Arthur French, Photographer

And here is a small group of Tacoma photographs taken by Arthur French in the late 1890’s. French became one of Tacoma’s best studio photographers after the turn of the 20th Century but during his early Victorian period he excelled at landscapes and well composed city views. These cardboard mounted photographs, complete with French’s distinctly embossed Tacoma monograph came from my friend Gerry Collen and offer a insight into the city the young photographer saw through his ground glass lens.

CityMt.French (3)

The mountain never gets old as the centerpiece in a photograph and Arthur knew how to visually enhance its looming presence by cropping the image. That’s the old 15th Street railroad bridge that carried the Seattle bound NP over the tideflats. This photo predates the dredging of the Foss Waterway and captures the reflection of the Mountain during a high tide. Mid 1890’s.









11th.French (2)

Wonderful view looking up 11th from A Street with the Berlin Building on the right, the Central Lunch Building across Pacific from it and the six story Fidelity Building above it. The Romanesque tower of the Pierce County Courthouse rises from the top of the hill. That’s the People’s Store on the left where Starbucks is today and the fortress sits on the future site of the Federal Customs & Courthouse at 11th & A Street. It took some thought to capture both the electric streetcar passing on Pacific and the cable car making its way uphill. Streets are paved when the new City Hall gets finished at the end of Pacific in 1893 so this is from early 1890’s.

WrightPark.French (2)

Here’s Wright Park when Yakima Avenue ran right through and none of the trees and landscaping were more than a season or two old. Again early 1890’s, summer and early afternoon given the shadows.


MtCity.French (2)Here’s the Mountain again, this time from Commencement Bay looking back at the growing city. There are thousand of photos like this because so many people arrived in Tacoma by sea. From the ocean our seaport city makes a much better impression than coming by freeway where you barely see Puget Sound even though it makes up three quarters of the city limits.

TacMcKinleyHill (2)

A last view of the downtown and tideflats from McKinley Hill. The clock tower on City Hall is visible so the photo was taken after 1893 but Foss Waterway has not been dredged. That work is finished in 1899.


And finally, to show how Arthur French’s studio work would become his trademark, here is a masterpiece portrait of Lillian Foss probably taken about 1912. Besides her striking beauty, the setting and pose flood the subject with natural light. Her soft white dress gives off a luminescence that minimized the shadows on her face and the bouquets of flowers and fur rug give the entire composition a sense of being in the clouds.


Lillian was Thea’s Foss’ only daughter and this studio photograph was probably taken when she was about 16 years old.




  1. These are some of my favorite photos. I knew they were special and seeing the photos with a little history included is great. I bought these 20 years ago. They were in incredible shape but the seller put them all in an small envelope and the edges were damaged in shipment. Thank you Michael for Tacoma’s history in photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve really enjoyed this entire website of Tacoma history and pictures! This article on Arthur French really intrigues me because I have an old photograph taken of my great-great grandmother and her family, and I am wondering whether anyone can approximate when and where it was taken.

    May I forward the picture to someone and have them take a look at it?

    Thank you for your time.



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