TACOMA: GEOGRAPHY AND HISTORY OF TACOMA - WASHINGTON

Aerial view of central Tacoma.
Commencement Bay is at lower right

Tacoma is a mid-sized urban port city in 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, 31 miles (50 km) northeast of the state capital, Olympia, and 58 miles (93 km) northwest of Mount Rainier National Park. The population was 193,556, according to the 2000 census, while the Census Bureau estimated its population at 199,637 in 2009. Tacoma is the second-largest city in the Puget Sound area and the third largest in the state. Japanese automaker Toyota has a truck named after the city.

Tacoma adopted its name after the nearby Mount Rainier, originally called Mount Tacoma or Mount Tahoma. It is known as the "City of Destiny" because the area was chosen to be the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the late 1800s. The decision of the railroad was influenced by Tacoma's neighboring Commencement Bay. By connecting the bay with the railroad Tacoma’s motto became “When rails meet sails.” Today Commencement Bay serves the Port of Tacoma, a center of international trade on the Pacific Coast.

Like most central cities, Tacoma suffered a prolonged decline in the mid-20th century as a result of suburbanization and divestment. Recently the city has been undergoing a renaissance, investing in the downtown core to establish the University of Washington, Tacoma; Tacoma Link, the first modern electric light rail service in the state; various art and history museums; and a restored inlet, the Thea Foss Waterway.

With a long history of blue-collar labor politics — from the railroad workers of the 1800s, to the longshoremen of the 20th century, to the Labor Ready workers of today — Tacoma has long been known for its rough, gritty image.

Tacoma-Pierce County has been named one of the most livable areas in the country. Tacoma was also recently listed as the 19th most walkable city in the country. In contrast, the city is also ranked as the most stressed-out city in the country in a 2004 survey. In 2006, women's magazine Self named Tacoma the "Most Sexually Healthy City" in the United States.

History
Tacoma was inhabited for thousands of years by American Indians, predominantly the Puyallup people, who lived in settlements on the delta of the Puyallup River and called the area Squa-szucks. It was visited by European and American explorers, including George Vancouver and Charles Wilkes, who named many of the coastal landmarks.

19th century
In 1852 a Swede named Nicolas Delin constructed a sawmill powered by water on a creek near the head of Commencement Bay, but the small settlement that grew up around it was abandoned during the Indian War of 1855-1856. In 1864, pioneer and postmaster Job Carr, a Civil War veteran and land speculator who hoped to profit from the selection of Commencement Bay as the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad, built a cabin (a replica of Job Carr's cabin, which also served as Tacoma's first post office, was erected in "Old Town" in 2000 near the original site), and later sold most of his claim to developer Morton McCarver (1807–1875), who named his project Tacoma City. The name derived from the indigenous name for Mount Rainier, deriving from the Puyallup tacobet, "mother of waters".

Tacoma was incorporated on November 12, 1875. Its hopes to be the "City of Destiny" were stimulated by selection in 1873 as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, thanks to lobbying by McCarver, future mayor John Wilson Sprague, and others. The transcontinental link was effected in 1887, but the railroad built its depot on "New Tacoma", two miles (3 km) south of the Carr-McCarver development. The two communities grew together and joined. 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 1800s. In 1880, he staged a global circumnavigation starting and ending in Tacoma to promote the city. A plaque in downtown Tacoma marks the start/finish line.

In November 1885 white citizens led by then-mayor Jacob Weisbach expelled several hundred Chinese residents peaceably living in the city. As described by the account prepared by the Chinese Reconciliation Project, on the morning of November 3, 1885, "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 Tacoma's prominence in the region to be eclipsed by the booming development of Seattle.

20th century
During a 30-day power shortage in the winter of 1929/1930, Tacoma was provided with electricity from the engines of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington.

In 1939 Tacoma received national attention when George Weyerhaeuser, 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 payment of a ransom of $200,000 secured 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/city-manager system in 1952.

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) than downtown Tacoma. Steve Miller wrote a song that mentioned Tacoma in a chorus as well. "Streets were abandoned, storefronts were abandoned… City Hall was the headstone and Union Station the footstone" on the grave of downtown.

This picture began to change somewhere around 1990. Among the projects associated with the downtown renaissance were the federal courthouse in the former Union Station (1991); the Washington State History Museum (1996), echoing the architecture of Union Station; the adaptation of a group of century-old brick warehouses into the University of Washington Tacoma campus; the numerous privately financed renovation projects near that UW-Tacoma campus; the Museum of Glass (2002); the Tacoma Art Museum (2003); and the region's first light-rail line (2003).

The first local referendums in the U.S. on computerized voting occurred in Tacoma in 1982 and 1987. On both occasions, voters rejected 3-1 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 wired the city.

21st century
Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood struggled with crime in the 1980s and early 1990s. The problems have declined in recent years as neighborhoods have enacted community policing and other policies. Bill Baarsma (Mayor from 2002-2009) is a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, a bi-partisan group with a stated goal of "making the public safer by getting illegal guns off the streets." The coalition is co-chaired by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In 2004, Tacoma was ranked among the top 30 Most Livable Communities in 2004, in an annual survey conducted by the Partners for Livable Communities.

Downtown Revival
Beginning in the early 1990s, Tacoma has taken steps to revitalize itself and its image, especially downtown.

The University of Washington established a branch campus in Tacoma in 1990. The same year, Union Station (Tacoma) was restored. The Museum of Glass opened in downtown Tacoma in 2002, showing glass art from the region and around the world. It includes a glassblowing studio.

Tacoma's downtown Cultural District is the site of the Washington State History Museum (1996) and the Tacoma Art Museum (2003). America's Car Museum is currently breaking ground in Tacoma. The glass and steel Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center opened in November 2004.

Downtown Tacoma has a thriving Theatre District, anchored by the 89-year-old Pantages Theater. The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts manages the Pantages, the Rialto Theater, and the Theatre on the Square. Other attractions include the Grand Cinema and the Temple Theatre.

The area around the Theatre District is the center of Tacoma's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender culture. Three of the city's gay bars are here as well as the Rainbow Center.

Luciano Mende

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