UWT Honors Those Who Serve

Last Thursday, the Diversity Resource Center and UWT honored America’s troops in the sixth annual Memorial Day celebration hosted at the university.

“Veteran students, staff and faculty are an integral part of the university,” said Chancellor Debra Friedman, as she opened the event.

Friedman’s opening was followed by the presentation of the colors, which was conducted by the Intertribal Warrior Honor Society, a group of Native American veterans, all of whom have served in combat.

Gary Condra, the deputy director of Washington State Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the event’s first speaker, focused his talk, not on his own two decades of service, but on the many programs Veteran’s Affairs is working to provide for veterans in Washington state.

Through programs such as VetCore, a group of veterans who help fellow veterans navigate university life and finish school, or programs that provide reintegration for incarcerated and homeless veterans, Condra focuses on helping veterans return from multiple deployments and become successful in life.

“We do our best to connect them with the services that they’ve earned,” he said.

The event’s next speaker, C.J. Webb, was the 2013 Distinguished Veteran Alumni.  After 22 years of service, Webb began attending UWT, and has graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

“Military service is one of the highest callings you can aspire to,” said Webb.

She requested two favors from the audience as they celebrated the Memorial Day weekend. The first was to take a moment during the business of the weekend to remember those who had fallen. The second was to thank, not only the soldiers who have served in the Iraq war, but also those who served in controversial wars such as Vietnam.

To finish the festivities, Tacoma born country singer Jonathan Harris performed his original song “Thanks to You I’m Free.” Harris wrote this song as a thank you to those who have served, and through the “Thanks to You I’m Free” Project, he is working to get the song to every soldier in the military.

 

Photo by Andy Cox

Let’s All Not Go to the Lobby

During its opening weekend, I decided to go see “The Great Gatsby,” having been impressed by the colorful 1920s stylishness and fashion in the trailers.  As a fan of the literary work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I had high hopes for the movie, hoping that this new adaptation would far exceed my expectations, more so than the 1974 one with Robert Redford as Gatsby or the made-for-television A&E version from 2000.

After I had purchased my ticket for $11, I was quite put off guard because $11 was a lot of money for me.  Before “The Great Gatsby,” the last movie I had seen in a theater was the third “Jackass” movie in 2010.  I paid around $9 for a ticket and that was just the price for 2-D!

Since I was a little hungry, I decided to visit the concessions stand in the lobby.  I had known that the prices of the food items would be exorbitant, but I interpreted the growling in my stomach as a sign that I should buy some snacks.  I looked at the menu and what I had expected was way beyond exorbitant.  Nachos are a favorite snack of mine, but they were $12 with a large drink.  Two large sodas and a large box of popcorn sold for nearly $20–good thing I didn’t have a date with me (as usual).

I have been gaining weight, so naturally my hungering stomach commanded me to buy meager box of nachos and barely enough hot cheese.

I know that the reason why movie theaters charge high prices for snacks is so that they can keep movie ticket prices low.  However, this practice doesn’t seem to work because ticket prices are getting high.  Now I know DVDs and piracy may play a role in the increase of movie ticket prices, but I still hate paying over $10.

Why is everything so expensive nowadays?  I know that the obvious reason is inflation.  But still.  When I was a kid in 1992, the video game I most wanted was “Street Fighter II” for the Super Nintendo.  At first, my father didn’t want to buy it for me because it was $39.99 at Sears, and that was a lot of money for him.  Fortunately, he bought it for me.  When “Street Fighter IV” was released in 2009 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 it was $59.99–a twenty dollar increase.

I wish everything were more like books.  In olden times, books were expensive and rare, and only the nobility and clergy owned books because they were the only ones who could read.  However, with the invention of the printing press, books became more available and affordable and as an added bonus, literacy increased.  As the years passed, bookmaking technology improved, adding to the affordability and wide distribution of books.  And then paperback technology came along, making books even cheaper.  Right now, the current trend consists of electronic readers and electronic books, which make reading and collecting books more convenient and buying books more affordable, even more so than paperback books.

With books, as the technology gets better, the prices go down.  With video games and movies, as the technology improves, the prices go up.  I know this a simplified way of viewing things, but it should be worth noting.  And of course, inflations affects books, too, so books cost more nowadays than they did before.  However, one reason video game and movie companies charge is to compensate for piracy.  The book industry has always had a long battle with piracy, both in the past and present.

There is still hope for finding affordable merchandise.  Used bookstores sell DVDs and video games, as well as books for dirt cheap prices.  Although I still shop at Best Buy, Game Stop, and Barnes and Noble, and will see a movie at a movie theater once in a while, I mostly buy used and affordable.

