Tacoma High School opens on September 10, 1906.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 1/18/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5069
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On September 10, 1906, Tacoma High School opens for classes.  The massive building on N 1st Street and N (North) E Street had been rescued from three disasters -- a halt in construction due to the economic Panic of 1893; a devastating fire; and demolition.  The French chateau style building, designed by Hewitt and Hewitt, was intended as a palatial hotel by the Northern Pacific Railroad’s Tacoma Land Company. The Panic of 1893 put a stop to that dream.  The hotel-shell became the railroad's lumber and shingle warehouse until an 1896 fire  gutted the building.  Two Tacoma citizens managed to halt demolition  and the Tacoma School Board turned it into a much-needed high school. In 1910 the Stadium Bowl will open and in 1913 Tacoma High School's name will change to Stadium High School.

The Grandest Grand Hotel

Construction began in 1891. The hotel was to be so grand, so elegant, so ornate, so artful, so elaborate, so huge, so splendid that other grand hotels would blush with shame at their own silly pretensions. Ruth Kirk quotes the lumberman Thomas Ripley on this point:

“[The hotel would] make the Frontenac in Quebec and the Canadian Pacific Railroad Hotel in Banff blush for their modest proportions …. [Blueprints] covered desks and the floor. We measured baseboard and casing by the mile. … We forsaw a jungle of carving in rare and exotic woods. It was a riot of millwork” (Kirk).

From Dreams to Ashes

But the Panic of 1893 shot down the dream of the grandest of all grand hotels. The walls and roofs were complete and that was all. The shell became a warehouse for three or four years until a fire in the lumber and shingles stored there made the sky glow as far away as Seattle. Citizens came from all around, even by boat, to help put out the roaring blaze, to bring food and any help they could.

Once the fire was out, the railroad began demolition. Bricks numbering 73,300 were removed from the façade and sent to Missoula and to Wallace, Idaho, to make depots.

In a Day's Work

In the midst of this demolition process two men happened by, saw that this great building could serve as a high school, went to find the architect Frederick Heath, brought him to the site, called a meeting in the early afternoon, and stopped demolition by evening. First classes opened at the beginning of the school year in 1906.


Ruth Kirk, and Carmela Alexander, Exploring Washington’s Past: A Road Guide to History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990), 338-339; Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works (Seatle: Tartu Publications, 1998), 380; "211 NO. E ST., Tacoma," Pierce County Buildings Index (http://search.tacomapubliclibrary.org/buildings/bldglogon1.asp). See also Wynne Crombie, “The Brown Castle: Stadium High School Celebrates 100 Years,” Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History Vol. 20, No. 3 (Fall 2006), 26-28.
Note: This essay was corrected on March 18, 2008.

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