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Tacoma’s Makeover Once Merely Seattle’s Ugly Cousin, This Former City Of Industry Has Embraced Tourism Full-On

Sun., Oct. 12, 1997, midnight

There’s a new destination here in the Northwest - and it has been around for more than 130 years.

Tacoma, once dubbed by snooty West Siders as “the mill town 30 miles south of Seattle,” is reinventing itself with classy museums, theaters and restaurants.

The Puget Sound port also is becoming a hub for day trips to 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, the Olympic Peninsula’s realm of mountains and rain forests, the Northwest Trek wildlife park, where buffalo and grizzlies roam - and, yes, Seattle.

“We don’t have to play second fiddle to Seattle any more,” says Mayor Brian Ebersole.

“Today’s Tacoma is a progressive, international city.”

Among recent developments for visitors:

Tacoma’s Union Station, a grand-design railroad station in downtown Tacoma dating to 1911, has been restored as a combination federal courthouse and art gallery. Cost: $57 million. Admiring architects are calling the copper-domed depot a “cathedral to transportation.”

The $40.8 million Washington State History Museum opened a year ago adjacent to Union Station. The computer-age museum features an array of interactive exhibits ranging from electronic photograph albums to touch screens for question-and-answer games.

The University of Washington is building a 26-acre, $85 million urban campus across Pacific Avenue from Union Station and the History Museum. It looks like a motion-picture set - with brick warehouses from Tacoma’s early times being preserved for classrooms or as facades for new buildings. A Starbucks coffee house is among the first retail tenants.

More than 20 art galleries have blossomed in downtown Tacoma. There are free “art walks” between the galleries the third Thursday of each month from 5 to 8 p.m.

Next on the arts scene here will be an International Museum of Glass Art - showcasing the works of world-acclaimed Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma native son. Plans call for a Chihuly-designed “Bridge of Glass” across a downtown freeway to the museum site on Tacoma’s waterfront.

Work is under way to expand the park-like Ruston Way waterfront recreation area. The 2-1/2-mile-long esplanade along Puget Sound’s Commencement Bay is being lengthened to 10 miles for joggers, cyclists, roller-bladers, sport fishers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Mayor Ebersole is suggesting an excursion train from Tacoma to Mount Rainier, about 74 miles to the southeast.

“There is nothing definite yet, but we’re working on it,” he says.

Mount Rainier, centerpiece of 378-square-mile Mount Rainier National Park, seems to soar above Tacoma like a snowy planet.

Locals call it “The Mountain,” as if no other designation is needed.

They note that all of the sleeping volcano lies within Pierce County, which surrounds Tacoma. And they delight in telling visitors that Mount Rainier is an hour or so closer by highway from Tacoma than from neighboring Seattle.

The Tacoma vs. Seattle rivalry is good-natured fun these days.

That has not always been the case.

Back in the 1870s, both battled to be the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Tacoma won that round - then billed itself as the “City of Destiny.”

But a few years later, with thousands of hopeful miners outfitting in Seattle on the way to the Klondike gold fields in Canada’s Yukon, Seattle surged ahead - and stayed ahead.

Columnists up the road in Seattle used to enjoy teasing Tacoma with put-down lines such as “the aroma in Tacoma,” a reference to pulp mills and a long-gone ore smelter that used to fill the air here with less-than-pleasant odors.

Tacoma also suffered a spectacular setback in 1940, when its just-built Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed in a wind storm. Jokers nicknamed the downed suspension bridge “Galloping Gertie.” The tag stuck.

It took 10 years before a new, redesigned bridge spanned the Tacoma Narrows. The replacement is a beauty.

No longer are Seattleites taunting Tacoma.

Now they are traveling down Interstate 5 to tour the Washington State History Museum and other attractions.

By the way, the History Museum’s major theme exhibit - from now through June 2 of next year - is “Golden Dreams: The Quest for the Klondike.” (This year and next year are centennial years for the epic stampede to the Klondike).

And here’s a nugget of irony: Among the lectures scheduled at the museum is one entitled: “The Seattle-Klondike Connection.”

Meanwhile, this city of 185,000 contented citizens is doing some thoughtful planning for the future.

“We don’t have to be Seattle, and that’s OK,” Scott Winship, a Tacoma banker, told business leaders here the other day. “We can be creative in designing the city we want to become.”

Mayor Ebersole put it this way: “We don’t want to get too big. We want to stay a comfortable city, a city that wears well.”

Michael Sanford, marketing director of the Sheraton Tacoma, moved here four years ago from San Jose.