 

Illustration by Danielle Burch.

‘Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon’ Spotlights a Human Superhero

“Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon” is a new paperback release from Marvel Comics. It collects issues from the purple-clad Avenger’s monthly series and other material featuring the archer superhero, Clint Barton, and his spunky comrade, Kate Bishop.

The Capes & Cowls Book Club will be discussing the book May 28 at local independent bookseller King’s Books. The title is available there at a 15 percent book club discount.

Before, I never felt bothered about missing out on the newest attempt at a Hawkeye solo series, but these stories expose what’s worthwhile about the character: his humanity. The first story in the collection opens with the title character falling off a building onto a car and his subsequent hospital recovery. This scene sets the stage for what is not your average super heroic invulnerable power fantasy.

Author Matt Fraction is no stranger to the espionage comic book script with previous work like Casanova. His writing works well with the styles of David Aja and Javier Pulido, the two Spanish artists with top billing on the title.

The featured adventures include your standard high-octane action thrill rides – sequences in action or crime movies but not often the norm in superhero settings: back room poker games, blackmail, and a trip to Marvel’s fictional good-time crime island, Madripoor.

The art on the book is simply stunning. David Aja’s thick, rough line work gives each scene a gritty feel. The illustrations of Hawkeye’s classic trick arrows are a nice touch, appearing like gadgets from a Sharper Image catalog.

It must be hard for Matt Fraction not to make lots of references to other comic titles in the Marvel line, since he writes a lot of them (like key issues of the recent mega-crossovers “Fear Itself” and “Avengers vs. X-Men”) but he dodges the confusion by glossing over some details and focusing on the topic at hand: how to make Hawkeye look cool.

Hawkeye’s compatriot, Kate Bishop, who is also known as Hawkeye, steals the show. Their mentor/student banter provides much of the life of the story. If you’re confused about who she is, the trade also includes Young Avengers Presents #6 featuring the first meeting of the two characters with art by Excalibur veteran Alan Davis.

This story from the Young Avengers spinoff shows stark contrast in the computer coloring process. Here the glossy pages are necessary due to the brilliant, detailed explosion of colors compared to the more muted, flat coloring the Hawkeye series received.

I had heard a lot of praise for the title – friends have shared posts and news about it – and when I read the first issue I thought it had been a little over-promoted, but as I read on I was treated to some pretty decent adventure stories.

Also: purple! I’m told people like purple flourishes. This book has those.

 

Illustration by Danielle Burch.

Making Life into Spectacle at the Seattle International Film Festival

I’m happy to have realized that enjoying independent movies doesn’t require that one become a stuffy bourgeois nitwit. While it feels like you have to put on a collared shirt to visit an opening night at an art gallery, and maybe even a bow tie for the symphony, nobody cares what you’re wearing in the darkness of a movie theater. Even intellectually stimulating movies are pretty much shown to a level playing field. I think independent movies often reflect this fact by entertaining us with glimpses of fairly commonplace experiences.

The positive effect of all this is that even if it’s outwardly clear that I’m the kind of guy who’ll laugh at a fart joke, I need not pretend otherwise to enjoy quality cinema. Recognizing my tasteful sensibilities, the Seattle International Film Festival has presented me with opportunities to preview some of their fine offerings. Here are two movies soon to be shown at SIFF that truly celebrate the spirit of ordinary people.

 

“Mistaken for Strangers”

Tom Berninger is the brother of Matt Berninger, lead-singer for the band, The National. “You’re more famous than any of my friends,” Tom points out to Matt in the movie. Tom doesn’t have any famous friends. As anyone who has siblings can confirm, success like Matt’s can make for a tense family dynamic.

Tom’s documentary is as lucid as it is touching, following his experience as a roadie for the group along its world tour. From a totally meta-type perspective with seemingly no cut-scenes or editing, he shows viewers exactly how disappointingly un-rockstarish a rock star band can be these days and how much work it takes to put on mega concerts. As the doc progresses, Tom’s constant and honest filming reveals a profound truth: that we’re all just regular Joe’s with regular problems when our souls are on display. This is especially true of relationships and history among family members.

Despite the feeling of watching something made by a total amateur, when it’s all over, there’s a real sense of having witnessed pure genius. “Mistaken for Strangers” gives one the impression that anyone’s life could be made into a great movie. Tom Berninger is going to be famous.

