George and Hanna Lawler built this Italianate residence 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,
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.