Over a string of cold days in February 1923 almost two feet of snow fell on downtown Tacoma rendering the few narrow wheeled automobiles in town completely useless. The few operating streetcar lines were troubled by snow banks and downed catenary lines and transportation was so difficult that the police investigated scalping by bus drivers that were charging 25 cents on nickel routes. The cable cars running up 13th got very busy when the schools closed and kids started sledding down the hilly, empty downtown streets. And out on Puyallup Avenue, where Roy C. Smith ran one of city’s the last livery stables, it was time for sleigh bells, a horse in harness and an old cutter sled.

Sled.Marvin_D_Boland_Collection_BOLANDB7387

The photographer Marvin Boland found Smith, his one horse open sleigh and his well bundled guests, D.A. LaJose and Charles McManus in front of the landmark totem pole at 10th and A street. He made this time warp glass plate image with Pacific Avenue in the background and the grand Tacoma HotelSled.General_Photograph_Collection_G311007 just behind him to the right. It’s easy to imagine the rig continuing forward under the portico at the massive Tudoresque building  where the riders could find a fire blazing in the lobby’s cavernous fireplace and a mug of  warm spirits in the legendary bar.

The Tacoma Hotel would have been busy with guests and downtowners that chilly day, enjoying the bank of windows that opened onto the block long veranda and the view of the harbor beyond. It’s easy to imagine Tacoma in winter during the early 20’s with skyscrapers rising, grand movies palaces and theatres full of people, radios playing Tacoma’s local stations and modern automobiles crowding the streets.11130277_10205459929273612_1747619567960272095_n Less than two years after this sleighride image, movie director W.C. Van Dyke would frame the same view for a scene in Eyes of the Totem, a silent film made by Tacoma’s ambitious Weaver Studios.

The same year, 1925, the Winthrop Hotel would open at 9th and Broadway marking the end of the glory days for the grand Tacoma Hotel. A decade later, in 1935, the monumental hotel would be lost in one of the city’s most devastating fires. But in Boland’s magical winter portrait all that was still ahead, like snow without hoofprints or sled trails. He was looking back through his lens at a time that was quickly passing, an instant frozen between times.

Sled.Chapin_Bowen_Collection_G301130
End of Prohibition at the Tacoma Hotel,  ca.1932
sled. may 1924Marvin_D_Boland_Collection_BOLANDB10146
This auto is parked exactly where the sleigh is posed in Boland’s photograph with the Tacoma Hotel and Totem Pole just behind him as he made the photo. ca. 1924

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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