Festival Screenings:

Monday, May 20, Egyptian Theater, 7 p.m. – Director Tom Berninger scheduled to attend

Tuesday, May 21, Egyptian Theater, 4 p.m. – Director Tom Berninger scheduled to attend

 

“C.O.G.”

David Sedaris is pretty unanimously revered among readers. It’s not his sordidly masochistic adventures that we admire, but the way he makes us feel as we take pleasure at every misadventure that fills his books. “C.O.G.” is a similarly hilarious anecdote of his foolish bumbling while conversely snaring audiences with his dry wit.

This time, Sedaris has plopped himself into Oregon where his dreamy Yale intellectualism is less than helpful for making friends or pulling apples off of trees in the orchard where he labors. Being a glutton for punishment, we get to watch Sedaris try to do just that with cringing results.

Did I mention that David Sedaris is laugh-out-loud funny? His writing covers regular old slice-of-life situations, but it’s his observations of our collective everyday absurdity that we love. Like him, I find that the more I adopt an awareness toward the day-to-day happenings of life, the more amused I become by the spectacle of it all. One need not be cynical about it either; in fact, it’s far better to experience it all open-eyed and with an open heart the way David does in “C.O.G.” Under the tutelage of Sedaris, even Mondays can be a riot.

Festival Screenings:

Friday, May 24, Egyptian Theatre, 4 p.m. – Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez scheduled to attend.

Sunday, May 26, Egyptian Theatre, 7 p.m. – Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez scheduled to attend.

Monday, May 27, Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, 6 p.m.

Photo courtesy of Seattle International Film Festival.

Author Tribute of the Month: Sir James Matthew Barrie

May God blast anyone who writes a biography of me,” declared J.M. Barrie, in a curse sprawled across the pages of one his last notebooks.  Hopefully, no curses will ensue as I write about the man who seemed to harbor child-like tendencies and be fascinated with the concept of never growing up.

J.M. Barrie was born in Kirriemuir, Scotland on May 9, 1860, and is most known for writing the famous story of “Peter Pan” or “The Boy Who Would Never Grow Up.” Barrie was born to a conservative Calvinist family. His father, David Barrie, was a modestly successful weaver, and his mother, Margaret, had assumed her deceased mother’s household responsibilities at the age of eight. When Barrie was six years old, his older brother David died two days before his 14th birthday in an ice-skating accident. This left his mother completely devastated because David was supposedly her favorite child. Interestingly, Barrie often wore his older brother’s clothing and mimicked his mannerisms in order to appease his mother. Barrie’s mother found comfort in the fact her deceased son would remain a boy forever, never to grow up and leave her. This childhood trauma that Barrie experienced could be related to his character Peter Pan, who has similar aspirations of not wanting to grow up.

Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Barrie attended various academies and then later enrolled at University of Edinburgh to further his education. Barrie was always quite shy and introverted but most of this insecurity was brought on by the fact that he was only about five feet tall and often felt like a child who was attending university. Barrie had wanted to be an author but his family was hesitant and instead encouraged him into ministry. Barrie later found a compromise and from the advice of his older brother he settled on studying literature. After graduating from university in 1882, Barrie attained a job in journalism working for the Nottingham Journal. Although critics disparaged his early work, calling it sentimental and nostalgic and not acknowledging the modernism sweeping over Scotland, he was popular enough to be considered a successful writer.

Barrie published his first novel “Better Dead” in 1887 and had other various strings of popular novels set in Scotland. After having some success with fiction, Barrie began writing plays in the 1890s. His third play, “Walker, London,” helped him to be introduced to his future ex-wife Mary Ansell, who was an actress at the time. Although Barrie was unsure about his suitability for marriage, he proposed to Ansell and they married in 1894. However, speculations have been made that the marriage was not consummated and rumors flew about Barrie’s possible asexuality and Ansell’s infidelity. Due to such conflicts, the couple divorced after 15 years of marriage.

During the difficult times throughout his marital home-life, Barrie would often go out for long walks in London’s Kensington Gardens. This is where he met the five Llewelyn Davies brothers and their mother in the late 1890s, who would later become the inspiration for his most famous work. After getting to know them more personally, he often entertained the boys regularly with his stories and became a regular visitor at the Davies household and a companion to the boys and woman, despite the fact that both of them were married to other people.

The character of Peter Pan was invented to entertain two of the Davies boys, George and Jack. In order to amuse them, Barrie would often say that their little brother Peter could fly. He claimed that babies were birds before they were born and parents put bars on nursery windows to keep the little ones from flying away. This innocent story grew into a tale of a baby boy named Peter Pan who did fly away. The character first appeared in the 1902 book “The Little White Bird” and two years later his play “Peter Pan” premiered on the London stage and became a great success. Audiences were intrigued by the fantastical tale of the flying boy who never grew up and his adventures in Neverland with the Darling children. Barrie also wrote a book based on the play called “Peter and Wendy,” which was published in 1911. The book also earned rave reviews from the critics.

