Tacoma, Washington – Historic Port City

A treasure trove of 19th century architecture abounds in this
Puget Sound town

Poised on Commencement Bay which is part of the larger Puget Sound and roughly half-way between the major seaport city Seattle and the state capital of Olympia, Tacoma Washington has a rich array of historic buildings and an important seaport of its own. I’m not sure about what its major exports are or the volume of that commerce, but it looks to figure right in line with its size relative to its sister towns…which is right in the middle. There’s also a great Arts scene here, too.

The Matador
The Matador on Pacific Avenue

My interest for our purposes is the historic architecture, and there is no shortage here. In fact it’s a treasure trove. Not only is downtown chock full of 19th century buildings, but the surrounding neighborhoods are also historic. And many of these buildings are still around because of the progressive liberal atmosphere (people are probably more likely to save old buildings here on the West Coast) and the relatively young age of towns out here – there are fewer generations of buildings so it’s more likely the original ones remain. I’m speaking (you may have noticed) as a recent transplant from the East Coast, where things move fast and old buildings are demolished without much thought. In fact, I’m involved with historic preservation there, and I can tell you it’s a constatnt battle to save historic structures.

Photojournalistic Approach

Old Town Hall Building
Old Town Hall Building, Tacoma, WA

While I always try to make unique pictures that express my artisic voice, these American small town/small city photos are essentially photojournalistic. That approach allows me to become immersed in a place and connect with its character, and to tell some part of its story. I’m not sure why, but I have a fascination with the idea of the American small town and small city, and its 19th century architecture. These buildings become repurposed for new businesses and residences, which is a cool concept to consider, and it makes sense. After all, they were built to last and should be redeveloped rather than bulldozed for less ornate, inspid modern structures.

It was with these thoughts—that have guided my work on this subject for several years now—that I made my way to Pacific Avenue, to see what exactly there was in Downtown Tacoma Washington. I wasn’t let down – 19th century buildings abound on both sides of the street, all the way down to the end of Pacific, where it meets Schuster Parkway. And most of them are home to restaurants, bars, cafes and all types of funky boutique-type businesses. I think they need a photography studio and gallery there – mine!

Port of Tacoma Washington
Port of Tacoma Washington

To continue, I wanted to make a short series of photos to capture my initial impressions of this awesome Puget Sound city. These were made down at the bay end of Pacific Avenue in a neighborhood that has many of the aforementioned funky new businesses. One of the most fascinating structures there is the empty Old Town Hall building. Hopefully it will be redeveloped into something that reflects and benefits the eclectic vibe of this small city. I’ll be going back for some drinks at The Matador and to visit some of the other fine establishments there, and of course, to make a lot more pictures. In the meantime, here are a few more:

Author: jamestcallahan

James T. Callahan is a commercial and fine art photographer based in Hillsborough, New Jersey. His specializations are in product, industrial and architecture. His fine art work takes a poetic look at the American Landscape through 19th Century architecture, historic and abandoned railroads and the American Small Town. You can see his work on his website at www.jamestcallahanphotographer.com, and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/jamestcallahan/.

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