This is a rare interior photo of Theodore Peterman’s carpentry business at 2533 Jefferson Ave. in Tacoma. Large format cameras using glass plate negatives could record amazing details with very little light providing movable things like people remained perfectly motionless during the long exposure time. Clearly these carpenters were cooperating with the photographer by holding their poses and the result is luminous and startling. The closer you look at this image the sweeter the story it tells, right down to the very modern electric light bulbs-in 1890!.
From the work clothes, aprons, caps and beards its clear the men are European immigrants, fresh Americans who brought old world skills with them to their new country. In the days when most homes and smaller commercial buildings were hand made from local stone, brick and lumber, the finest quality local and imported wood was sent to shops like this where furniture quality architectural features and ornaments were carved and crafted with hand tools. The next grade down of cut lumber would be used for interior doors, windows, some flooring and interior running trim and base. You can almost smell the fragrance of fresh cut wood in the shop and hear the shuffle of work boots on wood shavings. It really is a marvel to look at the material in this image. The entire building from roof framing to floors is made of wood. The work benches and work products they make on them are wood and even the beautiful hand planes and tool handles are hardwood. It was the arboreal language everyone in the shop understood.
T.F. Peterman’s shop was just uphill from the massive Pacific Brewery and less than a block from its monumental ice house at the corner of Jefferson and 25th. By 1900, the neighborhood we call today the Brewery District was busy with shops and small factories like this that were crafting the cities and towns of the Pacific Northwest, one elegant piece at a time.
The site today with the Pacific Malthouse, Elf Storage and the Tacoma Dome in the distance.