The father of the Davies boys died in 1907 and ever since Barrie was referred to as “Uncle Jim” and became more involved in the family. Following their mother Sylvia’s death in 1910, Barrie became a legal guardian of the boys as wished by Sylvia in her will. Barrie claimed that they had been engaged to be married before her death but nothing of the sort was indicated in Sylvia’s will. Barrie’s relationship with the Davies boys remained strong and endured many years. There has since been speculation that Barrie was a pedophile and had developed unacceptable feelings for the boys. However, the Davies boys themselves have said that Barrie was like a father-figure and nothing of the sort ever crossed their minds. Barrie suffered a great loss when one of the boys died in battle in WWI and another, Peter, who committed suicide.

After the hugely successful “Peter Pan,” Barrie continued writing plays but now aimed his content to a much older audience. Several of his later works had a darker element to them. Many of them dealt with unhappy marriages such as “Half an Hour” that was published in 1913, which was about a woman who plans on leaving her husband for another man. His last major play, “Mary Rose,” was produced in 1920 and revolved around a son visited by his mother’s ghost.

J.M. Barrie died on June 19, 1937, of pneumonia in London. As a part of his will, he gave the copyright to “Peter Pan” to a children’s hospital in London. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” has left a profound mark on the literary world and to this day his play has been garnering movie and book renditions. There have been many speculations and rumors about Barrie’s true persona but nonetheless the man had a knack for creating a magical world where children can truly explore their freedoms without having to endure the hardships that come along with adulthood. J.M. Barrie was truly a Peter Pan.

Illustration by Danielle Burch.

The Firecracker Men who Built Tacoma

There are many creation stories for the City of Destiny, ranging from larger-than-life Waukesha tales of mythical beings to even-larger-than-life floods that could certainly be Washington’s “Big Bang.” I prefer an equally explosive tale of true grit drenched in coal-covered Eastern faces, shrouded by equal parts steam and overcast.

This is the story of the mighty Chinese migrant workers who can certainly be accredited with exploding their way across the West, into the heart of Tacoma, subsequently giving birth to a city who would be the tangible manifestation of Manifest Destiny that was a mere notion in the developed East Coast.

It all started with a dastardly real estate tycoon by the name of Morton M. McCarver. He made his way from town to town, buying up land on the cheap, subsequently laying a framework for the soon to be Northern Pacific Railway’s path. With the route set, none could stop the notion of Manifest Destiny. So naturally, the question of who would build it came next.

The mighty Chinese migrant worker was the natural choice, as historically, Chinese immigrants were known for their tireless work ethic with next-to-nothing in pay to boot. Chinese laborers migrated everywhere from Shanghai to Portland. Quite serendipitously, the Chinese had a knack for seemingly impossible feats, most notably the invention and mastery of black powder. This would prove most advantageous for railroads in the future.

Working side-by-side with Irish railroad workers as well as blue bloods, sweat and toil were shared equally by all. Exploding their way through mountains and hillsides, the Chinese workers, standing nearly a foot shorter than their European counterparts, earned their respect; if not publically, certainly in a glance or a nod.

It wasn’t until the Great Depression where the true might and merit of the Chinese worker was distinguished above all else. Funds ran dry, and the workers of the North Pacific were working on “promised pay.” After months of this, the laying of the iron tracks came to a halt. Morale was low with the help of mob mentality and alcohol. The promised funds were expedited through a tall tale for the ages, involving a fearless wife who rode through rain and soot across Washington and Oregon and melted her gold to sell it, paying the workers. When the workers were finally paid, the white workers, with their relationship to entitlement and/or normal business practices, took their money and left, being done with the hard work and late pay dynamic. All the while, the Chinese migrant workers accepted their pay quietly, already in queue to commence business as usual.

It would be the Chinese workers who would make up the majority of the Northern Pacific Railway’s workers, completing the journey to Tacoma and delivering a payload of unprecedented commerce and subsequently giving birth to what historians refer to as, The City of Destiny.

It goes without saying that the Chinese workers’ odyssey was filled with peril. Many perished, yet most toiled and faced the brunt of danger all off of a promise of sending money home, and eventually being accepted into Tacoma’s bright future. One anecdote of note was when the train car in tow for the whole journey unhinged itself from the rails and had to be hoisted back onto the tracks. This was done with none other than the grit and fortitude of hundreds of Chinese migrant workers’ backs, pulling and flexing to reach the golden spike.

