Just after the second world war a mythic fifty foot high Pegasus appeared over the downtown. Atop the tallest building in the city it’s blazing red silhouette became an instant landmark. Bill Baarsma tells the story of returning one night to a city socked in by a fog bank, the only landmark visible was the crimson winged horse and sparking animated lightening bolts above the cloud.

The Scandinavian American Bank Building at 11th and Pacific Avenue was destine to be the tallest skyscraper in the city when it began construction in 1920. Unfortunately Bank President Ole Hanson got a bit ahead of himself and began using depositor’s money to cover construction costs and by early 1921 he was under grand jury investigation and the skeleton of the steel girder building loomed over the city unfinished for most of the decade. Ole ended up in federal prison, the Governor and City of Tacoma treasury got their money back but most of the depositors lost out and new owners completed the white terra cotta tower and renamed it the Washington Building.

From the beginning it was a pedestal for garish advertising signs but then the Mobil Oil and Gas Company swooped in with a 40 foot high rooftop framework that backed a crimson red neon flying horse and animated golden lightening bolts. Subtle.

The sign had two faces, with the south side oriented toward the intersection of Highway 99 and the main automobile route to the Mountain. Ironically the last days of the Pegasus corresponded to the completion of I-5 and the advent of a freeway that swept drivers past the gas stations and garages that ringed Tacoma’s downtown.
The ancient Greeks personified Pegasus with water, solar myth and shaman mountains. Carl Jung saw in Pegasus a profound symbolic and spiritual energy capable of granting access to Mt. Olympus and the esoteric realm of the gods. We mostly used it to sell gasoline at about 25 cents a gallon.

Written by tacomahistory

This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

2 comments

  1. This is one vintage sign that I’d love to see something just like it come back – maybe as some sort of public art. In the ideal world such a thing might happen…

    Like

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