold Moss, later the city's mayor, characterized late-1970s Tacoma as looking "bombed out" like "downtown Beirut" (a reference to the Lebanese Civil War that occurred at that time); "Streets were abandoned, storefronts were abandoned and City Hall was the headstone and Union Station the footstone" on the grave of downtown.
The first local referendums in the U.S. on computerized voting occurred in Tacoma in 1982 and 1987. On both occasions, voters rejected the computer voting systems that local officials sought to purchase. The campaigns, organized by Eleanora Ballasiotes, a conservative Republican, focused on the vulnerabilities of computers to fraud.
In 1998, Tacoma installed a high-speed fiber optic network throughout the community. The municipally owned power company, Tacoma Power, wired the city.
Beginning in the early 1990s, city residents and planners took steps to revitalize Tacoma, particularly its downtown. Among the projects were the federal courthouse in the former Union Station (1991); Save Our Station community group; Merritt+Pardini Architect (1991); Reed & Stem Architects (1911); the adaptation of a group of century-old brick warehouses into a branch campus of the University of Washington; the numerous privately financed renovation projects near the campus; the Washington State History Museum (1996), echoing the architecture of Union Station; the Museum of Glass (2002); the Tacoma Art Museum (2003); and the region's first light-rail line (2003). The glass and steel Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center opened in November 2004. America's Car Museum was completed in late 2011 near the Tacoma Dome.
Aerial view of Tacoma, Washington, the Port of Tacoma, and Commencement Bay
The Pantages Theater (first opened in 1918) anchors downtown Tacoma's Theatre District. Tacoma Arts Live manages the Pantages, the Rialto Theater, and the Theatre on the Square. Tacoma Little Theatre (opened in 1918) bridges the Theater District and the Hilltop neighborhood. Other attractions include the Grand Cinema and the Landmark Temple Theatre.
Tacoma is at 47°14′29″N 122°27′34″W (47.241371, −122.459389). Its official elevation is 381 feet (116 m), varying between sea level and about 500 feet.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has an area of 62.34 square miles (161.46 km2), of which 49.72 square miles (128.77 km2) is land and 12.62 square miles (32.69 km2) is water.
Tacoma straddles the neighboring Commencement Bay with several smaller cities surrounding it. Large areas of Tacoma have views of Mount Rainier. In the event of a major eruption of Mount Rainier, the low-lying areas of Tacoma near the Port of Tacoma are at risk from a lahar flowing down the Puyallup River.
The city is several miles north of Joint Base Lewis–McChord, also known separately as Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base.
Tacoma with a view of Mount Rainier
Port of Tacoma
Houses in the South J Street Historic District
Tacoma is the home of several international companies including staffing company True Blue Inc. (formerly Labor Ready), lumber company Simpson and the food companies Roman Meal and Brown and Haley.
Frank C. Mars founded Mars, Incorporated in 1911 in Tacoma.
Beginning in the 1930s, the city became known for the "Tacoma Aroma," a distinctive, acrid odor produced by pulp and paper manufacturing on the industrial tide flats. In the late 1990s, Simpson Tacoma Kraft reduced total sulfur emissions by 90%. This largely eliminated the problem; where once the odor was ever-present, it is now only noticeable occasionally downtown, primarily when the wind is coming from the east. The mill produces pulpwood and linerboard products; previously owned by St. Regis Company, the mill was sold to RockTenn in 2014. The mill's name changed yet again in 2016 to WestRock.
U.S. Oil and Refining operates an oil refinery on the tide flats in the Port of Tacoma. Built 68 years ago in Tacoma in 1952, it refines 39,000 barrels of petroleum per day.
The Tacoma Mall is the largest shopping center in Tacoma. It is owned by Simon Property Group. Anchor tenants include JC Penney, Sears, Macy's, and Nordstrom.
An economic setback for the city occurred in September 2009 when Russell Investments, which has been in downtown Tacoma since its inception in 1936, announced it was moving its headquarters to Seattle along with several hundred white-collar jobs. A large regional office for State Farm Insurance now occupies the former Russell building.
