DISTRACTED BY THE trio of natural and architectural jewels strewn across the skyline of this 1910 photo of Tacoma’s north downtown, we easily could miss the discreet banner stretched over a roadway in the foreground shadows.
Its crisp caption: “You’ll like Tacoma.”
The year-old slogan originally had been adopted by Tacoma promoters during archrival Seattle’s first world’s fair, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, meant to encourage visitors to venture south to the self-styled City of Destiny.
Directly across Lake Union from the fairgrounds (today’s University of Washington campus), boosters had erected their Paul Bunyan-sized solicitation in huge, electrically illuminated letters.
The motto was both “an invitation and a prophecy,” gushed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “and it fit [Tacoma] like a new glove: neat, apt, modest and winsome.”
The $30,000 campaign also included buttons, flyers and paid ads. Even a “patriotic march song” was commissioned to amplify the message:
You’ll like Tacoma
Where rail meets sail,
Where all are prosperous,
Hearty and hale,
Down on Commencement Bay,
A New York’s growing, day by day,
Tacoma, the peer of all.
For Paris-born photographer Paul Leo Richards, his popular “Then” photo, captured a year after the exposition, was a valentine to his adopted city. Newly arrived in 1891, the ambitious Frenchman wore many hats — inventor, investor and innovator — but is best known for documenting and celebrating the shining attributes of Tacoma.
This notable municipal portrait also subtly tweaks the Tacoma-Seattle rivalry. Just for fun, let’s keep score:
● The Mountain That Was God, a mere 40 miles to the southeast, looms gloriously large. Tacomans persisted in calling it Mount Tacoma or Tahoma, its native moniker, disparaging the Seattle- (and USGS-) approved namesake, English Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. Names aside, Tacoma has always rocked the mountain view.
Point: Grit City.
● At center right, Northern Pacific Railroad’s Headquarters, completed in 1888, overlooks train-track ribbons and Commencement Bay. The creamy, stucco-covered structure also commemorates Tacoma’s 1873 triumph over Seattle, when the railroad chose the tiny (population 200) unincorporated town as its western terminus, in one fell swoop breaking more than 1,000 Queen City hearts.
Point: the City of Destiny for the snub.
● At right, just across Pacific Avenue, stands Tacoma’s commanding Old City Hall, built in 1893. A superb example of Italian Renaissance style, its 8-foot-thick foundation walls support a free-standing clock/campanile tower, slightly tapered to emphasize its soaring 10 stories. Seattle, having just erected a more utilitarian flatiron city hall in 1909, might well have expressed envy.
Point: You’ll prefer Tacoma, for the win.