The Dougan Block at 1721-25 Jefferson is an elder in the warehouse district with a slightly slapstick backstory. Like all of the sturdy warehouses built along the Prairie Line it was a choice piece of Tacoma real estate when it was built in 1890. Warehouses backed directly onto the main Northern Pacific Prairie Line were elite freight shippers and typically charged customers a premium rate for handling and storing their products. That fact considered, the owners of the Dougan Block inexplicably asked the local architecture firm of Pickles & Sutton to design their new building with a space taking meeting hall upstairs-for the Odd Fellows. James M. Dougan was the contractor who built the masonry structure and his Odd Fellow membership may have had something to do with the organization’s occupancy. The quirky assembly hall was a good luck charm for the building and its main tenant, Pacific Storage & Transfer, operated for more than 60 years, longer than any warehouse in the district.
The northern storefront at 1725 Jefferson was occupied for 40 years by the Kelley-Clark Company, wholesalers in the curious specialties of laundry starch for collars and Staley’s Pancake and Waffle syrup. The local company was affiliated with A.E. Staley Manufacturing in Decatur Illinois , the second largest processor of corn in the country (which was the common ingredient in starch and syrup). In 1920 the Company Football team, “The Staleys” hired a young coach named George Halas and eventually the team moved to the big city and became the Chicago Bears.
During its history the Dougan Building has housed a saloon, bottling plant, vending machine company (which were often fronts for shady enterprises), coffee and flour wholesalers and the local offices of the Otis Elevator Company. Just after the featured 1949 photo was made, most of the shippers in the district began moving to the port area and the Prairie Line withered as a freight arterial. As the downtown faded following the completion of I-5, the Dougan survived on income from its Jefferson storefronts but the neighborhood turned rough. In 1982 the ground floor was rehabilitated for a popular restaurant and then the University of Washington Tacoma arrived to provide the building with a bright and lively future. Odd, yes but the Dougan may be the luckiest building in town.
Tacoma Public Library, D25412-3
Image by Andy Cox from the Recaptured City project