Hospitals in Tacoma are operated by MultiCare Health System and Franciscan Health System. Hospitals include MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, Mary Bridge Children's Hospital, MultiCare Allenmore Hospital and St. Joseph Medical Center.
According to Tacoma's 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers in Pierce County are:
Owen Beach at Point Defiance Park
Parks and recreation services in and around Tacoma are governed by Metro Parks Tacoma, a municipal corporation established as a separate entity from the city government in 1907. Metro Parks maintains over fifty parks and open spaces in Tacoma.
Point Defiance Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country (at 700 acres), is in Tacoma. Scenic Five-Mile Drive allows access to many of the park's attractions, such as Owen Beach, Fort Nisqually, and the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA). There are many historic structures within the park, including the Pagoda, which was originally built as a streetcar waiting room. It was restored in 1988 and now serves as a rental facility for weddings and private parties. The Pagoda was nearly destroyed by fire on August 15, 2011. Repair work began immediately after the fire and continued until January 2013, at which time the Pagoda was reopened for public use.
Ruston Way is a waterfront area along Commencement Bay north of downtown Tacoma that hosts several public parks connected by a multi-use trail and interspersed with restaurants and other businesses. Public parks along Ruston Way include Jack Hyde Park, Old Town Dock, Hamilton Park, Dickman Mill Park, Les Davis Pier, Marine Park, and Cummings Park. The trail is used by walkers, runners, cyclists, and other recreationalists. There are several beaches along Ruston Way with public access, some of which are also popular for scuba diving.
Another large park in Tacoma is Wapato Park, which has a lake and walking trails that circle the lake. Wapato is in Tacoma's south end, at Sheridan and 72nd St.
Titlow Beach, at the end of 6th Avenue, is also a scuba diving area.
Wright Park, near downtown, is a large, English-style park designed in the late 19th century by Edward Otto Schwagerl and Ebenezer Rhys Roberts. It contains Wright Park Arboretum and the W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. This historic park is also the home of local festivals such as Ethnic Fest, Out in the Park (Tacoma's Pride festival), and the Tacoma Hempfest (Tacoma's annual gathering advocating decriminalization of marijuana).
Jefferson Park in North Tacoma is the location of a new sprayground, an area designed to be a safe and unique play area where water is sprayed from structures or ground sprays and then drained away before it can accumulate.
Frost Park in downtown Tacoma is often utilized for sidewalk chalk contests.
In response to the Tacoma area's growing dog population and stricter leash laws in many areas, dog parks have begun to be established. Rogers Off-Leash Dog Park is a metro public park established in 1949.
acoma includes several landmarks and was home to prolific architects, including Everett Phipps Babcock, Frederick Heath, Ambrose J. Russell, and Silas E. Nelsen.
Two suspension bridges span a narrow section of the Salish Sea called the Tacoma Narrows. The Tacoma Narrows Bridges link Tacoma to Gig Harbor and the Kitsap Peninsula. The failure of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world, is a famous case study in architecture textbooks.
Tacoma has many properties that are listed on the City of Tacoma Register of Historic Places, the Washington State Heritage Register, and the National Register of Historic Places.
The city of Tacoma has an active municipal historic preservation program, which includes 165 individual city landmarks and over 1,000 historic properties included within five locally regulated historic overlay zones.
Engine House No. 9 is a fire station built in 1907. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The building houses a pub and microbrewery.
Fireboat No. 1
Stadium High School and the Stadium Bowl, part of the Tacoma School District, provided a setting for the movie 10 Things I Hate About You.
Fireboat No. 1 rests on a permanent dry berth at a public beach near Tacoma's Old Town neighborhood. It was built in 1929 for the Port of Tacoma by the Coastline Shipbuilding Company, and served for 54 years in waterfront fire protection, harbor security patrols, search and rescue missions, and water pollution control. It is one of only five fireboats designated as a National Historic Landmark. Visitors are able to walk around her exterior, but her interior is closed to the public.
William Ross Rust House is a home in Colonial/Classic Revival style, built in 1905 by Ambrose J. Russell (architect) and Charles Miller (contractor).
