Market Street Ghost

George and Hanna Lawler built this Italianate 920-marketresidence in 1885 at 930 Market Street about where the parking garage is next to the Urban Grace church at 9th and Market. The completely windowless north wall suggests they expected very close neighbors but Market Street was about to undergo a regrade and by 1920 the entire block was lined with storefronts and sidewalks. The size, design quality and compact design of the house says a lot about the ambitions of Tacoma’s first city builders. The Lawlers belonged to the merchant class and business was good for a lumber seller in a fast growing city of hand built wooden neighborhoods. Heck the kids, Ellen and George, each had brand new bicycles.

This stretch along Market Street seems flat and uninteresting today once you get past the Rialto Theater and Urban Grace Church that mark the intersection at 9th. The west side of the street, where the Lawlers lived, was partially regraded about 1900, the public markets at 11th pumped foot traffic and retail businesses into the block and the fancy wood frame houses from the railroad days were quickly replaced. For a time, the block was lined with merchants, clothing stores, haberdashers and the phone company. Then came the automobile and the cold fact that with no streetcar on it, Market became the best access for driving and parking. The first garage appeared in 1919 followed by tire dealers, a gas station and the first “multi level parking garages”. When Rhodes Department store bought the mid-block Judson Building in 1920 and connected it by skybridge to the main store on Broadway, chaos erupted every Saturday morning and most of the month of December.

In 1961, Rhodes acquired most of the west side of the street, including the former site of the Lawler’s lofty Italianate manse and,

Lafayette Building ca. 1960

notably, an architectural reminder of the steep Market Street hillside of wooden city days. In 1890 a three story hotel was built on the corner of 11th and Market, with the same fine Renaissance detailing, Mansard cornice, boxed oriel windows and Italianate style. It was called the Lafayette and now it was the last remnant of the high style days.  Word was around town that a shopping mall was planned on the new Interstate 5 “freeway with unlimited free parking. To fend it off Rhodes was building its own parking garage with free parking for its customers and another rain free skybridge with heaters-Beat that you free parking mall! The Lafayette was demolished and the concrete and marble-crete garage was opened in 1961 followed by the skybridge in 1967. It worked for a while but Rhodes closed for good after Christmas shopping season in 1974. Both Rhodes Department Store and the Lafayette building stood for 70 years but the most ambitious looking structure on Market Street-the Lawler House with its magnificent stairway and cut stone wall-was torn down before its 15th year.

Market Street looking north from 11th, ca, 1935


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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. George would eventually build another beautiful home in Fife. His first wife passed away in 1902, and he married her sister by the time of the 1910 census (for which he is listed twice–in Tacoma and also in Fife).


  2. Rhodes’ Dept. Store looks like it’s on the wrong side of the street. Fishers’ Dept. Store was on the south side of 11th & Broadway (it became the Bon); Rhodes was on the north side of 11th.

    I would love to see a photo of Market Street with the food markets. I remember one that had horse meat during WWII.


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