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.