“I’ve had offers to return to the San Francisco Bay area, but there’s no way,” he says. “I like it here. There’s no sense of the rat race.”

Tacoma’s setting between saltwater and snow-crowned mountains makes for a promising first impression.

Downtown streets and nearby neighborhoods slope down view-property tiers toward Commencement Bay, Tacoma’s deepwater harbor. The downtown core is anchored to the south by the Tacoma Dome, a major sports and entertainment center; to the north by the Renaissance-style clock tower of Tacoma’s Old City Hall.

Where drug dealers and prostitutes used to prowl a seedy district of abandoned warehouses along Pacific Avenue downtown are such gems now as the new History Museum and the budding University of Washington campus.

Just two blocks up the hill from Pacific Avenue is Broadway - and this Broadway is a showplace.

Tacoma’s comeback began along Broadway in the 1980s with restoration of the 1918-vintage Pantages Theater. Then the nearby Rialto Theater, another 1918 jewel, was saved from the wrecking ball. A new forum, the Theatre on the Square, was added in 1993. Together the trio of performance halls forms the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, with programs running the scale from symphony and ballet to “live” theater.

Down Broadway from the old Pantages (where Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, W. C. Fields and other stars took the stage in early day Tacoma) is Antique Row. There are more than a dozen shops offering all sorts of collectibles, from fine art to souvenir matchbooks.

A few blocks north of the downtown core is the Stadium District, a neighborhood of stylish old mansions, cozy B&Bs; - and a high school that could be a Disneyland transplant.

Stadium High School, replete with castle-like turrets, was built in 1898 to be a railroad hotel. A fire canceled that plan, and the never-to-be hotel became a high school instead.

One almost expects to find a drawbridge with moat around the school. It could have happened.

From downtown, drive northerly along Ruston Way, where sailboats skip across Puget Sound and waterfront restaurants serve some of the Northwest’s best seafood.

(Suggestion: Try the Lobster Shop at 4015 Ruston Way for Alaska salmon charbroiled with vermouth and garlic butter. $19.95).

Save some time to go exploring around the rest of Pierce County.

You even can drive to Paradise.

Paradise - it’s the name of a mile-high vacation valley on the slopes of Mount Rainier.

“The Mountain,” that is.

MEMO: See related story under the headline: Manuscript museum a hidden gem near downtown Tacoma

This sidebar appeared with the story: IF YOU GO Major attractions of Tacoma and Pierce County include: Washington State History Museum - at 1911 Pacific Ave., in downtown Tacoma. Phone: (888) 238-4373 or (253) 272-3500. Union Station - the combination federal courthouse and art gallery is adjacent to the History Museum. The rotunda is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tacoma Art Museum - at Pacific Avenue and 12th Street, downtown. Phone: (253) 272-4258. Point Defiance Park - attractions in the 698-acre urban park include a zoo and aquarium and a restored 19th-century Hudson’s Bay Co. trading post. Phone: (253) 305-1000. Tacoma Narrows Bridge - the 5,979-foot-long suspension bridge, on State Highway 16, west of Tacoma, links the Tacoma area with the saltwater community of Gig Harbor. Travelers can find the bridge by taking Exit 132 from Interstate 5 and turning onto Highway 16. Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum - at 407 South G St., adjacent to Wright Park. Free admission. Phone: (253) 383-2575. Northwest Trek - a 635-acre wildlife park on State Route 161, 35 miles southeast of Tacoma. Open daily March through October; Friday through Sunday the rest of the year. Opening time is 9:30 a.m.; closing time varies with seasons. Admission prices are $8.25 for adults, $7.75 for seniors age 62 or more, $5.75 for children ages 5 to 17, $3.75 for children ages 3 and 4. Phone (800) 433-8735. Lakewold Gardens - in the city of Lakewood, about 10 miles south of Tacoma by way of Interstate 5. Take Exit 124 (marked Gravelly Lake) from I-5 and follow signs to the gardens. The gardens, featuring one of the Northwest’s largest collections of Japanese maples and rhododendrons, are spread across 10 acres of what used to be the private estate of a Tacoma timber family. Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and for children less than age 12. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from April through September; from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday the rest of the year. Phone: (253) 584-4106. Fort Lewis Military Museum - at Fort Lewis, south of Tacoma. Exhibits tell the story of the Northwest’s military history, dating from the 19th-century Lewis and Clark expedition. Open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. No admission charge. To find the museum, take Exit 120 from Interstate 5 and go to the fort’s main gate for visitor passes and directions. Phone: (253) 967-7206. Steilacoom - Washington state’s oldest incorporated town, founded in 1854. Steilacoom is about 15 miles south of Tacoma by way of Interstate 5. Take Exit 119 from Interstate 5 and follow the Steilacoom-Dupont Road for about 6 miles north to Union Avenue and Steilacoom. A favorite with visitors is the Bair Drug & Hardware Store on Lafayette Street, dating to 1895. Mount Rainier National Park - a year-round playground 74 miles southeast of Tacoma. Most visitors drive to Paradise Inn at the 5,557-foot level of Mount Rainier. Entry fees for the national park are $10 per vehicle, $5 a person for cyclists, hikers and motorcoach passengers. Seniors age 62 or more may purchase a lifetime pass known as the Golden Age Passport for a one-time fee of $10. The pass is free to persons with permanent disabilities. For information call the park concessionaire at (360) 569-2275. Additional information: Tacoma-Pierce County Visitor and Convention Bureau, 1001 Pacific Ave., Suite 400, Tacoma, WA 98402. Phone: (800) 272-2662. Fax: (253) 627-8783.