Quite deservingly, on an overcast Washington morning, Commencement Bay and all of its glory was revealed to a Chinese migrant worker. The last spike was hammered, and their job was done. Tacoma would go on to honor these immigrants, as Washington itself, was a place of immigrants through the Homestead Act.

The Chinese would form tight knit communities down by the water, and even established their own China town. The Firecracker men would be given their own building, enshrouded by red lanterns. They would lead quiet lives, and rightfully so, do to their years of fiery and gritty toil. The community would respect them and come to them for advice, unofficially becoming known as, “firecracker monks.”

 

“An Explosive Epilogue”

The honoring of past service would not last long, as history has a tendency to dissolve when times call for a scapegoat. Before Adolf Hitler rallied the downtrodden German people against the Jews, our very own Albert Johnson rallied Tacoma against the Chinese. There was a sentiment that flipped everything America loved about the Chinese to everything we hated about them. Work ethic and low wages went from a great source of labor to a dangerous taker of jobs, with jealous undertones in tow.

With enough hate mongering, resulting in a mob mentality, things like eugenics could be funneled into Tacoma’s IV drip, just teeming in bubbling misguided hate. A mob formed and forced Chinese residents onto the very trains they brought to Tacoma and they shipped them off. When the mob gained the audacity to confront the Firecracker Monks, the building exploded, just as mountains and hillsides did on the long path of the Northern Pacific Railway’s genesis. The monks chose to go the way they got to Tacoma, and now a Reconciliation Park stands as a reminder and belated sentiment of gratitude. Washington would go on to be the first State to elect a Chinese Governor with the appointing of Gary Locke in 1997.

 

Photo courtesy of Tacoma Public Library.

The History of Fashion in Tacoma

It is undeniable that the city of Tacoma has a rich culture. We are home to some of the best local music, great restaurants that serve unique cuisine (Red Hot’s Hosmer Hound Dog anyone?), publications like the UW Tacoma Ledger, theatre, and art. But Tacoma fashion is one of the most impressive aspects of our culture. Try walking down Pacific or Sixth Avenue and not being impressed with someone’s outfit. We have one of a kind clothing shops like UrbanXChange, London Couture, Bleach, Feather & Oar, and countless others that reaffirm just how important self expression is in this town.

In the early 1900’s, the fashion scene in Tacoma was just getting started. The downtown Tacoma area had men’s and women’s clothing stores popping up on every street. The sheer number of clothing stores downtown throughout the twentieth century would make you wonder how there was room for any other type of business. The clothes-buying experience was entirely different before department stores and shopping malls came to be. If you wanted a hat, you went to Reed’s Hats. If you wanted a new dress, you either went to a fabric store and made the dress yourself or purchased one at a women’s dress shop. If you needed new slacks you would head to men’s clothier Klopfenstein’s. If you needed a shoe repair or new shoes you would go to Bone Dry Shoe Store. As you can see, stores focused on individual needs for individual genders.

That may explain why there were so many different clothing stores in downtown Tacoma. Broadway was home to numerous women’s clothing stores such as Lyon’s Apparel, Lou Johnson Inc., Lerner’s Dress Shop, and Alma Ayres, Rhodes Brothers. Broadway also had a wealth of men’s stores such as Klopfenstein’s, Lewis Bros. and Lundquist-Lilly’s. Pacific Avenue was home to the earliest clothing stores such as The Peoples Department Store (est. 1888) and the Merrick Bros. (est. 1892). Our own UW Tacoma building GWP (Garretson-Woodruff-Pratt) was home to Sears and Roebuck in the 1920’s.

Since the opening of the Tacoma Mall in 1965 most these shops in downtown Tacoma gradually went out of business. Several shops such as Sears, Bon Marche, Lerner’s, JC Penney and Mode O’Day moved their location to the mall in order to stay in business. Even with the successful shopping mall in Tacoma, clothing stores in downtown have remained in business and the scene has made a comeback. There is a vibrant vintage and better-used goods scene all over downtown Tacoma with shops, like Glenna’s Clothing on Broadway, that sell items reminiscent of the past. Whether you prefer downtown clothing stores or shopping mall stores, Tacoma has always had locals who have a love for clothing and fashion.

 

Photos courtesy of Tacoma Public Library.

