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 catanary 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.
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 Hotel 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. 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.