See related story under the headline: Manuscript museum a hidden gem near downtown Tacoma

This sidebar appeared with the story: IF YOU GO Major attractions of Tacoma and Pierce County include: Washington State History Museum - at 1911 Pacific Ave., in downtown Tacoma. Phone: (888) 238-4373 or (253) 272-3500. Union Station - the combination federal courthouse and art gallery is adjacent to the History Museum. The rotunda is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tacoma Art Museum - at Pacific Avenue and 12th Street, downtown. Phone: (253) 272-4258. Point Defiance Park - attractions in the 698-acre urban park include a zoo and aquarium and a restored 19th-century Hudson’s Bay Co. trading post. Phone: (253) 305-1000. Tacoma Narrows Bridge - the 5,979-foot-long suspension bridge, on State Highway 16, west of Tacoma, links the Tacoma area with the saltwater community of Gig Harbor. Travelers can find the bridge by taking Exit 132 from Interstate 5 and turning onto Highway 16. Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum - at 407 South G St., adjacent to Wright Park. Free admission. Phone: (253) 383-2575. Northwest Trek - a 635-acre wildlife park on State Route 161, 35 miles southeast of Tacoma. Open daily March through October; Friday through Sunday the rest of the year. Opening time is 9:30 a.m.; closing time varies with seasons. Admission prices are $8.25 for adults, $7.75 for seniors age 62 or more, $5.75 for children ages 5 to 17, $3.75 for children ages 3 and 4. Phone (800) 433-8735. Lakewold Gardens - in the city of Lakewood, about 10 miles south of Tacoma by way of Interstate 5. Take Exit 124 (marked Gravelly Lake) from I-5 and follow signs to the gardens. The gardens, featuring one of the Northwest’s largest collections of Japanese maples and rhododendrons, are spread across 10 acres of what used to be the private estate of a Tacoma timber family. Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and for children less than age 12. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from April through September; from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday the rest of the year. Phone: (253) 584-4106. Fort Lewis Military Museum - at Fort Lewis, south of Tacoma. Exhibits tell the story of the Northwest’s military history, dating from the 19th-century Lewis and Clark expedition. Open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. No admission charge. To find the museum, take Exit 120 from Interstate 5 and go to the fort’s main gate for visitor passes and directions. Phone: (253) 967-7206. Steilacoom - Washington state’s oldest incorporated town, founded in 1854. Steilacoom is about 15 miles south of Tacoma by way of Interstate 5. Take Exit 119 from Interstate 5 and follow the Steilacoom-Dupont Road for about 6 miles north to Union Avenue and Steilacoom. A favorite with visitors is the Bair Drug & Hardware Store on Lafayette Street, dating to 1895. Mount Rainier National Park - a year-round playground 74 miles southeast of Tacoma. Most visitors drive to Paradise Inn at the 5,557-foot level of Mount Rainier. Entry fees for the national park are $10 per vehicle, $5 a person for cyclists, hikers and motorcoach passengers. Seniors age 62 or more may purchase a lifetime pass known as the Golden Age Passport for a one-time fee of $10. The pass is free to persons with permanent disabilities. For information call the park concessionaire at (360) 569-2275. Additional information: Tacoma-Pierce County Visitor and Convention Bureau, 1001 Pacific Ave., Suite 400, Tacoma, WA 98402. Phone: (800) 272-2662. Fax: (253) 627-8783.



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