The Well-Known Webster

At the corner of Seventh Avenue and St. Helens Avenue in sits the Webster Apartments: the oldest apartment building in the downtown core of Tacoma.

Prominently located on a hill rising out of Commencement Bay, the southeast-facing Webster apartments provide an incredible view of the water and Mount Rainier. The Webster is situated in a historically significant nexus of Tacoma, just a few blocks from Old City Hall and the Northern Pacific Railroad building and in view of what used to be the Tacoma Hotel and the 11th Street Bridge.

I’ve lived in the building for almost two years. My boyfriend and I first found the place through a craigslist ad on padmapper, where I was surprised to discover an ad on the map awfully close to one of my favorite local bars, the Mix. Oh wait, it’s the same building.

The neighborhood sports a walkability score of 94, a “Walker’s Paradise” according to WalkScore.com. During Tacoma Pride celebrations, the block in front of the building is host to a block party that has attracts thousands. Still, the building manager told us they’d been advertising our particular apartment for three months.

I haven’t met a local who wasn’t familiar with the building I live in. Even if they haven’t lived here at some point or another, they likely know someone who has. At minimum, they know the ground floor businesses–Someone who doesn’t like coffee or gay bars probably at least likes pizza.

I had heard some tidbits about the history of the building from small talk here and there, especially about the fire in the ‘60s that created my remodeled apartment. So when I was assigned a term paper for Michael Sullivan’s History of Tacoma class at UWT I decided to write about my building.

In order to find out more about the Webster for my class, I headed to the Northwest Room at the Tacoma Public Library Main Branch. When I asked the librarian about the building I was handed a two-page printed list of appearances in the Tacoma-Pierce County Buildings Index, searchable on old-school microfilm.

The construction of the building took place over a hundred years ago. Comprising 37 apartments, the building was first mentioned in an announcement in the August 2, 1903 edition of the Daily Ledger, “Another Large Apartment House: Frank B. Cole Will Build on St. Helens Avenue.”

The Daily Ledger noted that it originally cost “in the neighborhood of $22,000.” According to an inflation calculator at westegg.com, $553,553.87 had the same buying power in 2012.

The newspaper’s January 18, 1904 issue featured a photo of the building under construction. Materials in the original construction included Douglas fir posts and frames for the windows.

This was a boom period for Tacoma, not too long after the announcement that this City of Destiny would be the terminus of the transcontinental railroad.

Each apartment was pre-sold before its construction as people eagerly rushed to belong to the hustle and bustle of a burgeoning city.

Building an apartment building was considered a risk, but when each apartment in the Webster pre-sold, investors of this time followed suit. Other apartment buildings were constructed near the Webster, explaining why so many apartment buildings, both historic and new, exist in the vicinity today.

Unlike many other structures from the same period, the Webster has a storied history no doubt augmented by the fact that it is located next to where one of many Tacoma newspapers at the time, the News Tribune, used to be. There is no easily available public record of previous residents, but the building’s location and multitude of studio apartments would make it easy for a resident to access the business district, the theater district, various fraternal organizations like the Elks Lodge, the brothels of what is now Opera Alley, YMCA and YWCA, Foss Waterway, the Stadium District, and Wright Park.

So I don’t have to wonder if the path of my daily walking commute from UWT to the Webster is one that’s been tread for many years.

In 1924, the Ledger ran an obituary of the man who commissioned the building, Frank B. Cole, an editor of a lumber industry magazine. He had been in Tacoma since 1889 and was a known toastmaster, a member of the Elks, the Knights of Pythias and the chamber of commerce.

Cole died in 1924 at the age of 73, the Webster sold to Henry A. Rhodes of the Rhodes Investment Company for $45,000. Rhodes put in $25,000 for renovations to the Webster not too long after building the Winthrop.

The building appears in many historic photographs, including the tiled mosaic that appears down the street in Ledger Square that shows a 1926 photo of a swarm of people waiting for World Series scoreboard updates via telegraph.  The photo predates the addition of the elevator to the Webster, which can be compared to its modern version in view of the square.

One story I found in my microfilm search is a report of when 12 girls got stuck in the elevator at 10 p.m. while planning a surprise party for their beauty culture instructor who lived in one of the apartments. There were no injuries, just laughing and singing until they were freed.

Finally, history hits me in the face when I see a dramatic photo of firemen battling the blaze on the high point of the north side of the building– the location of MY apartment. The searing headline emblazoned across the top of the newspaper proclaims “MANY FLEE APARTMENT FIRE.” The fire was blamed on a cigarette tossed haphazardly into the gutter. The article reports no injuries and says the building manager evacuated the buildings’ mostly elderly occupants immediately. One resident refused hospitalization and instead rested on an ambulance stretcher while attendants administered oxygen to her for three minutes. Turns out smoking is bad for your lungs and for your apartment buildings!

