Even in 1892 this vignette in front of The California Wine House at 1150 Pacific Avenue was something of a spectacle. Miss Mamie Williams and her puppy are attended by a catalog of facial hair displays, 5 cigars, five top hats, five watch chains and a story almost completely lost to the ages. Even a century later, you sense there is a punchline going unsaid here somewhere. Clearly the second puppy on the stoop at the far right has the good sense to stay out of it.
In fact this is one of those humorous moments captured by a camera that says something charming about people and there timeless ways. Here’s a little bit more about the stiffly posed people, their time and the place.
The man in the plaid suit trying so hard to stand erect and serious is Frederick Williams, Mamie’s dad and the owner of the California Wine House behind them. He was a tireless innkeeper and familiar business man in Tacoma at the turn of the 19th Century. His establishment was a landmark on Pacific Avenue, one of the first storefronts in the city to display an electric sign. Williams, in fact loved signs and banners and parades and brass bands and big beards. His own was not at all subtle and for more than 20 years it was his trademark.
Fred and his wife Clara started the Wine House before the Depression of 1893 and came out of it making a very good living selling wine and spirits on Tacoma’s main boulevard. By the late 1890’s they owned the building, added a lavish new interior that included a carved hardwood bar and cabinets, a hand laid tile floor, electrical lights and chandeliers, cut glass partitions and their own branded glass bottles for whiskey and wine. They also began a wholesale operation importing and distributing scotch and Irish whiskeys, french wines and even bottled Guinness direct from Dublin.
The Williams joined the ranks of the most successful liquor merchants in the Pacific Northwest and the California Wine House made the family wealthy indeed. The once drab saloon bloomed into a lively, illuminated centerpiece downtown and as the new Century transformed the city, the California Wine House electrified the streetscape around it.
In 1908 Fred and Clara had the prestigious architectural firm of Heath & Twichell build them a stylish “Spanish Colonial” bungalow house at 603 North D Street not far from Stadium High School which Frederick Heath had completed just two years before. By then Mamie was more interested in art and painting than puppies and went on to study in New York with with Franz Bischoff and Harriett Clark. There is an interesting society page mention of a large wedding party at the Williams house in 1911, the year Mamie married John McLeod and exhibited her work at the Tacoma Art League.
Neither of her parents survived prohibition and Mamie inherited the house where she and Jack lived the rest of their lives. Jack passed away in 1956 and Mamie kept the spectacular the garden and painted into her 100th year. People said she always did both with extravagant style and flourish, just like her father. She passed away in 1980.
Funny thing tho, in 1982, the new owners were tearing out a downstairs wall in the house and behind it they found a cache of more than 100 full bottles of liquor- 50 bottles of Guinness and a treasure of uncorked scotches, bourbons, wines and brandy. The 60 year old Munro’s Glenburn scotch was clear as amber and some of the unlabeled bottles were embossed with California Wine House.Whoever went to the trouble to hide them there wrapped the trove in newspapers dated 1921. Prohibition began in 1916 in Tacoma. and its probably safe to assume that Frederick Williams was not amused.