Devil in the City

One of the bitterest things about the destruction of the Luzon Building in 2009 was that it was not the only structure in Tacoma designed by the renowned Chicago architects Burnham and Root. The sinister subplot in Erik Larson’s best selling book The Devil in the White City, about Burham’s  pivotal role in the design of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, seemed to have its own Tacoma spin off in the demise of both landmarks.  A year after the Luzon was completed in 1889 at Pacific Avenue and 13th, a much larger building came off the Chicago drawing table of John Root headed for a Tacoma street corner. This time it was at 11th and Broadway. A six story, rose brick sibling of the Luzon more than twice its footprint in size but unmistakably ornamented and arched by the same hand and imagination. It was called the Fidelity Building and in 1909 it was remarkably doubled in height when six additional floors were added in a lighter buff colored masonry. It became the city’s tallest skyscraper until the high hipped roof National Reality Building (Puget Sound Bank Building) was topped out in 1912. On the Fidelity’s upper floors it was a container for offices-insurance, lawyers, bookkeepers and bookies and on the ground floor across from the Crystal Public Market it was ringed with small restaurants, haberdashers and smoke shops. In its day, the shoe shine stand in the lobby was an emporium for merchandise and services that would make Amazon seem small time. The Fidelity Building was one of the city’s first targets for post World War Two Urban Renewal, demolished in 1949 to make way for a work of logo architecture, a F.W. Woolworth Store, the Walmart of its day. The first two images in this set face one another at skyscraper level, looking to and from the National Reality Building still standing on Pacific Avenue. In the silhouette of the photographer, standing high up in the ruins of the Fidelity Building during its demolition, he seems to be examining a crime scene. 


  1. Tacoma seems to be compilation of bad decisions and lack of vision from the git. How we’ve ended up with a downtown that has become a vibrant destination is as much a mystery as a miracle.


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