So in 1949 Rhodes Department Store at Broadway and 11th “Modernized” its facade with a band of bland. This photo captures perfectly the unexplainable logic of urban renewal in pre automobile cities in the post war era. This facade faces the brand new Woolworth Building that has an equally blank upper facade above picture window storefronts. It was the beginning of a canyon of windowless walls downtown that would get really scary when the mall opened in 1963 and most of the retail bailed on the city’s downtown. By the mid 60’s, Tacoma’s downtown was a sucking chest wound and in desperation this block would be converted into the south end of Broadway Plaza in 1973. The pedestrian only outdoor mall idea lasted about a decade, left a legacy of Brutalist parking garages and escalades, and plunged the downtown into perhaps its most vacuous days.

The most dismal, almost surreal element of the Broadway Plaza effort was indeed the escalades-moving flat stairways set in florescent lit tunnels with piped in elevator musak. After a few years, the bearings on the escalators began to groan, the flourescent lights began to flicker on and off and the sound volume drifted between wierd whispers and deafening noise. On a dark rainy night being in one of the escalades was like an episode of the Walking Dead before the zombies show up. 

Somehow it all made sense if you think of this massive blank facade element as progress and there is no memory of Rhodes and the other big department stores on Broadway. Hilarious and so sad.

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.


  1. I am 71, born and raised in Tacoma. I bought my wedd g dress at Peoples and the veil at Rhodes. There are many fond memories of taking the bus downtown and walking, looking at the windows and taking in the character of the downtown life. These are wonderful memories that I cherish.


  2. This article suggests Broadway Plaza and the escalades were part of the same bad urban reaction to the rise of malls. My recollection is the escalades came much earlier, as part of the Federal “urban renewal” program. Tacoma has a long history of bad decisions about downtown.


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