In 1974, the building got its third owner: Bruce Lodge.  Lodge added the Tudor/Bavarian facade we are familiar with today and commissioned a painted mural and crests. Perhaps in part because of the building’s history, Lodge also installed a comprehensive fire safety system with a light board of alarm indicators on the main floor.

In 1979, the News Tribune featured the Webster’s renovation, saying that it was “originally built as an exclusive downtown hotel catering to visiting dignitaries” in 1909 (which is a contradiction to the original records) and notes, “tenants are mostly elderly.”

An peculiar obituary appears in the News Tribune on April 26, 1976, “TNT restaurateur Bruno Matt dies”. In it, the author writes how Matt’s Café (which occupied the spot where Puget Sound Pizza is today) had served TNT staffers for 40 years. Matt had originally come to Tacoma from Como, Italy in 1906 and died at age 86. According to the obit, “Reporters said they had ink in their blood because Matt would clean his grill with old newspapers.” The description of the café seems extremely casual compared to today’s code standards. The chef gave regulars access to the kitchen, allowing them to cook for themselves. In accordance with his Italian roots, he would start his soup at the beginning of the week, leaving it to simmer on the stove and adding to it as the days wore on.

In the year 2000, around the time of the recent downtown resurgence, ownership of the Webster was transferred to Steve Rose of Bristol Equities in Portland. Rose is quoted by the paper as saying, “It’s in great need of rehab, which I’m real comfortable doing…[i]f I worked in and around downtown, I’d want to live in one of these buildings. I might eventually do loft apartments in the warehouse.”

The warehouse to which Rose refers is a former garage attached to the Webster. Today, the warehouse provides free space to qualifying businesses through the city’s Spaceworks program. It served as the successful launching point for both Poppy & Co, a furniture store now on Broadway, and Feather & Oar, a men’s fashion shop now located around the block, next door to the Municipal Building.

About the same time that Rose acquired the Webster, the News Tribune reported the Webster among historic buildings that received tax breaks, a “break in assessed valuation” at $511,446. The article says that under the tax break rules; owners must spend 25 percent of the assessed value on the building’s restoration. The building manager credits Rose with providing ornate accents like antique chandeliers and radiators.

In recent years, local newspaper articles have kept track of the commercial enterprises that have made the Webster home: the Busy Bee Café, which is now Puget Sound Pizza; Ida’s Pub is now the Mix.

Every newspaper in Tacoma covered the opening of the Amocat Café, which is also home to the growing Tacoma Brewing Company.

According to the building manager, all but two of the apartments are currently occupied.

 

Photo courtesy of News Tribune in 2003.

The History of Tacoma’s Music Entertainment

Tacoma has one of the most unique music scenes of all time. The artists that Tacoma produces are truly inspiring. This isn’t news to anyone that lives here though. Tacoma has a rich heritage of music that dates back all the way to the early 1900s. But what happened to all the folk instruments? The early 1900s was full of them. Bagpipes, banjos, accordions, harmonicas, ukuleles, all these instruments had a much bigger presence in the early days of the downtown Tacoma music scene.

For instance, how often do you see people playing accordion outside of Andrea’s Keller in Leavenworth? Not very often I would imagine, well in the early 1900s that would have been different. A band of 28 accordionists come together to form Tacoma’s All Accordion Band. This band performed on Broadway Street in the Jubilee Parade in 1940. Folk instruments were apart of mainstream life style at the time. Music stores such as Ted Brown Music on Broadway Street had full windows displays of harmonicas for the public to gawk at. In today’s time all you see is guitar players and singers wanting to start the next Van Halen. The early 1900s was all about heritage and culture; bring different music styles and different instrument talents from all around the world.

The symphonies and orchestras that occupied downtown Tacoma is what started it all. In 1910, Swedish violinist Olof Bull was the first director to conduct the Tacoma Symphony. The Tacoma Symphony was the first representation of high caliber symphonic music entertainment in Tacoma. This symphony focused on giving their audience the best quality music they could perform, for the sole purpose to entertain.

