Boarding House, 1890

One of those everyday moments of community and neighborhood. Here’s a posed but comfortable portrait of the residents of a Tacoma boarding house on a summer day in 1890. The actual location is lost to time but the street numbers, in gold leaf, are clear on the transoms above the twin entries. These were the neighbors who received their mail at the same address, the parents who raised their little girls and boys in the sunny rooms and the boarders who kept and eye on them playing in the neat picket fenced yard.

This was a white collar address, probably at the edge of downtown, where clerks, agents and managers hung their varied hats (bowlers, soft rims and silk top hats) and the women could afford fashionable bustled city dresses. The building reflects modern Italianate styling with an accented paint scheme, bowed window boxes and fine lace curtains with roll up shades. There are formal newel posts at the wood plank sidewalks and a sense of compatible well being in the faces and postures of the lodgers. The composition suggests a social balance anchored in the middle by the women and children, weighed on the left by dark suited single men and counterbalanced on the right by the elderly couple on the porch and the two seated sisters in the window, one with her arm on the sill like a railroad locomotive engineer and the other reclined in an angle of relaxation and perhaps control.

Tacoma was rising fast in 1890 and these were the makers and biographies of the new metropolis. Prosperity was within their grasp, there were gold coins in every pocket, storebought suits and french porcelain dolls for the children. They could read the daily newspapers, write contracts and long letters and imagine a time when Tacoma would be the most important city in the Pacific Northwest. Statehood was only a few months old and three years into the future Tacoma’s ascension would stall. Some of these folks would move on to Seattle and then maybe the Klondike gold fields seeking their fortune. Some would stay but move to more modest lodgings as their income slumped with the economic depression. But some probably kept their address at this mannerly Tacoma boarding house- wherever it was…..



Photograph from the Washington State Historical Society collection: Catalog ID Number: 1990.56.8


  1. My grandmother ran a boarding house in Tacoma from before my mother was born in 1930 until the early 60’s. It was called “Burton House” and was located at 404 N G in a house that was once
    The “Monarch Club”. It was damaged in a fire and was torn down. I have a stained glass window from the house in my home now. My mother had a very interesting up bringing with lots of fun stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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