East 21st Street Bridge, 2006
Murray Morgan Bridge is a 1911 steel lift bridge across the Thea Foss Waterway; it closed in 2007 to all automobile traffic due to its deteriorating condition but was reopened in February 2013 to all traffic following a substantial rehabilitation.
Other notable buildings include the National Realty Building, Lincoln High School, Rhodes House, Pythian Temple, Perkins Building, Tacoma Dome, and Rhodesleigh. The Luzon Building and Nihon Go Gakko school house have been demolished, and the MV Kalakala was scrapped in early 2015. University of Puget Sound, Cushman Dam No. 1, Cushman Dam No. 2, Rialto Theater, and Union Station are also noteworthy.
The cupola of the First Presbyterian Church in the Stadium District
Tacoma's main public school district is Tacoma Public Schools. The district contains 36 elementary schools, eleven middle schools, and 10 high schools, including three non-traditional high schools (SAMi, SOTA, and iDEA) and two alternative high schools (Oakland and Willie Stewart Academy). Tacoma is also home to three charter public schools: SOAR Academy (elementary), Green Dot Destiny (middle) and Summit Olympus (high) school.
Henry Foss High School operates an International Baccalaureate program. Sheridan Elementary School operated three foreign-language immersion programs (Spanish, French, and Japanese). Mount Tahoma High School opened a new building in South Tacoma in the fall of 2004. Stadium High School and Wilson High School were remodeled/refurbished and reopened in September 2006.
Tacoma School of the Arts, opened in 2001 in downtown Tacoma, is an arts-focused high school that serves as a national model for educational innovation. SOTA is a public school, part of the Tacoma Public Schools, and is one of the nation's first schools to implement standards-based instruction, influencing the design of many schools in the nation. SOTA is in multiple venues around Downtown Tacoma and uses Community Museums and Universities for instructional space. In 2009, SOTA's staff expanded to a second, STEM-based high school located in Point Defiance Park, the Science and Math Institute. In 2017, the school district opened a third non-traditional high school in the same vein as SAMI and SOTA, called iDEA (Industrial Design, Engineering, and Art) in south Tacoma. SAMI and SOTA are the only schools in Tacoma to offer University of Washington in the Classroom college credit options from the University of Washington.
Lincoln High School reopened in the fall of 2007 after a $75 million renovation and expansion.
The area also has numerous private schools, including Evergreen Lutheran High School, the Annie Wright School, Bellarmine Preparatory School, Life Christian Academy, Charles Wright Academy, and Parkland Lutheran School.
Tacoma's institutions of higher learning include the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma Community College, City University of Seattle-Tacoma, Bates Technical College, Corban University School of Ministry/Tacoma Campus, as well as satellite campuses of The Evergreen State College and the University of Washington. Pacific Lutheran University is in Parkland, just south of the city; nearby Lakewood is the home of Clover Park Technical College and Pierce College.
The Annie Wright School
Tacoma's Pantages Theater, a remnant of the vaudeville circuit founded by Alexander Pantages
Tacoma's system of transportation is based primarily on the automobile. The majority of the city has a system of gridded streets oriented in relation to A Street (one block east of Pacific Avenue) and 6th Avenue or Division Avenue, both beginning in downtown Tacoma. Within the city, and with a few exceptions, east-to-west streets are numbered and north-to-south streets are given a name or a letter. Some east-to-west streets are also given names, such as S. Center St. and N. Westgate Blvd. Streets are generally labeled "North", "South", "East", or "North East" according to their relationship with 6th Avenue or Division Avenue (west of 'Division Ave', '6th Avenue' is the lowest-numbered street, making it the dividing street between "North" and "South"), 'A Street' (which is the dividing line between "East" and "South"), or 1st Street NE (which is the dividing line between "East" and "North East"). This can lead to confusion, as most named streets intersect streets of the same number in both north and south Tacoma. For example, the intersection of South 11th Street and South Union Avenue is just ten blocks south of North 11th Street and North Union Avenue.
