On a movie bent here recalling the 1923 film Safety Last staring Harold Lloyd. It may be the most thrilling movie ever made about how American cities like Tacoma blossomed in the 1920’s, both as a contemporary document and a very witty commentary. Its one of those risky parables about leaving home in the country for a chance at success in the big city in a new era of automobiles, skyscrapers, fashion and excitement. The Rialto and Pantages were almost new movie palaces when the film came out and it was a huge crowd pleaser as were all of Lloyd’s films. The immense popularity of Harold Lloyd’s movies in Tacoma was partly due to the fact that his leading lady Mildred Davis, was a graduate of Stadium High School. Harold and Mildred got married the year Safety Last came out and they enjoyed one of Hollywood’s most lasting romances ending only with Mildred’s passing in 1969. In April 1925, the glamorous couple visited Tacoma so Mildred could show off the Chateauesque High School she attended and visit her family and friends. The Lloyds made several trips to Tacoma during and after the city’s golden age of cinema, when the quixotic Weaver Studios were making big time movies at a sound stage near Titlow Beach and on the streets and surrounds of Tacoma. Safety Last is a soft drink during prohibition, its a folly and fantasy set in a very real new place, the modern American city of the 20th Century. I can never watch it without imagining 1920’s Tacoma in the background even though it was actually shot in Los Angeles.

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.

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