In the years between the building of Camp Lewis before the first world war and the proliferation of televisions and suburbs after the second, not a year went by that downtown Tacoma didn’t host several grand parades. Marching bands, drill teams, military units, clowns, floats, horses, elephants, and elks all enlivened the streets. Along the sidewalks and rooftops the community gathered to share one spectacle after another, festive and free of charge. My late friend Joe Kosai remembered sitting on the fire escape of his family’s hotel on Pacific Avenue one summer Saturday in the early 1930’s. He was 6 or 7 and his legs hung down between the iron railings as he licked an ice cream cone and watched a clown on stilts pass at second story eye level. In a moment of distraction his little grip on the cone failed and the ball of ice cream plummeted down directly onto the cap of a beat cop below. Joe remembered crying at first but then then breaking into laughter along with the whole crowded street that had turned to see the little guy with the empty cone and the cop below. He became the parade.
The picture here is of a Thanksgiving Day parade just getting started at the North end of town in 1935. Santa must still be in the Elks Lodge warming himself.
Tacoma Public Library, D628-7
Image by Andy Cox from the Recaptured City project
Why they call it a parade grounds…… Fort Lewis drills in 1940 when a lot was about to happen.
A footnote on how some parades can go bad……..
On July 1, 1940, there was a parade in Tacoma to celebrate the grand, nearly simultaneous openings of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and McChord Field. The most unusual float was that of Tacoma’s YMCA, Phalanx Club. Four young men (no doubt each with a magnetic personality) silvered themselves and rode on the float while holding up a large globe. Here are the men – minus the globe, which raises the question why it took four guys to do Atlas’ job. Before the year’s end, the bridge, which quickly became known as Galloping Gertie, had collapsed into the Narrows.
Also see; Coulrophobia & Fog