On this fiercely cold Wednesday afternoon the Pacific Avenue crossing of the Prairie Line had a bleak empty quality. The invasion of the automobile was beginning to close in around Union Station and the elevated railroad watchtower that was once occupied 24 hours a day by a signalman who could stop road traffic at any time was empty, the street conceded to sedans, buses and a few trucks. A gas station controlled the pie shaped 17th street corner and the prized wall sign space on the North wall of the Russell Joy building (where brands like AMOCAT and Heidelberg were once posted) advertized new 1941 Chevrolets for $893.

British and Australian forces had taken

Oct 30.1941
3rd Brigade Ft. Lewis, October 30, 1941

the strategic North African seaport of Tobruk after a siege of 241 days and news coming in by radio of the desert campaign reached Tacoma on a day when snow was forecast. The wind seems to be coming down through the warehouse district on the Prairie Line, whipping at the hem and upturned collar of the man’s overcoat like the ghost breeze from a passing locomotive. The coming Spring and summer would bring grand military parades to Pacific Avenue and Union Station would see its last busy years as young soldiers began arriving for a growing U.S. Army. Just 12 weeks before this photograph, Tacoma’s new suspension bridge, that took a year to build, became a spectacular failure and before 1941 ended Pearl Harbor would be attacked and America’s entry into World War Two would begin in the nearby Pacific. Japantown would disappear in a day, Mayor Cain would resign to serve with General Dwight Eisenhower in Europe.

So much would change so soon within the lense of this camera but on this winter day the photographer would record the normalcy of the city of Tacoma almost 70 years after it was born with the arrival down these tracks of the transcontinental railroad. More years of Tacoma’s history have passed since this photograph than before. Its a reminder of the good times and bad that have walked along this street, along these tracks where the wind still blows down through the warehouses along the Prairie Line.

 

PacAve 1.41

TPL, NWR, Photo Archive, Image :Richards_Studio_D107234

Written by tacomahistory

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.

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