Home Grown Obstructionists

Here’s a quaint, deceptive portrait of the members of the Tacoma Delphinium Garden Club in a foreshortened perspective photograph. They are accepting the hands of time from old school clock fixer E. F. Ferrens in front of the tower and empty dial at City Hall in May 26, 1962. While the foreground is all Mayberry the background is dire with unseen diabolical shadings.
RC OCH clockWhen this picture was taken Tacoma’s government had moved to the freshly built County-City Building on Tacoma Avenue where chaos reigned, most of the City Council was recalled and elected officials carried guns to work and public meetings. The grand Italian Renaissance style City Hall was nearly vacant and beginning to deteriorate and Urban Renewal funds were readily available for blight removal. There was a powerful political leaning toward demolishing the “unfashionable monstrosity” along with almost any of the other “period” buildings downtown. Already the Romanesque County Courthouse adjacent to the Modern new joint government building had been demolished for a parking lot and city planners flush with millions in Federal revenue sharing dollars were hatching a scheme for a massive shopping mall that would redirect traffic away from a quickly fading downtown. In the near future whole blocks of the city would be replaced with Brutalist parking garages but for some reason efforts to clear cut old Tacoma never gained popular support.
In some government offices, the Delphinium Garden Club women were seen as part of the problem and subversive for their drive to restore the E. Howard & Co. clock and trigger efforts to save the old City Hall building.
All these forces were in play, while time stood still for this photograph. In the end, the Delphinium Club saved the clock and maybe the city, just in time.

Tacoma Public Library, D134799-2

Image by Andy Cox from the Recaptured City project.

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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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