Tacoma’s Grandest Secret Place

For anyone who has ever marveled at the exterior of Stadium High School but then ventured into the incongruous, somewhat disappointing, “modernized” interior there is better ending. Although architect Frederick Heath’s original interior is long since gone, another hidden chamber in Tacoma holds all the point in time drama, detail and  dimension of the designer’s mind. At exactly the same time he was designing the reconstruction of the Tourist Hotel as Tacoma High School in 1906, Heath was creating the Tacoma Temple of the Knights of Pythias in the center of the theater district at 924 Broadway. At the beautiful building’s heart is Castle Hall, a soaring, theatrical two story high room with rich Douglas fir paneling, massive scrolled brackets supporting a three sided balcony and classical entablature and murals ringing the space. During Andy and Joe’s reshoot of this September 24, 1924 cast photo from the play “Tahmamaiwis” presented by the Pythian Sisters, they realized a startling, almost inconceivable sameness. Not only was the architecture unchanged, the furniture, wall finishes, artwork and fixtures aligned precisely- after 89 years and one day. Everything changes but sometimes the pace of change is spellbinding.

Tacoma Public Library, Boland Collection B11021 Unique: 37181.   d 14.8.14image003


Stadium 1949


The Pythians have been opening the building up for community events and lectures and the landmark has become a clubhouse for the often pithy Cartoonists League of Absurd Washingtonians (C.L.A.W.). Once hidden and secret its now a place you can get into and never forget once you’ve been there. On my list of Great Tacoma Interior’s its right there with the Casablanca Apartments, Union Station rotunda and the Pantages. 

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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.


  1. I used to play the saxophone in the Knights of Pythias Band back in the 60’s, when I was in High School.


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