To the east of the Thea Foss waterway and 'A Street', streets are similarly divided into "East" and "Northeast", with 1st Street NE being in-line with the Pierce–King county line. "North East" covers a small wedge of Tacoma and unincorporated Pierce County (around Browns Point and Dash Point) lying on the hill across the tideflats from downtown. Tacoma does have some major roads which do not seem to follow any naming rules. These roads include Schuster Pkwy, Pacific Ave, Puyallup Ave, Tacoma Mall Blvd, Marine View Dr (SR 509), and Northshore Pkwy. Tacoma also has some major roads which appear to change names in different areas (most notable are Tyler St/Stevens St, Oakes St/Pine St/Cedar St/Alder St, and S. 72nd St/S. 74th St). These major arterials actually shift over to align with other roads, which causes them to have the name changed.
This numeric system extends to the furthest reaches of unincorporated Pierce County (with roads outside of the city carrying "East", "West", "North West", and "South West", except on the Key Peninsula, which retains the north–south streets but chooses the Pierce–Kitsap county line as the zero point for east–west streets. Key Peninsula's roads also carry a "KP N" or "KP S" ("Key Peninsula North" or "Key Peninsula South") designation at the end of the street name.
In portions of the city dating back to the Tacoma Streetcar Period (1888–1938), denser mixed-use business districts exist alongside single family homes. Twelve such districts have active, city-recognized business associations and hold "small town"-style parades and other festivals. The Proctor District, Tacoma, Old Town, Dome, 6th Avenue, Stadium, Lincoln Business District, and South Tacoma Business Districts are some of the more prominent of these and coordinate their efforts to redevelop urban villages through the Cross District Association of Tacoma. In newer portions of the city to the west and south, residential culs-de-sac, four-lane collector roads and indoor shopping centers are more commonplace.
Seven highways end in or pass through Tacoma: I-5, I-705, SR 7, SR 16, SR 163, SR 167, and SR 509.
The dominant intercity transportation link between Tacoma and other parts of the Puget Sound is Interstate 5, which links Tacoma with Seattle to the north and Portland, Oregon, to the south. State Route 16 runs along a concrete viaduct through Tacoma's Nalley Valley, connecting Interstate 5 with Central and West Tacoma, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the Kitsap Peninsula. Seattle–Tacoma International Airport lies 22 miles (35 km) north, in the city of SeaTac.
Public transportation in Tacoma includes buses, commuter rail, light rail, and ferries. Public bus service is provided by Pierce Transit, which serves Tacoma and Pierce County. Pierce Transit operates 43 bus routes (five of which through Sound Transit), using a fleet of buses powered by compressed natural gas, diesel, and electric batteries. Bus service operates at 30–60 minute frequencies daily, while three heavily ridden "trunk" routes are mostly served every 20 minutes on weekdays and every half-hour to an hour on weekends as of October 2, 2011. The bus route serving the Pacific Avenue corridor is planned to be upgraded into a bus rapid transit line by 2022, at a cost of $150 million.
Sound Transit, the regional transit authority, provides weekday Sounder Commuter Rail service and daily express bus service to and from Seattle. Sound Transit has also established Tacoma Link light rail, a 1.6-mile (2.6 km) free electric streetcar line linking Tacoma Dome Station with the University of Washington, Tacoma, Tacoma's Museum District, and the Theater District. Expansion of the city's rail transit system is in planning stages by the city of Tacoma and Sound Transit. The line will be extended north along Commerce St/Stadium Way and then west along Division Ave. It will then turn south along Martin Luther King Jr. Way and end near South 19th Street.
Tacoma Link approaches S 13th Street
The Washington State Ferries system, which has a dock at Point Defiance, provides ferry access to Tahlequah at the southern tip of Vashon Island.
Greyhound intercity bus service is accessible via Tacoma Dome Station.
Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides service to Tacoma from Tacoma Dome Station. The Cascades trains, operating as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia and as far south as Eugene, Oregon, serve Tacoma several times daily in both directions. The long-distance Coast Starlight operates daily between Seattle and Los Angeles via the San Francisco Bay Area.
Tacoma Link in Dome District
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