In September 1942 downtown Tacoma was adjusting to wartime. The chasing lights of the theatre district marquees were blacked out many nights and the City kept the streetlights dark for Civil Defense aerial bombing drills. Japantown was eerily empty after the relocation of Tacoma’s Japanese American families in May and the newspapers carried stories of enemy submarines off the Washington Coast. With Fort Lewis just to the south and the shipyards at the port, Tacoma had every right to feel like a strategic target but citylife went on. Soldiers and wartime industry workers filled the movie houses, passing from the darkness of the streets to the blackness of the theaters watching newsreels of the war in the Pacific and Europe followed by the escapism of Hollywood. Tacoma was filled with people. The big mansions in the North end were converted into boarding houses and the downtown hotels became apartment buildings for the thousands of newcomers.

The streets became crowded with automobiles because the streetcar system was abandoned just before the war and parking lots were not yet more important than buildings. Just beyond these do gooders in the next block south on Market Street the streetscape was being given over to garages, auto repair shops and motor car parking. The Second World War was a time of transformation in downtown Tacoma as the automobile began to change everything-a change that in so many ways was just beginning. 

Wartime workers.Richards_Studio_D130256
Wartime auto mechanics

Tacoma Public Library, D13480-2

Image by Andy Cox from the Recaptured City project

Deeper dive Market Street Ghost

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