Eighteen days after his inauguration as president on March 4, 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Beer and Wine Revenue Act marking the beginning of the end for prohibition in America. It’s safe to assume that the Innocenti family of Tacoma were big time supporters of the new president because just a few months after FDR took office they opened a neon blazing new business at the corner of 13th and Broadway that not only celebrated the legalizing of beer but borrowed FDR’s campaign song. The new beer parlour was called Happy Days Here Again with Ido Innocenti as the owner of record for the family and Albert Innocenti the manager and host at the establishment.
When the Happy Days Here Again neon first flickered on in 1933 the bar had European style divided entries with a more genteel “Ladies” side complete with tables and chairs, serving trays and napkins and a rougher standing saloon on the other side for “Gents”. The saloon side tolerated (and sold) cigars and salty language while a dutch lunch was set out on tablecloths on the ladies side and hand painted murals of Classical Italy graced the walls.
Innocenti’s new beer parlor shared the ground floor of the Hurley Building with the Tokyo Cafe, a Japanese American establishment that had occupied the mezzanine level of the 1905 building since the late teens.
The upper three floors were run as a hotel first called the Brendan and later the Le Roy. On the southern edge of Tacoma’s Japantown, the Hurley Building was unique for its fireproof cast concrete block construction when most of the surrounding neighborhood was built in brick, cut stone or wood frame.
This was the core of Nihonmachi, along Broadway between 13th and 17th, where Tacoma’s Japanese American merchants and inn keepers thrived between the turn of the century and the Second World War. The district intersected with Little Italy creating a ethnically mixed commercial neighborhood full of restaurants, grocery stores, clothiers and small businesses. Tacoma’s Japanese and Italian residents shared a food connection-with relatives operating abundant vegetable, fruit and berry farms in the Fife Valley and family members operating day stalls full of produce in the public markets.
The Innocenti’s classy new bar replaced the Japanese owned Eastern House of Bargains in the low ceiling ground floor of the Hurley Building. During the 20’s, the exotic fragrances of chop suey and oysters from the mezzanine cafe would have been mixed with the shopping excitement of discounted $3.98 dresses, gentlemen’s undershirts 2 for a dollar and silk stockings for 69 cents.
Beer bumped bargains however as the great depression set in and the corner location seemed ripe for neon lights, high waisted aprons and ice cold beer. Happy Days became a local landmark during the 1930’s and was remodeled in 1940. It was popular with soldiers and stayed open during the war years but the removal of the Japanese American community in May of 1942 left most of the neighboring storefronts and hotels empty. The Happy Days were over. The street turned ugly in the late 40’s and 50’s with police raids on gambling and opium dens and rumors of organized crime operations tainting the block. By 1965 the ground floor level was boarded up and the upstairs hotel was considered a fire trap. Federal urban renewal funds were used to level the whole block and today the Murano Hotel fills the site.
In 1933, on the occasion of the opening of Happy Days, Al Innocenti commissioned Richards Studios to create a set of photographs to celebrate and advertise the family’s new establishment. He managed to position himself in every shot, glass in hand and hat on head. See if you can find him in his happy days.