Singing in the Rain

The photographer is standing in front of the Rialto Theater, opened during the First World War in 1918, looking down 9th on a rainy day in the early 1920’s. Much would change in the next few years. The Winthop Hotel would rise from the vacant lot in the center on this picture and its parking garage would replace the Italianate Fife Hotel down on Pacific. There’s a good chance that many of the fashionable people in the image work in the entertainment district and are headed to one of 19 “ticket”theaters within a couple blocks on this late wet afternoon. The nearby boarding houses, apartment buildings and hotels were home to hundreds of stagehands, musicians, ushers, promoters, theatrical agents and ticket office management staff that trafficked the streets and alleys day and night. On any one of those given nights there were 10,000 theater seats to be filling in Tacoma’s legitimate movie and vaudeville houses, burlesque and music halls, and the many downtown jazz clubs and brown spots. A few hours after this photo was taken all the marquee lights would come on, ticket boxes would open and Tacoma’s theater district would blaze into the high life. I hear music.

Theater District


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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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