The question still remains: what happened to the folk instruments of the early 1900s? It’s hard to say. It could have been the Great Depression. The depression had devastating affects nationwide. We can see evidence of this here in Tacoma. In the 1900s you can see an emergence of one-man bands. In the 1930s and ‘40s you might see a musician playing up to 3 or 4 instruments at a time. A musician would play instruments such as guitar, mandolin, harmonica and even drums all at once. The Great Depression had an affect on the scene, but it could not get rid of the folk instrument. If anything rock n’ roll was the reason for the disappearance of the folk instruments. Bands such The Ventures, The Fabulous Wailers and other Tacoma acts used guitars and horns primarily for their sound. The vast popularity of these groups shows that the public started to view the accordion and the bagpipe as nerdy. The folk instrument never truly died though.

Today we are seeing a reemergence of the folk instruments. Instruments such as the banjo, the harmonica, and especially the ukulele are becoming more and more popular with the public in current times. When I say public, I mean in particularly the social group known as the hipsters. We have seen this trend similarly in the 1960s with the hippies. Folk instruments such as mandolins, sitars and nylon string guitars were vastly popular, just like today with ukuleles and the banjo becoming popular. The type of music that is popular dictates the types of instruments that the public will often play. The folk instruments may have disappeared for a while after the early 1900s, but they will never truly disappear. Folk instruments will always recycle themselves with the times.

 

Illustration by Danielle Burch.

The New Esquire Network?–I’m Not G4 It!

During the summer of 2002, I chill-laxed in my living room, watching television as afternoon sunlight slanted through the sliding glass door.  I sat on the carpet, leaning back against the couch and channel surfing throughout wave after wave of digital cable.  To my surprise, I landed on a channel showing the opening to the video game “Final Fantasy VIII,” my favorite video game of all time.  I looked at my hand.  I was holding a television remote, not a PlayStation gamepad.  The “Final Fantasy VIII” opening showed a sakura petal float into Rinoa’s hand and it transformed into a white feather after she squeezed the petal and opened her hand.

I said to myself, “Whoa, why am I watching this on TV?”  It could not of have been a television commercial because “Final Fantasy VIII” was released in 1998.

I learned that the name of the television show that showed the “Final Fantasy VIII” clip, as well as scenes from other video games was called “Cinematech” on a channel called G4TV, a cable network dedicated to video games.

I tensed my shoulders and arms and pedaled my legs with joy as if I was moving a flat stationary bike on the carpet.

G4 was the greatest TV channel of all time to me.  When G4 first launched in 2002, it had 11 shows and of course covered major events like E3.  G4 had television shows for action games, sports games, game reviews, and an interactive chat show, as well as others.  One of my favorite shows was “Filter” hosted by Diane Mizota.  It was a countdown show for all kinds of categories from general interests like best fighting game to more specific categories like “Mario.”  Another of my favorite shows was the video game strategy show “Cheat!” hosted by Cory Rouse. He had the best catch phrase at the end of every episode: “If life’s got you down, throw it into god mode and keep kicking butt.”

Because of G4, I became a “Dead or Alive” fanboy.  When I saw the trailer for “Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball” on “Cinematech,” I fell in love with the women of “DOA.”  I would wake up very early morning to catch any reruns.  It was on the same episode as a “Final Fantasy IX” clip and it was after some game play footage of “EverQuest.”  When I saw Helena wearing just an opened unbuttoned dress shirt as she took a sip of tea, I was sold on getting an Xbox just for “DOAXBV.”

G4TV had the right amount of programming: 11 original shows plus reruns of a 1980s arcade game show called “Starcade.”  But then in 2004, it merged with TechTV, and then there was too much programming.  After the TechTV merge, G4 was losing sight of its vision.  Yes, video game culture and tech culture are symbiotic, but there were television shows that were out of place, like a show about war machines.  The only good that resulted from the merge was “Anime Unleashed.”  The channel showed all 26 episodes of “R.O.D the TV” numerous times, and it became one of my favorite anime (even though G4TechTV aired it dubbed).

As years passed, all of the original shows and “Starcade” reruns were cancelled, and all of the channel’s original programming were limited to “X-Play,” a half-hour show about video games, and “Attack of the Show,” a show showcasing the latest technology and pop culture trends.  Other than those two meager “geek” shows were marathon blocks of “Cops,” “Cheaters,” and other crappy reruns from other channels.

I’m no prophet, but I had known this was going to happen: that G4 would sell out like MTV by not adhering to its original vision.  G4 possessed something unique and destroyed it by thinking it had to compete with networks like Spike.  Although MTV was once visionary, there was still music on TV before MTV like American Bandstand.  But before G4, there were no shows dedicated to video game culture on TV other than game shows.

Beginning this summer, G4 will become the new Esquire network.  And it’s going to suck.

 

Illustration by Danielle Burch.