Taking the Streetcar to the Show

The best and busiest streetcars in Tacoma’s past ran through the theater district, a hub created with the construction of the Grand Tacoma Theatre in 1889. The pulsing triangled space at 9th and Broadway was boosted by the construction of the Pantages and Rialto theaters just after World War One ended. At it5 pinacle, the theater district included the Colonial, Strand, Blue Mouse and many smaller and sometimes shadier houses. When this image was made and the man styling the boater hat was waiting on the car, the theater district was second only to the port as a job center for the city. Every theater had a live orchestra and even the film houses had live Vaudeville acts. Musicians, ushers, waiters bootleggers and streetwise opportunists all made up the large nighttime workforce, some in the legitimate houses that fronted on the triangle, and some working the adult entertainment businesses that faced onto the back streets of Commerce and Opera Alley. Many of the buildings in the district had both front and rear entries and many of the artists worked both “streets”. Tacoma’s first radio station broadcast from the ballroom atop the Winthop Hotel where it sent out the sounds of dance bands and the dreamy illusion of gowns and tuxedos floating above the city. Magazines, cigarettes, cosmetics, fashion and romance called listeners to the city and the theatre district was the payoff. Bright lights, glamorous high style clothes and exotic locals on the big screen attracted thousands to Tacoma as the skyline rocketed up and the downtown vibrated with energy day and night. Here’s the ghost of Tacoma in the 20’s before sound movies, television and the fire in 1963 that destroyed the Tacoma Theater and marked the day the downtown died.

Since this story was first posted the amazing discovery of the Tacoma made silent film, The Eyes of the Totem was rediscovered. The whole story comes to moving life in the film so see it if you can, if fact, take the streetcar to the show.

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